Not only does the winter bring us stunning views but of course it brings us snow and with the snow, a bit of local knowledge and a little bit of hard work you can create yourself a snow palace fit for a king.
Chris Wilson is a Winter Mountain Leader based in Dingwall. Through his small family business, Liquid Footprints, he runs a number of outdoor activities during winter including Snow Hole trips, Mountain Guiding and Winter Skills Course.
The winter hills can be a wondrous place to walk but the daylight hours are short as can the days. But there is a way of extending these days and that is to stay out overnight. Tents normally spring to mind for staying out overnight but for the winter they are nothing like the comfort we can achieve.
Snow holes are used in mountaineering terms for many reasons. Taught on many winter skills courses, a hasty snow hole can be a life saver, but given a bit more time you can turn a life saver into a home from home. When built right snow holes can be large and roomy, with plenty of head room, space to walk around and plenty of shelving for all your equipment. They also come with the added bonus of no flapping tents in the wind, wet tent walls pressed up against you and when cooking an environment warm enough to be sitting up enjoying your evening meal.
Building your palace!
For our trips we normally arrive at our snow hole site around lunch time, this give us plenty of time to create our palace. We begin by digging out the entrance tunnel. This tunnel is as high as we stand and goes the full length of our palace. Once this has been cleared we then normally turn left or right and carve out our sleeping platform. We ensure we do this at waste height. The reason for this is that cold air sinks, raising your sleeping platform ensures that all cold air sinks away from where we sleep leaving all the warm air where we want it. The sleeping platform can be as airy and wide as you need and we may even cut more than one platform out depending on how many people are sharing the snow hole.
Once the sleeping platform has been cleared we then need to add some lintels to our entrance. This is an important safety feature because during the night the weather may turn and if there is a heavy snow fall this could back fill our tunnel leaving it very difficult to dig out in the morning. However adding the lintels stops the snow from filling our entrance tunnel and thus the exit clear. Finally we add a small hole somewhere convenient to help the air circulate through the snow hole.
Now that everything is in place it is time to personalise our snow palace. We can create shelves to store equipment, light candles to warm and light our space and I have even seen chairs cut out to add that extra comfort. When we start cooking the snow hole really warms up, but not enough for it to melt! On all our trips we have a hot dinner and desert and with loads of steaming hot drinks so at times you may find it too warm.
One of the very special things about staying in the snow hole is that come the evening we are the only people left on the mountain. When the weather has been kind we have taken moonlit walks across mountain summits, looking across the Highlands knowing that only we are witnessing this very special view. Come the morning we wake to a hot breakfast and drinks, pack our bags and stride out onto the mountain easily being the first to see the morning view with the whole mountain to ourselves for a precious couple of hours.
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