Sleep in a Snow Hole


Winter will be upon us soon and with it the season for winter climbing and walking. I asked Alan Kimber, of West Coast Mountain Guides, to explain how to go about sleeping in a snow hole.

Can you explain why mountaineers would use snow holes when climbing as opposed to using a tent or a bivvy bag?
More shelter from the wind.

Is building a snow hole an advisable way to shelter for the night in Scotland's hills in winter?
Yes, but depends on situation and location and conditions.

For the first time snow holer what advice would you give?
Find a snow bank not too far from alternative shelter and practice first. If something goes wrong it should be easy enough to travel downhill, straight to safety.

What equipment is it necessary to take with especially?
A good shovel – snow saw - sleeping bag – insulated sleeping mat – stove – food – All the usual hill survival gear and warm clothing.

What considerations are there to choosing a good spot? Where has been your favourite location?
Try to avoid anything in a gully line where avalanches may slide through. Avoid anything with water running beneath. Difficult to be precise with a favourite spot. It will depend largely on the conditions at the time.

What temperature rating does my sleeping bag need to stay warm?
Four Season.

Won't my expensive down sleeping bag get wet?
Possibly. Cover it with a gore-tex bivvy sack.

What are the drawbacks and dangers of sleeping in snow holes?
Suffocation (make sure you have a ventilation hole). Collapse and damp in thaw conditions. They take a lot of effort to construct compared to using a bothy or pitching a tent.

What are the benefits?
Well constructed in good dry and cold conditions they are bombproof, even in a gale of wind, where a tent might be destroyed. They are also much quieter than a tent in windy weather.

In your opinion what is the greatest winter climb in Scotland?
No comment. There are too many to choose from.

Which mountaineer has inspired you?
Riccardo Cassin – Walter Bonatti.

Can you me the most important tips for winter mountaineering.
Be very good at navigation – Use the correct clothing, ice axe and crampons – Understand avalanche hazards and how to avoid them – Take your time to understand and be able to match the challenges of the winter hills to your own ability and experience.

More information is available in this article:

I've mentioned other ways to sleep out in the hills before as part of my CHEAP SLEEP series. You could opt for a bothy, tent or bivvy bag.

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