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Multi-Purpose Items as Snow Anchors

Practice Emergency Snow Trench to get out of the Winter Wind
Practice Emergency Snow Trench to get out of the Winter Wind

Question

You need to set up a shelter fast, but don’t have the time for snow anchors to set. What pieces of multi-purpose gear can you use to set up a winter tent, shaped tarp, or flat tarp?

Answer

If I’m up in the mountains on a winter overnight, I’m going to have 2 snowshoes, 2 steel crampons, 2 hiking poles, an ice axe, and a 1 or 2 piece avalanche shovel. All of these make perfectly good snow anchors for tents, shaped tarps like the Duomid, or a flat tarp. So much so, that’s there’s little need to wait around for 60 minutes for a nylon snow anchor to scinter and harden.

For example, take the snow shelter I built today in my front yard using a flat tarp and a snow trench. I dug my trench, which didn’t take very long. Then I placed my snow shoes and hiking poles at the corners as anchors, pushing them into 3 foot deep snow, so they stuck right in. I broke my Voile avalanche shovel into two pieces and used the shovel blade and handle as 2 more anchors, followed by my ice axe. That made 7 anchors. A pair of crampons makes 2 more.

What’s nice about using all this gear as anchors is that it requires no additional weight. Zip. This use of gear like this for multiple purposes is what lightweight hiking is all about.

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7 comments

  1. Really nice ideas here. Much more convenient than snow anchors that take so long time to be usable.

  2. How well do the campons work. I wouldn't have thought to try them. I would be afraid they wouldn't have enough surface area to hold. Then again, if you use them together I could easily seem them working.

    I have done something similar and would add skis to the list of things that work well. Never thought about using the avalanche probe. Something that worked very nicely as a snow anchor is the Snow Claw. Not a big fan of the snow claw for most snow work, the leverage you get from the handle of a more traditional shovel really does help.

  3. I didn't get to use the crampons yesterday, but I think they behave similarly to the snowshoes, what with their weight and serrations. If you dig a small hole, drop one in lengthwise, and then push down on it, I think it would hold immediately, much like the snowshoes. Each one weighs well over a pound, after all.

    I thought about using my snow claw yesterday, but I was attracted to the avy shovel because that particular model breaks apart into two pieces and it has lots of pre-drilled holes so it can be used as a snow anchor. I'm sure the snow claw would also cut into the snow well, but it is only 1 anchor instead of the two. Makes the shovel all that more attractive, despite the added weight. Certainly easier to dig a kitchen with a shovel. Cheers.

  4. This is something I saw on Jørgen's blog last winter. When pitching his Firstlight he just stuck his skis and poles in the corner tie-outs. Job done. No need to carry stakes. No extra weight. No redundancy. He also carried a Snowclaw that could be added if needed. Add a couple of 10g 'parachute' snow stakes and that's a pretty bomber winter 'stake-out' system for less than an ounce.

  5. Great post! I love winter camping because you can use the snow to come up with some pretty creative shelter options like this. I can't tell from the picture–where do you enter and exit?

  6. Hey Jason. This trench is entered from one end, but on hindsight and in real life (not my front yard) the best way to build it would be to dig a trench with no outlet except some steps on the non-windward side.

    I was experimenting with a variety of different snow trench variants, including one where you lay a flat tarp over the poles that span the trench and then weigh it down with snow, and another where you pitch the tarp with two poles in an A-frame style. Neither worked very well because I dug my trench a bit too wide, but I now know that for next time.

    The Quninzhee however is coming along nicely. I love all this snow!

  7. what about plastic shopping bags full of snow then buried.

    I use them instead of fancy cuben fibre storage bags. K.I.S.S.

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