Sunday 30 January 2011

Igloos, Spindrift and White-Out

This last weekend saw six of us from Inverness Nordic and Ski Touring Club on an igloo building overnight trip on the Moine Mhor in the Cairngorms. We climbed up into the hills on foot and then on skis on a day of clouds and touches of blue sky. By 900 metres we were in pale drifing mist and visibility was shrinking and expanding almost every minute. The occasional break in the cloud gave hope of clearing skies but only for a few late hours did the sun break through. We crossed the rounded summit of Carn Ban Mor then skied down soft snow lying on a hard crust into a shallow bowl at the head of a summer stream gully. Here at 1030 metres we built our igloos, using Igloo Ed's ingenious IceBox igloo tool.

Igloo in infancy during a couple of hours of sunshine late on Saturday, the only clear weather of the trip.

Dark comes early in January in Scotland and it was well after nightfall before we finished the igloos. The clouds returned and intermittently a fine drift of light sleet swept the landscape. Here the builders are close to putting on the final "cap", when snow is pile onto the horizontal form and patted down to close the roof of the igloo, followed by the seemingly impossible when the form is removed and the snow stays in place.

The night in the igloos was calm and only the flapping of the nylon doors and the occasional inrush of spindrfit told of the increasing wind outside. Venturing onto the bare mountain soon after dawn was a cold shock as the turbulent air sent the fine snow spinning into the air and lashing the face. High above clouds swirled and raced, occasionally revealing tanatalising shreds of blue sky.

Morning in one of the igloos, comfortable and warm with stoves, hot drinks and food. Soon we would have to venture out.

Sleet and wind scoured, with visibility fading fast, we used the igloos as shelter while we packed up and prepared to depart. The contrast between the inside and the outside of the igloos was startling, peace and quiet cocooned in the thin snow walls, storm thrashed on the mountain outside.

After crossing Carn Ban Mor on a compass bearing as visibility was minimal we were relieved to come out of the mist soon after starting the descent as then we could enjoy the skiing, though the two of us with IceBox tools strapped to our packs did find keeping balance during turns problematical at times. Once down the snow, which was fast and easy to ski, we strapped skis to the packs and plodded down the icy track to the forest, content after a night high in the mountains in shelters we'd built ourselves.


  1. Wow! That looks like a great adventure! How I wish I lived in Scotland.

  2. Great adventure Chris, but with all that equipment, it's hard to tell which one of those lads is you! You haven't shaved your beard off, have you?

  3. Looks like fun to me!

    Bill Gordon

  4. Philip, I expect Chris was the one with the camera!

  5. Chris,
    How much does the Icebox weigh ? It must be great bein warm inside and peaceful while a storm rages outside.

  6. I was the one with the camera!

    The IceBox weighs 2.3kg so it's quite light. The problem with carrying it is the shape - it's rectangular and won't fit in a pack so it has to be strapped on the back. When there's enough snow I usually put it on a pulk but as we had to walk up to about 700 metres that wasn't possible for this trip.

  7. genius stuff, looks very cosy in side and fairly wintery outside!

  8. Now thats something you don't see everyday! Looks like good fun.
    Was wondering if you know how long they are inhabitable for Chris?
    I guess it very much depends on conditions.

  9. Temperature is the key Paul. As long as it stays cold enough they will last. The entrances might fill up with snow but they are easily dug out. In the Rockies Igloo Ed builds igloos in December that last through until April.

  10. I have always wanted to do this, or stay overnight in a snowhole. Presumably an igloo would be more comfortable?

  11. Snowholes can be comfortable to live in, though they are darker than igloos. But they are much more uncomfortable to build as you are in the snow and get snow everywhere. Also you need a bank with deep enough snow. Igloos can be built anywhere there's snow.