People have asked us,"What do you do up there after you've built the igloo?" It's not exactly the right question, because we go up there to build the igloo. What we do in addition is secondary. It always takes us most of the first day to build the dome, a sleeping place, and some minimal cooking area. We spend half of the second day improving and expanding everything, lowering the floors, digging out the walls, extending the entrance, building windbreaks. I like to sculpt snowy grotesques on top of the chimney. We always stay two or three nights to enjoy what we've built. In cold, snowy conditions, the igloo will last quite a while. We've never tested them to their limit.
Remember that winter days are short. When you're tired and wet and your igloo is still a few hours from being close to comfortable, and dinner is a ways off, and the tent is still in the bag, you'll think winter days are even shorter.
There are three things to do while winter camping to stay warm: Be active, eat well, and wear plenty of insulating layers of clothes.
It's no time to diet. You need the calories and good-tasting food that stimulates your appetite. In fact, we typically eat better while backpacking than we do at home. We start the day with big breakfasts of hash browns, pancakes, omelets (sometimes made from frozen eggs), and hot drinks. We snack all day on sandwiches, trail mix, cheese, salami, and jerky. Dinners are things like hot and sour soup, shrimp jambalaya, beef and bean burritos, pepperoni pizza, Thai curry, tortellini with chicken, and artichoke in Alfredo sauce washed down with cold beer and Black Velvet whiskey.When not working on the igloo, we rarely sit still, even when it's stormy outside. We snowshoe to nearby Deer Lake or up to Panorama Point. We sled down the hills (and walk back up). We stomp out trails to get different angles for pictures, then use the trails to play fox-and-geese because you're never too old to play like a kid. At night, we strap a mini-tripod to a ski pole to use it as a monopod for long exposure shots.
It is ironic that we find protection and comfort within the very elements that would otherwise threaten us. We work hard all day burrowing underground so we can play outside at night.
The inside of the igloo is awash with soft light and the smell of candles burning. We use beer cans as candle holders, or hang a candle lantern from a stake in the wall. We set candle stubs directly on the snow in the alcoves, and over time they melt deep into the snow and create translucent wall lamps. The arched ceilings and candlelit alcoves look like the inside of a cathedral.
Inside, it isn't heat from the candles that warms us, though I have held my fingers to a flame. It's the light that warms us. Humans don't like the dark. Evolution sent us into trees and caves at night, and told our bodies to sleep so we wouldn't stumble about in the darkness.
The light diffuses through the snow to the outside because the snow blocks are mostly air. The light fills the airy spaces in a way that says the igloo is more than a stack of blocks it's a brilliant gem.
The igloo reminds me of Nanook, carving a home not for the fun of it but for survival. The glow from our igloo means home and comfort and safety.
And it looks cool.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication