Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Information and tips on building solo igloos.
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PineMartyn
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Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Post by PineMartyn » Thu Dec 15, 2011 6:15 pm

Building a 7-foot igloo by myself is something I hope to accomplish this winter. I've read your general description of how this is done, but I'm having a hard time visualizing and working out some specifics.

First, in the early stages where you're kneeling inside the igloo and filling the form for the first few courses, from where are you getting the snow? Are you reaching outside to collect and work up the snow one shovel full at a time one-handed, holding the form with the other, before pouring it into the form? Or are you hauling snow into the area where you are kneeling and then working it up there and pouring it into the form one-handed, all from inside the igloo? Using snow from a pile inside seems like it would involve less reaching and getting up and down, but it must get pretty crowded there with a pile of snow, the pole and yourself inside the igloo.

Second, when you've completed the first few courses and move to outside the igloo for your snow, how do you manage to hold the form in place with just one hand while drawing the snow, working it up, and shoveling it into the form with the other? What's the best way to hold the form in position so it doesn't slip or dislodge the center spike while you are pouring snow into it?

Third, as the walls get higher, they lean inwards more and more, and hence further away from you. It seems like holding the form and filling it with snow must be an awkward reach. Any tips for this part?

Lastly, about how long should it take to build a a 7-foot igloo solo? To give you an idea of my present skill level, it takes me about 4 hours with a partner to build an 8-footer. Once I've built a few solo and gotten the hang of it, what would you think is a reasonable amount of time? This will give me something to shoot for.

Any other suggestions you can offer to make my first solo build more efficient and less awkward would be appreciated. Once I can build one myself with some measure of efficiency and speed, I'll post a video on my youtube channel. Your critique of my efforts would be welcome. If anyone out there has some video of themselves or someone else doing a solo build, I'd love to see how it's done.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you can make.

Still waiting for snow up here,
-Martin
No one has ever been heard to say on a deathbed, "I wish I'd put in more time at the office".
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Re: Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Post by Banff Martin » Thu Dec 15, 2011 9:27 pm

I'm very interested in this as well. Unfortunately I expect most of my igloos may be solo; as I may have to travel a bit to a more snowy area, my first may be solo...
If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right!

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Igloo Ed
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Re: Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Post by Igloo Ed » Thu Dec 15, 2011 10:37 pm

PineMartyn wrote:Building a 7-foot igloo by myself is something I hope to accomplish this winter. I've read your general description of how this is done, but I'm having a hard time visualizing and working out some specifics.

First, in the early stages where you're kneeling inside the igloo and filling the form for the first few courses, from where are you getting the snow? Are you reaching outside to collect and work up the snow one shovel full at a time one-handed, holding the form with the other, before pouring it into the form?
I put the snow in from the outside and then go inside the igloo to pack it. Remember, it is filled full with loose snow and it only takes a few times for each block. The snow is loose and the form can be moved enough to get it into the right position before beginning the packing. My back is a bit stiff, so I kneel down to pack the block. Some might be able to stoop over or just go down on one knee if they are limber.
Or are you hauling snow into the area where you are kneeling and then working it up there and pouring it into the form one-handed, all from inside the igloo? Using snow from a pile inside seems like it would involve less reaching and getting up and down, but it must get pretty crowded there with a pile of snow, the pole and yourself inside the igloo.
I can step over two layers of blocks, I can nearly finish the third layer before I have to start using a door to get inside the igloo. Then I will shovel a pile in to use from the inside to finish the third layer. Once the third layer is complete the Outer Panel is removed and the snow is placed and packed from the outside. It usually works out that the form can be moved without untoggling the Toggle Handle.
Second, when you've completed the first few courses and move to outside the igloo for your snow, how do you manage to hold the form in place with just one hand while drawing the snow, working it up, and shoveling it into the form with the other? What's the best way to hold the form in position so it doesn't slip or dislodge the center spike while you are pouring snow into it?
Once the Outer Panel is removed, the blocks only need to be a trapezoid, the extra snow sticking out from the last block can be used to lock the Inner Panel into place. I gently put pressure on the top leading corner of the Inner Panel so the pressure is transferred across the pole/panel to the bottom trailing corner. This pressure gives the snowflake texture on the panel some traction so the panel doesn't slip around as easily. Once I get it situated and firmly in place, I rub the extra snow off the previous block to give me enough snow to gently pack the crack all along the previous block and the lower block/wall. If this all done gently, the pressure can be removed from the top leading corner of the form and both hands can be used to pick up a shovel of snow (get a large load). When the pressure is released, the form is able to tip very easily, even a strong wind can blow it loose, the pressure must be applied again before the snow is placed and packed with the other hand. Repeat releasing the pressure, getting snow and putting the pressure back on until the block is filled past the center of the form. Once the snow is past the center of the panel, the snow itself will hold it in place. Normally, when not solo, the block isn't completely filled to the End Panel on the upper layers but the extra snow comes in handy when placing the form for the next block on solo builds.
Third, as the walls get higher, they lean inwards more and more, and hence further away from you. It seems like holding the form and filling it with snow must be an awkward reach. Any tips for this part?
Laying or kneeling against the igloo when needed and laying on the igloo for the last block works. That part comes pretty natural and is easy.
Lastly, about how long should it take to build a a 7-foot igloo solo? To give you an idea of my present skill level, it takes me about 4 hours with a partner to build an 8-footer. Once I've built a few solo and gotten the hang of it, what would you think is a reasonable amount of time? This will give me something to shoot for.
My fastest time was 2 hours and our fastest time with two on an eight foot was 1 hour and 40 minutes. With your experience, it won't take you long to figure it out.
Any other suggestions you can offer to make my first solo build more efficient and less awkward would be appreciated.
Placing the form so it can be moved without untoggling the Toggle Handle is important, it needs to be at a slight angle so it will release when moved ahead.
If you put one shovel in the form and pack, versus filling the form and then packing, your gloves will get wet and the shovel handle will ice up.
Once I can build one myself with some measure of efficiency and speed, I'll post a video on my youtube channel. Your critique of my efforts would be welcome. If anyone out there has some video of themselves or someone else doing a solo build, I'd love to see how it's done.
A video would be great.
Still waiting for snow up here,
-Martin
Pretty dismal across the continent at present. Hopefully, we'll all have a white Christmas.

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PineMartyn
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Re: Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Post by PineMartyn » Fri Dec 16, 2011 6:35 am

Thanks for the detailed descriptions Ed. They've given me a better sense of how I should proceed so as not to waste a lot of time and energy rediscovering the methods you've already perfected. I'll be sure to reread this thread before I attempt my first solo build.

-Martin
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Igloo Ed
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Re: Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Post by Igloo Ed » Fri Dec 16, 2011 7:27 pm

PineMartyn wrote:Thanks for the detailed descriptions Ed. They've given me a better sense of how I should proceed so as not to waste a lot of time and energy rediscovering the methods you've already perfected. I'll be sure to reread this thread before I attempt my first solo build.

-Martin
You're welcome, Martins. I still run across new methods myself from time to time and often think about what I've learned through the years but especially since I've been using the igloos. Just about everywhere you read on the web, they say canister stoves don't work in winter but that was one of the first things I changed in my camping style when I started using igloos.
Thinking about the solo build and remembered another trick. Sometimes I flop or let myself fall onto the igloo on my chest. This is so I can hold a shovel full of snow in my left hand as I get into position to put the snow into the upper layers. The shovel needs to be held steady out in the air so part of the snow load doesn't get knocked off the shovel. It feels weird at first letting your chest hit the igloo but I've never went through or broke the wall.

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Re: Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Post by Hiatus » Mon Dec 26, 2011 6:37 pm

I tried to build a 7' igloo up in Steamboat while we were there over spring break. I spent a good 6 hours and never finished. The snow was that spring time sugar snow with a hard crust over the top. Man was I ever tired! I built it up on the ridge just north of Howelson Ski Hill. The next day I could clearly see it from town.

Ed, how do you build these in under two hours? I can't move that much snow that fast and I'm 10 years your junior at least!

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Re: Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Post by Igloo Ed » Mon Dec 26, 2011 9:54 pm

Hiatus wrote:I tried to build a 7' igloo up in Steamboat while we were there over spring break. I spent a good 6 hours and never finished. The snow was that spring time sugar snow with a hard crust over the top. Man was I ever tired! I built it up on the ridge just north of Howelson Ski Hill. The next day I could clearly see it from town.

Ed, how do you build these in under two hours? I can't move that much snow that fast and I'm 10 years your junior at least!
I'm not familiar with the Steamboat area but on a ridge is a blast. Sorry you didn't get it done.
How I get them done so fast....? Might be a long story...
The time is for the igloo structure itself, not the base as they can get quite elaborate. Packing down a base on a flat area in idea snow conditions would take no more than 1/2 hour. The door, it could be cut through the wall and that only takes minutes but doors can also be pretty elaborate. A good door in idea snow conditions takes about 15 minutes. The trench, the floor could be left flat and an 8ft. igloo would sleep three with the door coming through the wall. A trench takes another 15 minutes.
But... back to the igloo itself.
Two hours is the fastest I've ever built a solo seven foot iglooo. That was with ideal snow conditions, I could just pick up a heaping shovel full and put it into the form. It was wet deep powder and the shovel fulls hardly fit into the form. The snow was so sticky that I could slam anything and blocks wouldn't break. The type of snow where you can do no wrong.
Then, the other times that are less than two hours on the larger igloos.
The fast times are on the eight and nine foot igloos. Both sizes of igloos took us 1 hour and 40 minutes. That was with two people building the eight footer and three people building the nine footer. That was how many we slept in those sizes, so it worked out good.
Those times were with my partner, and long time climbing bud, and other friends that were all very experienced.
My partner and friends found lives of their own and dropped out of the winter camping scene leaving me with the solo igloos I build or the new friends I have that are not as experienced. We have gotten the time down to 2 1/2 hours but haven't hit on ideal snow conditions since they've gained their experience. I'm pretty sure we'd get it down to two hours with good snow.
With the old team, we used to build the igloos in 2 hours and 40 minutes when it was reasonably loose TG snow. That had a lot to do with how large of a load we could get in the shovel and still being able to deliver the load delicately. My new friends take about five hours to build the igloos in the same TG snow conditions. That is mainly due to inexperience.
So, I guess it all comes back to experience and that goes for me too in how I can build them fast and easy too.
Knowing all the different types of snow and how the snow is harvested is the biggest time and energy saver. Not gathering anymore snow than needed for each block is next on the list for energy saved.
How the snow is picked up from the pile is probably next. One shovel full out of the center of the pile and the pile needs to be fixed... One shovel left, one shovel right and one shovel back/center. That's three shovels out of that pile.
Then ya got the packer. The packer can spend more time and energy packing than needed but if the snow is in good condition and delivered right, he can pack the snow as fast as the shoveler can put the snow in.
That's where the fast time comes in, even when solo.
The how do I do it at my age?
Not a motion wasted.
First I found that if I really get after it for 15 seconds, I can round up a lot of snow, then I can cruise on the easier portions of building a block while I regain my breath and energy.
As the years wore on, sore muscles appeared, I found other ways of shoveling that used different muscles when my favorite ones got tired or sore. My favorite of late is to move snow by using the shovel like one would use canoe paddle.
Oh, I never lift a shovel full unless it needs to be lifted. I usually push, sweep or scoop (the canoe paddle thing) to move the snow. Lifting and throwing the snow is a big energy sink.
I'll be building an igloo at Winter Trails Day on Sat. Jan 14th in RMNP and could use some help.

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Re: Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Post by Hiatus » Wed Dec 28, 2011 10:34 am

Ed - Unfortunately I'll be busy on the 14th, delivering my daughter to the airport for her return to school. I really want to get out and build one with you so I can learn the art of stirring the snow to help it sinter in the form. If you have any future one-day igloo building trips please let me know. Thanks - Tom

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Re: Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Post by Igloo Ed » Fri Dec 30, 2011 1:47 pm

Hiatus wrote:Ed - If you have any future one-day igloo building trips please let me know. Thanks - Tom
Well, it's not a day trip/demo igloo but we'll be building an igloo a couple hours in to the backcountry next Friday, Jan 6th. You could join us and head back out. It might be dark by the time we get the igloo complete but...

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Re: Solo build wannabe - tips and suggestions needed

Post by PineMartyn » Wed Mar 07, 2012 7:29 am

Since I started this thread by asking for tips and suggestions, I thought I should follow up by reporting on my first solo builds as the tips and suggestions Ed provided above proved very helpful.

I'd built several igloos with a partner and I was always a bit confused about the logistics involved in a solo build. I guess I imagined it as being much more work and more complicated than it actually was. I woke up one morning and built a 7-footer by myself in 4 hours in my backyard. It was much easier than I thought it would be. Because I already knew how to handle the ICEBOX from my team builds, it was just a matter of figuring out when I needed to be working within the circle of the igloo and when I needed to be working outside of it. It was all rather obvious at each stage of the build what I needed to do.

I should say that as one nears completion on the final courses, it gets pretty cramped in the igloo with the form and pole in the way, so having a shovel that shortens and comes apart was a real advantage. I was able to remove the handle and just use the shovel blade to work as I ran out of elbow room near the top.

Here's a photo of my first solo igloo.
Image

I was so confident after this first successful attempt that I went on a short winter camping trip by myself last week with my ICEBOX, built a 7-footer solo, and had a great time and a great sleep.

Here's a link to a short how-to video series about cold-camping I made while on that trip. In part 2, I have some footage of me building the igloo.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvUusSijfjQ

Thanks for all helpful tips Ed.
-Martin
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