1. Too Flat
Remember the shelter criteria from chapter one? Well, the first one was Round. People always ask if a shelter will collapse, and the answer is no if you can climb into them. If they’re going to collapse, it’s only while you’re building them and always because you have to flat of a ceiling (NOTE: it’s always good to practice building them with a buddy or two, that way, they can grab your wiggling legs if you collapse one and it only takes one collapse to learn to arch the roof. Usually, you never have a problem after that). The key is to keep an arch on the ceiling. If you can finish it and climb in, even if the ceilings are flat, it won’t collapse, it will just sag overnight.
This ceiling is too flat; it wound up sagging about a foot by morning. Again it won’t collapse if you can get it, and it just sagged.
Here’s a snow cave that collapsed only while they were digging. Notice how flat the roof was. No Arch!
The last photo brings up another point, obstacles. You can see where they started to hit the bank. Others will dig into a tree, stump, or boulder, so one trick is first to probe the area you plan to build in. Take a ski pole, ski, branch, or even an avalanche probe pole and poke around in the snow quickly just before you build to ensure there are no obstacles and the snow is deep enough where you’re building.
Here’s a tree in the doorway they were able to go around. Small little trees are hard to find.
3. Too Big
Another criteria is Small because it’s easier to build, takes less energy, and is easier to warm up.
This one is way too big; I’m standing inside the doorway while taking this photo. The student in the photo is kneeling in what he called the living room, and the area above him with the tarp is the loft or sleeping area.
Here’s a photo of the same shelter the next morning with the two students that built in the loft in bed. Notice how much lower the ceiling is, they had to flat a ceiling for such a large shelter, but because they could climb in it, it didn’t collapse; it just sagged through the night.
4. Jagged Ceiling
If you have too many jagged points on the ceiling, you’ll get dripped on through the night. Remember, as you heat the shelter, the walls begin to glaze over with a light film of water and then freeze by the morning to make a rock-hard shelter.
Notice the point right behind his shoulder; it dripped on him all night.
5. Square Door
Remember, doorways need to be small and round or arched. Otherwise, they tend to break. Here’s a square one that later broke.
Yes, they can be repaired. Here’ is the repair job notice for the branch and snow block above.
Here’s another repair with snowshoe and skis.
6. Doorway too High
Remember the doorway should always be lower than your bed area, or your bed should always be a few inches above the top of the door, that way, you will trap in the heat that rises in your shelter. Here’s a door that was way too high; the student is sitting on the bed; needless to say, they were cold that night.
Here’s an eye-level view of the same doorway, and he’s sitting on the bed area. Cold!
Now you know a few of the most common mistakes, so you can avoid them and sleep warm. Speaking of sleeping warm, I think that’s what one of my future posts will be on.