February 16, 2003

Snow Shelters & Tracking

(Photos and report by Walter Muma)

Six people braved cold temperatures and wind (= very cold wind chill) for a day of snow shelter building, tracking, and nature exploration. More people were scheduled to come, but were unable to due to the weather (wicked snow squalls off Lake Ontario) and illness. We met in a semi-wild area west of Toronto.

We spent most of our day building a snow shelter.


First, we prepared the site of the shelter by scraping away the snow that was there, and using it to start the pile. We had to break up the snow, as it had crystallized during previous warm weather.

We used two shovels and our feet.



We piled snow up to a height of about 3 feet. It was our intention to make a "demonstration" shelter, rather than one large enough to accommodate us all.

Here's the finished pile of snow.

We let this sit for about an hour, while we went off and explored and ate lunch. 

During lunch we found the first of two porcupines we saw that day. Plus lots of deer tracks & scat, porcupine tracks & scat, ruffed grouse tracks, and more. A great day for tracking!



When we came back we found the snow pile had solidified enough to start digging out the shelter.

The method we chose was to excavate the snow from the interior through a large "rear" door that would later be closed back up.


It was a very cold day, so we had a little fire going for awhile. We actually built it as a learning experience for one of the group who had never made a fire outdoors before.


The "rear" door was closed back up after most of the interior excavation was completed, using a cross-thatch of sticks and branches. Snow was then scooped back on top of this "door" to close it up.


The next step was to dig out the small entrance doorway at the other end of the shelter. The snow that was scooped out through the "rear" door in the pervious step was piled up at this end to create a small tunnel for the entrance. A small entrance helps to keep the wind out and the heat in.




Here's a view from the inside (L) and of four of us inside the shelter.
We could have fit all 6 of us inside, no problem.


Snow shelters are stronger than you think! We tried having 3 people on top, but it collapsed.


After it collapsed, we disassembled it completely, in order to reduce signs that we had been there. We were in an area that people sometimes walk through, so we wanted to remove signs of our project in order that their nature experience would not be impaired.

This picture shows the beginning of the disassembly process.


After cleaning up our area and putting out the fire and covering it up, we went exploring in the nearby swamp.

Here's a porcupine den we found under tree roots.

We also did some tree and plant ID, including water hemlock, the deadliest plant in North America. And of course tracking: rabbits, deer, porcupine, ruffed grouse, rodents of some sort, squirrels and more! 


We had a very rewarding day, and had a great experience building the snow shelter. And awesome tracking and nature discoveries. Thanks to everyone who came out for sharing what they knew and learning from each other!!

There's more info about snow shelters on the Wildwood Survival website.


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