How to attempt to stay warm at 10,000 feet
“Well, that doesn’t look like an igloo.”
No, it sure didn’t. But it was all they had.
It was in the first days of January, and a strong temperature inversion meant it was a face-numbing -30C under grey skies in the valley bottom, while being only -1 or -2 in the sun at the peak.
Jeff, Rudi and two friends headed out for two days of ski touring, with a planned overnight in the only place it made sense to sleep: right at the top.
So instead of ending the day by skiing down, they walked up and out of the bitter cold, all the way to our highest landing point, Top of the World, at nearly 2800 metres (9,300 feet), where even the weak, late-day sun was keeping temps at a strangely warm -3C.
Though shelter wasn’t strictly a necessity – open bivy in those conditions is totally doable – they had packed light for easier travel, and Rudi was going to dust off his igloo-building skills and teach the young’uns something new.
But as all us winter-loving people know, not all snow is created equal.
It soon became clear that the snow on this night was not the igloo-building kind. Some wind-pressed pockets made blocks that would hold shape, but everything else was too brittle and sugary to be of much use.
And because Mother Nature definitely has a sense of humour, that’s when a light wind started to pick up.
With the igloo plan scrapped, they stacked what would hold and by dark had managed four or five feet of wall as a wind break.
The temps dropped down to -10C that night, several degrees colder than forecasted – and what their extremities would have preferred – as they slept in the shadow of the attempted igloo, the swirling wind drifting little pockets of snow up against their sleeping bags.
Warmer than the valley bottom? Definitely. Warm? Ummm, no.
But as the sun crested the horizon in the morning, and they stood to brush off the snow, they were ready for a hot cup of coffee, but in no rush to go home.
Because for folks like you and me, being in the mountains is kind of like being at home.
I bet you know exactly what I mean.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who seems to be built a little backwards from other people – a little like a temperature inversion.
Where others feel trepidation or fear discomfort, you can’t help but be drawn right in.
You can look at a mountain and say ‘yeah, that looks like a good home for the night’.
We’re with you.
If you’re waiting to head home, for the next great adventure, we’ll leave the welcome mat out for you. You might have to brush the snow off, but it’s there.
The backcountry offers something new every day. Wondering what decides what terrain heli-skiers get to on a given day? Check out the answer here.
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