Snow Claw, Duomid, and an Exped Sand and Snow Anchor
I'm a pretty conservative guy when it comes to winter backpacking, camping, and mountaineering, in that I won't use gear on overnights without extensive testing and practice. There are just too many bad things that can happen in winter if you're not well prepared.
Before this winter started, I decided to use my Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid as my primary winter shelter. This is a floorless pyramid made out of cuben fiber that weighs about 14 oz with guylines. It is a lot lighter than my former go-to winter tent, a Black Diamond Firstlight Tent made about of Epic Fabric, and chops another two lbs off my winter gear list. But using it instead of a tent requires a lot more expertise, which is the key trade-off you make when you go ultralight and reduce your safety margin.
I'm planning to camp for 2 or 3 nights under the Duomid in Crawford Notch this weekend (behind a cabin in case I need to bail), but with the recent blizzard we had in Boston, I decided to get a head start and practice setting up the Duomid in my front yard. We got 15 inches of snow at my house and I just couldn't pass up the opportunity!
Pitching a Camping Shelter on Snow
I started by stomping out a flat spot using my snowshoes and let that firm up overnight. The next morning, I laid the tarp out on the ground and piled snow on top to keep it from blowing away. This didn't work that well because it was windy, so I'll pile my gear on top of it next time, to keep it in place while I prep the anchor positions.
Once the tarp was laid out, I guestimated where to put my tent anchors. I plan on using Exped Sand and Snow anchors, which weigh almost nothing when compared to an SMC snow stake. In fact, 8 of the Expeds weigh just 3.6 oz.. They're just a square of nylon with cord running around the top that you bury in a snow hole and then cover. After a while, the packed snow hardens though a process called sintering and you get a rock solid anchor.
When I bury the Expeds, I leave a little loop of the cord showing above the surface of the snow. When the anchors have hardened and can take weight, I run the tarp guyline through a Nightize Figure 9 guyline tensioner and through the loop on the snow anchor, lashing it down taughtly again on the figure 9. It's not going anywhere. These figure 9's are going to work great.
The Duomid is pitched using a hiking pole in the center and requires a short pole extender. Left alone, the extender would sink into the snow and lower the peak. To counter this, I put a Snowclaw under the pole extender as a rigid platform to keep it from sinking. This works great. Alternatively, I could place my pack under the pole to achieve the same effect.
This first pitch on snow wasn't that good, so I didn't bother finishing it. I did note a few things for next time though:
- Dig the anchors farther out in winter than normal to ensure a taught pitch. You can always bury any gaps between the tarp wall and the ground with snow to block the wind from blowing through.
- Don't forget to add guylines to the upper side tie-outs. These create more interior room. I just forgot this when I replaced the old guylines last night.
- Face the door away from the wind. I'm going to sleep with the door cracked open to control internal condensation, so this is important. Otherwise the tarp can fill with air and blow away when you open the door at night.
- When you lay out the tarp for set up, pile your gear on top so the tarp doesn't blow away in the wind. Piling snow on top is not heavy enough.
Making it up
Despite the fact that I've never pitched a tarp on snow before, I have a pretty good track record of figuring out such things.
However, if you are already an expert, I'm sure I could use some pointers. Do you have any advice to share with me?
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