Snow Camp

We check out our gear and systems for Denali by camping in a storm.

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This was a quick overnighter near McCall to check out our snow camping and new gear. No summits. Mostly just time in the tent. I've actually done a lot of snow camping, but this trip was purpose-built to mimic some of the things we'll have to deal with in Alaska.

First, the conditions:

It was about 39° when we left the car, with clouds pregnant with precipitation. We skied about a mile uphill, no sled. We took full winter gear, but with a predicted low of 25 didn't take the expedition stuff. After the kitty litter, a 40 pound pack feels comparatively light!

As we started to put up the tent, it began to rain/slush slightly. It more or less rained until about midnight, then turned to snow. At a 6:30 pee break, we had to shovel the tent because the new snow was sticking to the freezing rain. By 7:30am there was about 4-5 inches of new snow. Anything that was out overnight had ice in/on it. Getting tent poles apart required breathing on the joints to melt the ice.

Skis and boots:

Tom's Olympus Mons are awesome. I wore my Nupstes with OR gaiters.

We wore our VBL socks. It was a bit warm for them, but they worked fine. We both thought the size we had was a bit big, but it wasn't really a problem. The nylon made it easier for me to get my big heavy sock on. And everything stayed dry.

We found the foot powder really helped. My feet stayed pretty dry on the first day, but felt wet on the second (without foot powder). Need to focus on drying the feet, and have a pair of "sleeping socks" to change in to after the day.

But the VBLs were toasty warm in any event.

Expedition skis:

The shorty skis with Silvretta 404s worked fine. We skied up a narrow logging road, then came back the same way. Reminding myself of good freeheel technique, coming down the lumpy road with a full pack wasn't too bad. Here's some tips:

We didn't want to lock our heels down. To get fore-aft balance, you can do a slight spread of your feet, like about 12". As soon as the ball of your rear foot leaves the ski, it becomes hard to control. So this is like a flat-footed, short-stance tele.

When going straight, or doing a snow plow, try to get stability by bending at the knees and ankles. If you bend at the hips with a pack on, you have no resistance remaining if you hit a bump-- so you go forward onto your face.

Turning from a snow plow into a wedge or stem christy turn didn't seem like a problem, except the road was too narrow. So some short-swing stem turns were in order. No falls.

Tent/snow stakes:

I just girth-hitched the snow stakes to the tent. Then we would dig a slight hole, dump the stake in, slap some snow on it, and stomp it. This worked OK, but could have been better.

If a snow stake was further out from the tent, I could secure both the bottom of the tent and one of the tie-loops from the side of the fly.

Also, making the distance adjustable from the stake to the bottom of the tent would allow more control. So I'm going to put strings with an adjustor onto each stake, and perhaps connect with a mini-biner (?)

I forgot the sponge, and we could have used it. I did have the whisk broom.

Stove/cook gear:

The new XGK stove worked like a charm and very fast, but it is sort of off/on. Great for melting snow and boiling water, not so much for anything else.

The heat exchanger seemed to add to the system. However, getting the heat exchanger past the wind screen took a little fooling around (with the stove roaring the whole time). Once the pot is in place there, it's best left in place.

So that brings me to the dipping cup. Instead of pouring out of the pan, a dipping cup works to move the water into your coffee cup (or whatever). As a bonus, this means the pan remains over the heat to maximize the fuel use. When you want to add snow, use the dipping cup to scoop from a plastic bag of fresh snow into the pot.

Tom has a conventional lighter, and I found it difficult (impossible) to light the stove with that. Is there a trick? It would seem a BBQ lighter with the long snout on it would work... or just simply paper matches. What do you fellas say about lighters? What about cold and butane- does that work?

The stove sort of 'burps' when you turn it off, eventually leaving a little whiff of white gas. Stinky when in your vestibule.


I had frozen a couple of little pre-cooked sausages in a baggy, and I put the baggy into the melting snow water to warm them up. When the water boiled, we ate those while we waited for the Mtn House to cook. They were still a bit on the cool side, even though they had thawed some before we put them in the water.

We each had a 2-person Mountain House for dinner. Pretty filling. We just did water in the foil pouch, which worked fine. We also had tea and hot choco. I found that after dinner I really wanted something sweet, like a hard butterscotch candy.

For breakfast, we had made up individual baggies with 3 servings oatmeal, some pwdr milk, and raisins. We put the baggy into our "fair share" mugs, and added water. Then we just ate out of the baggy. No muss, no fuss, no dirty cup. But easy to hold, etc.. We will add some goodies to the baggy, maybe a little brown sugar, and also a big tablespoon of peanut butter. This will simplify breakfast over tearing open multiple packages, etc.


We talked a lot about the best systems, particularly pants. We also talked about how to best use the various layers, both top and bottom. I really like my MicroPuff jacket, which works both under and over my Goretex shell.

The only thing I really brought away was to carry a mesh bag to put smaller stuff in when inside the sleeping bag. You might want to dry your glove liners, etc, but they will migrate and get lost.

Oh- and a sleeping hat. Got to keep greasy hair off the sleeping bag.


Having ALL stuff in a handful of good-sized stuff sacks is the way to go. When we first got there, Tom emptied all his stuff sacks into a neat pile on the side of the tent, then we left the packs outside under the fly. In the morning, reversing the procedure seemed very efficient. I had some misc stuff loose in pockets, and it never did make it into the tent-- so being lazy I borrowed Tom's headlamp.

Pads and chairs:

The Crazy Creek chairs made tent time much more pleasant. You could sit up to read, or when cooking. Very nice.

The XL foam pads look ridiculous on the pack; their rolled size is simply huge. But it's really nice to have a large area of insulation in the tent. Need to work out a better system for attaching them to the pack.


Tom had an avalanche book that kept him interested for all of about 10 minutes. I had a novel. I get dibs on the novel!

iPods were great.

Games... chess, checkers, etc.


Mr. Natural Home | 2009 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski