The Mountain Hut
First you want to find a good flat place. If you find a potentially good slope, you can get out the snow shovel and make a good pad. Be ultimately sure you can get a flat area before you use up your effort, because this is the sweatiest activity.
Don't use your down clothing for digging. Once the snow is dug to a nice flat area, now you need to BE sure again that its flattened out even after you flatten it out, or your back will pay later. Use the snow shovel backside at first now, wash the snow back and forth letting it spray. Once you have it relatively flat, now use your gloved hands to brush back and forth lightly and fast so that it sprays again. Once you have it good now go over it slowly with your gloves to make sure every inch is smooth. This should take about 20 min's to set up your pad, unless your really fast, or happen to have a really nice area already. Oh yes, one more thing, be SURE that you wont get down to the dirt on your lowest corner of your tent pad, dig here first to test, or your wasting your time. Remember, if its cold enough, you can get snow from anywhere and pile it up onto your flat, it will set like concrete in no time if the weather is right. Otherwise, if its warmer, you will be waiting forever for the pad to set, and will finally put the tent on loose snow after giving in if it doesn't set in time. Just try to avoid this at all costs for a good comfortable sleep. I've had nights where i drank a pot of coffee waiting for the pad to set. Be sure you're still on top of at least a foot or more of hard pack snow when your done, or the steaks may have a problem holding the tent down. Once you have the tent pad set, the next job is to relax, and make some hot coffee. Once the slab is nice and setup(time has been given for the wind to crust the snow like concrete, or temperatures low enough to solidify the new pad nice and ice) then grab and throw out your tent, stick the poles in, raise it up and shake any old sand out, and toss it down where you want it to land. Now put in the stakes for the tent into every possible stake slot being careful NOT TO rip anything. Be sure to stretch the tent out as far as it will go, on each steak, working your way around, ensuring it's setup up as taut as possible, and properly. It helps also now that you have the chance to run your hand along the interior tent floor lightly to help solidify the bottom once more. don't put your knee in the tent or you will have a huge dent. always come from the outside and sit gently, only after putting your sleeping pad down, and your bag, ensuring to protect the flat still-hardening surface. Its not uncommon to bang out a hip/waist hole, or a head hole, or a HUGE foot hole, once sleeping area is established for comfort however. Its also good to dig down about 1-2 feet for a flat doorstep, allowing the back to rest when sitting on doors edge. Be sure to leave some surface within the vestibule area for a shelf for the stove when digging your doorstep hole.
One time, I saw snowboarding campers dig a 10 foot deep, by 10 square flat living quarters for a tent pad, stairs included for an overnight stay. One of them had a vault dug into the side on the bottom of the 10ft big enough for him and his bag. Those kids were some ambitious snow boarders and were packed light. It probably took the 4-5 of them about 2 hrs to dig that. Fun stuff.
Once the tent is looking good and steaked down tightly you can setup your interior guy lines(if stormy, need to move to fly-sheet quickly instead to get guyed out first). To set up interior guy lines first find a good knot that works as an adjustable tensioner, then run a piece of good thin 1/8th inch poly-cord(slightly thinner i believe) between the head end lower left interior guy point up to the upper left head guy point(if i remember correctly), then the same thing, another for the right(lower right head end connect to the upper right head end. Then tension these only semi-taut.(You can tighten them up in a storm from inside if needed, otherwise its best to slack them only a hair). You can leave these in this position for the life of the tent. Now take another cord, and go from the lower rear left, and x it to the upper right rear(foot end), and vice verse, lower right guy point connects to the upper left foot end guy point, creating an x shape on the foot end. Only assuming the tent has been steaked out tightly, tighten these foot end interior lines semi-taut as well. These can be left too. Fasten the center of the x, at the back, with either a knot, or twist the leftover of the tensioner around it to secure it. This x point makes an excellent tent hanger for things like a candle lantern, or other things, but more importantly, provides stability for the inner structure of the tent poles. Incase i have the head end mixed up, it may be better to make an x configuration at that end as well, only if there's room to get in. You will need to adjust according to the type of tent you have, and whether or not you have internal guy loops to connect to. You can also connect a cord from the upper left head, to the upper left foot, and leave it slightly drooping for usage, and can do the same thing on the right, etc. Get creative, just don't create any fire hazards near your stove area. Once you have this setup you wont need to do it again. When the tent is collapsed the lines collapse as well. Use some good colorful thin poly- mountain cordage as it is part of the interior decoration for those bad-weather stays. :-)
Ok, if you think your tent is done and can stay like this, you will have no tent once the first wind gust kicks up unless you have put all your gear inside, in that case you will just have a bunch of bent poles. Well maybe the internal guys would have helped greatly, but that's not as important as the following. Now we need to take the fly-sheet and toss it over your tent. Once you have this in place, take the main steak-out adjustable loops and put big tent steaks in them. Actually, now that i think of it, on mine, some of the fly-sheet mains share the tent steaks i believe, so you can check this as you setup the tent steaks. Once you have ALL the primary fly steaks in, start to tighten up all the tensioner's on the fly. Get the zippers straight, then tighten everything up taut until it looks like a skyscraper. Once you have this, now you ned to finish guying out the fly on ALL the secondary connection loops. Take every single guy loop you can find now and rig up about 15-18 feet of thin less than 1/4in(1/8th is good)poly-cordage into a tensioner slide knot system with at least 2 feet of play(which means that when you slip the rope through the fly loop, pull out about 3-4 feet, and go down to about the 2-3ft position and tie your tensioner knot, allowing for a couple feet of adjustment both ways), which should give you a good 10ft+ lead on EACH guy loop. Use a bowline knot/loop at steak end of the connecting ropes, for a steak loop, and keep the tensioner knot of course at the fly-sheet end, since the steaks will be deep beneath the snow in no time. You wouldn't be able to reach your tensioner knots because they would be well below the snow otherwise. Once you have these on your tent they can be there to stay. Now rig up all your new secondary guy lines to anything you can find. Try NOT to use the MAIN FLY STEAKS at all for your 'extra' guy-outs. Because when the wind gets ripping, you don't want the steaks to come ripping out. Find rocks for the guy lines, and trees. NOw that you have your 15 plus guy lines set out, tension each and every one of them in order, starting back with the main fly-sheet points, working your way back around the secondary tie down points, tensioning each one nice and taut. you should be able to play guitar on each string(LITERALLY), if not then you need to re-think your steaks or size of rocks. Now the last connection, use your rope to extend one main top guy line out, UPWIND, to the nearest permanent anchor. This rope, fastened to the mainframe loop somewhere on the top serves as an excellent support, especially should your tent come unanchored, this will be the last string holding your tent on the mountain. You can also take the other end of this rope and slip it through your back pack and bowline it off.
Once all the guy lines are setup like tripwires all around your tent, your ready for a storm. I have 22 guy points on my 3 season Sierra-Designs(A North Face knock-off company) Nightwatch-CD alone. I have used a Sierra-Designs Tiros before as well, which was a 4-season rental from REI, and returned it with a bent pole from a Mt. Whitney trip. What an amateur move. I set my steaks in a snow pack on top of a boulder, which we all know boulders absorb heat from the sun. When the storm kicked up, it was me, 3AM, my entire bag packed short of ALL gear i could possibly fit on my body due to emergency situation, and the ice axe poked into the left corner, while crouched down praying holding that axe in for the life of me, as my tent bobbled with only my FULL fully-packed backpack in it due to the disruption. It was a hairy 20 min's until i managed to weasel my way into the tent and sit into an ever growing ice hole, as i sunk deeper, the poles swayed more, and started to bend under the pressure, and i ended up having a 1-2 foot deep hole underneath my rear under the tent under the tent, from the wind cutting it out, with my back pressing up against the windward side of the tent having to support it. I eventually had to fall asleep leaning up against my bag and the tent wall, while the tent walls slapped back and forth next to my head like lightning and my mind fell to exhaustion now that things looked under control for the most part under the persistent storm. I was just trying to figure out how to get comfortable. Finally i dozed off somehow in the wee hours of the morning. This tent location has been outlined above in the Mount Whitney pictures, and you can see it flexing in the wind in the images, which was at most about half as fierce as the night before.
Be sure to use snow tent steaks. Don't bring any small skinny little steaks. The plastic t shaped ones work well too. I have a set of about 10 banana shaped aluminum snow steaks, and about 10 easton aluminum ice spikes. I use them all just about every time. A good well known technique is to pour 'some' water over the tent steaks area once the tent is setup to ensure good freezing. Another well known technique is midnight urination if the steaks are pulling up from a late night storm. eww. The urine freezes the steaks when your in a crunch, or want to be extra certain about things staying together when the going gets tough.
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