Cave Construction Tips
by Gene Leach
The following tips are provided for constructing a snow cave. The "T" method of snow-cave construction is described below.
Select a site facing away from the sun with a slope of 45 degrees or greater.
For comfort, put on a wind breaker or gortex parka and pants to keep the loose snow off your clothes. Use a pair of heavy duty rubber gloves, ordinary gloves always seem to get wet.
Start by cutting a rectangle, approximately 5 1/2 feet high by 2 feet wide, into the snow bank. This will be the entrance to the snow cave (for illustrative purposes, the main stem of the "T"). The combination of cutting blocks with the light weight aluminum snow saw and lifting blocks of snow out with the snow shovel is more efficient than using the shovel alone.
Dig into the bank far enough so your head is now inside when standing up. At waist height (about 3 1/2 feet high), make the initial cuts for the left and right side bars (left and right arms) of the "T". Each side bar should be about 2 feet long and about 2 feet deep and about 2 feet high. The initial purpose of the side bars is to initialize the platform used for sleeping and to open up the construction area so that excess snow dug from the cave can be easily removed. Picture a "T". The main stem is about 5 1/2 feet high and 2 feet wide. Either side bar is about 2 feet high (with the top of the side bar flush with the top of the main stem of the "T") and 2 feet long. The resulting "T" is about 5 1/2 feet high and six feet across the top.
The rest is time consuming, but not difficult work. Enlarge the sleeping platform by cutting back into the slope. To create the necessary head room above the sleeping platform, cut upward enlarging the ceiling. These chunks of snow will fall on the newly formed sleeping platform and are easily moved out of the snow cave. In this process, a sleeping platform with a domed ceiling is constructed providing ample headroom for sitting.
Near the entrance, make a seat on one side of the passage way, which is used to cook and read during the evening. Save the blocks cut out to make the seat to seal the entrance.
When finished with the internal construction, use the saved snow blocks (along with others needed) to seal across both side bars of the "T, leaving only the vertical entrance exposed. The top portion of the entrance can be sealed to give more protection from the elements. The resulting crawl space can be covered with a small nylon tarp or plugged with a pack.
Position a therm-a-rest pad and sleeping bag on the platform. Place a small ensolite pad on the cut-out seat. Set up the stove, making certain there is an air vent in the ceiling. Light a candle. You are now ready to enjoy your shelter and the evening in comfort.
Leisurely cook dinner, sawing away at your new home, whenever snow is needed to melt for water. With dinner over, settle down to a little brandy and a good book before turning in.
Even though the process of building a snow cave takes at least 1 1/2 hours, the final comfort and pleasure make it worth the effort as inside is certainly warmer than the cold winters night.
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