Monday, February 11, 2013

Are you feeling Quinzee?

A few snowshoe buddies and I came across an odd, deserted winter camp in Gatineau Park over the weekend, which was blessed with perfect winter weather - fresh snow, sunshine, and cold. And finally, no rain or freezing rain!

"It looks like Armageddon! What happened here?"
 A few snow-entrenched fire pits smoked.

There were odd rows of six foot long trenches in the snow, 4 or 5 big snow domes with sticks and small shovels poking out of them, and camping gear strewn about.
"Hey, anybody in there!?" There was no answer. All the winter campers were off playing in the woods somewhere.

"What the heck are these man-made things?"

Then, I remembered a group of 10 snowshoers with heavily-loaded backpacks and shovels that we crossed paths with as we headed out and up a trail for a day snowshoe around Lac Philippe. They were heading back from a winter camping trip. All were smiling.

I asked, "Are you happy to be getting out of here and back to civilization?"

One smiled even larger and said, "I don't know. Might miss the quinzees!"

Why do people build these snow shelters called quinzees? Why do they like it? Why do they miss their quinzees when they leave? The only answer I can come up with is . . . it must be fun?
What is a quinzee?

A quinzee (or quinzhee) looks like an igloo, but instead of being made out of blocks of hard snow or ice, a quinzee is a snow shelter made by hollowing out a big pile of packed-down shoveled snow. They look like snow domes.

Quinzees take a few hours to build. That's probably why people like to do this activity in groups. And it's hard work. Bring lots of big, strong friends who like to shovel snow for hours.

It's hard for me to believe you can actually stay warm when camping in the winter inside a quinzee. But it would seem to be warmer and more insulated from the cold and wind than a tent.

Here’s how they build quinzees.

With shovels and snow and sticks!
  • The hard working campers pile a bunch of snow into a mound seven to eight feet high, hoping that it will be big enough to hold about two people once it is hollowed out. You wouldn't want to get lonely in there. Hopefully, one of the industrious builders will invite you in, because you just sat around and watched them toil.
  • You have to mix up the snow when you pile it into a big mound to mix snow of varying temperatures, otherwise it won't harden, or sinter.
  • Then start packing it down and shaping that big mound of snow into a dome and let it harden for a couple of hours.
  • Dig a small doorway on the downhill side.
  • Next hollow out the mound from the top down.
  • Smooth out the walls and ceiling.
  • Walls should be one to two feet thick.
I was wondering why there were sticks, poking out of the quinzees. I thought they were air holes, but they are measuring sticks, so you know to stop hollowing out the inside when you see the ends of the sticks.

A small ventilation hole is dug out near the top of the quinzee. You wouldn't want things to get too steamy in there.

You need to mark the entrance of the quinzee in case it gets covered with fresh snowfall while you are away. "Hey honey, do you remember where we put the door?!"

Sleep with a small shovel (or two) inside in case you need to dig yourself out! Isn't that obvious? Bring lots of extra shovels and leave them around your quinzee so friends can dig you out if you didn't build it right!

Cross your fingers that you don't get rain or freezing rain while you sleep. Keep track of the weather conditions. You need optimal conditions to "Get Quinzee!"

And here's a new thing I learned, burying your water jugs in a snowdrift insulates the water and keeps it from freezing. Or, it should . . .

Are you feeling quinzee?

Let the sun shine on your quinzee building. The full sun just ain't no good for shooting winter scenes. Or is it . . . ?

Happy trails.
The BaffinPaddler

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