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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Quinzee Snow Shelter

The Quinzee is a shelter that was built by the Inuit Indians of Alaska and is basically known as the "snow mound" shelter. It's advantage is that it can be built in just about all locations and in any snow conditions (light fluffy snow to wet snow). You can build it in 10 feet of snow to 6 inches, so it's a method I suggest everyone learn. In short, you basically mound snow and then tunnel out a sleeping area and with a few tricks I'll show you it can be pretty easy. Let's take look...


1. Step One
Begin by stomping out a circle the size you want it to be depending on your height. A 6 foot wide circle is about right for the average adult. Some people will use a ski pole to get a reference by lying the handle in the middle and just rotating the basket end around in a circle. Now just stomp down the circle to help with crystal collapse. [NOTE: One trick is to pick a site where the door will face downhill, so when you dig it out you can pull the snow out and down the hill, as opposed to out and up to get out of a hole]


2. Step Two
Go around the perimeter of your circle and shovel snow in to the center forming a mound. [NOTE: One trick is that as you build up the mound, you will also be going down so it's like working double time and multiplying your effort. That way you only have to build half as high of a mound.] The Inuit used to put a pole in the center to be able to find the center when digging out, but I've got a better trick below.
[NOTE: Trick number two is to take your packs and put them in the middle of the circle, cover them with a tarp and then bury them (see picture). When you tunnel in and pull them out half your shelter is already dug out.] Make sure you take out an food, water and gear you'll need during the building process, otherwise you won't be seeing them for awhile. I learned that one the hard way.


Here was an experiment, the idea was to dig into the valve and then just let the air out. The valve froze solid and we had to just stab it with a knife to let the air out.


Besides it just made me think of the Beach! Not the focus to have out here.


Let's get back to the task at hand, shoveling snow to the middle.


3. Step Three
Once the mound is about shoulder height begin patting the mound to help collapse the crystals and smooth out the surface. Then take a break and have some snacks and water to give it a few minutes to become harder.


Here's a student using a snowshoe. Remember You can improvise many different digging devices. The shelter is going to be a three man but it's still a little to big even for that many.


4. Step Four
People always ask how thick should the walls be on a snow shelter and the answer is around 8-12 inches. The problem is how can you tell? [NOTE: Here's the next trick, take some sticks and measure 12 inches past your hand and then push them into the shelter roof and walls until your hand hits the snow]. Bingo, now all you do is dig until you hit the sticks and you have a 12 inch thick wall.



5. Step Five
Now cut a small door, tunnel into the backpacks and pull them out, then begin forming a dome shape until you hit the sticks and stop (notice the sticks in the top).


When you first get to the packs, try to come up under them and when you pull them out you'll have a small jagged looking cavity that will eventually become home. Just start hollowing it out until you get to the sticks you stabbed into the walls.


You can see the sticks in the ceiling in this photo, which means stop digging. [NOTE: Another trick is to use a tarp (as shown here) to drop the snow from the ceiling on and then you just pull it out like a skid]


[NOTE: Trick number two is if the beds are not high enough above the doorway, you can just drop the snow from the ceiling onto the beds to raise them up instead of shoveling it out of the shelter. What really stinks is if you have to shovel it back in to raise the beds higher, this trick can save you a lot of extra work]

6. Step Six
Now smooth out the ceiling by just rubbing a glove over it, jagged points like you see here drip at night. What happens after you climb in for the night is that the walls start to glaze over with a film of water and then it freezes over night to make a rock hard shelter.


That's just way to smooth.


Just Right.


7. Step Seven
Now vent your shelter over the doorway so you don't have snow rolling into your bed. Put the hole about halfway up the wall, the size of a softball and at a 45 degree angle.


The hole is right above the door about three feet up.


8. Final Thoughts
Here I am nice and comfy laying in my Quinzee ready for bed. [A tip is to make sure you have a good insulating pad under you. Research shows that what you have under you is more important than what you have over you for warmth. Otherwise, your body tries to warm up the surface under you to 98.6 degrees (it's one of the heat loss mechanisms called conduction) and on snow that's definitely a losing battle. In a true survival situation, you could use your pack, pine bows, the seat of your snowmobile, etc...]


Remember to keep the door small and the top of it at least a few inches below your bed level to trap in heat. This is the view from my bed. Notice also the candle on the left with the reflective qualities of snow all you need is one stick candle and you'll have all the light you need, not to mention a nice little warming of the shelter that comes from them.


Here's a condominium with one shelter behind the other and a tunnel between the two shelters. You can become quite creative once you get the hang of it. Notice also the kitchen area outside the doorway.


Now let's look at the most common mistakes in winter shelter building...


See you on the trail,

---Gregory E. Rouse


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1 comment:

  1. This is AWESOME!!! I'm going to try building one this weekend. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete