(Editor’s note: On some occasions we are obligated to point out what an article in The ARS Sojourner is NOT intended to be. In the case of this fine piece by Steve Galchutt, NØTU, we warn readers that this is NOT a construction article on snow caves. It is one QRPer’s experience in operating from a snow cave. NØTU is highly trained and qualified in snow cave construction and snow survival. Without such training and experience, a snow cave should never be constructed or occupied.)
April / May 2007
For my grandson who was coming to visit us in just a few days for Christmas I had ordered a set of Lincoln Logs online several weeks earlier.
But they were stuck in a UPS truck which was marooned in an ice storm somewhere in Kansas. As I was staring out the window watching the falling snow the idea of building a snow cave hit me! What kid doesn’t love a fort? Heh? Seeing as how the UPS truck wasn’t getting any closer to Colorado, I needed an alternative surprise for my number one grandson.
So I suited up in my long johns, rain suit, warm hat and gloves and got busy shoveling snow. In several hours of sweaty equity I had a large pile of snow suitable for building a snow cave.
Building snow caves can be an enjoyable and even a lifesaving venture, but keep in mind that snow caves can be very dangerous if they are built and used incorrectly.
WARNING: UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE should you attempt to build or occupy a snow cave unless you have completed training from a certified Search and Rescue instructor, have completed a certified avalanche workshop and / or have completed certified training in survival techniques in extreme snow conditions. Snow caves may look simple but architecturally they are not – and can quickly turn DEADLY.
Learning to safely build and ventilate a snow cave from a qualified / certified instructor is essential. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO BUILD OR OPERATE FROM A SNOW CAVE WITHOUT PROPER TRAINING.
Once I had the cave built, safely settled and ready for occupancy I set up my station and punched holes for feedline, ventilation, and an accidental skylight. My first vent hole fell in and turned into a 12” skylight. The best part of the snow cave is its acoustics. It’s really quiet inside.
I didn’t even need to wear my headphones. By just laying them on the sleeping bag, I could hear the sweet sounds of SKN softly thumping the cave walls.
It also was a lot quieter on the receiver end – less QRN. This could have been because my feedline didn’t have to run through the house near noise sources. Unlike most of my tents, the snow cave is roomer allowing the occupant to sit up – which is more comfortable when it comes to operating and changing positions to keep circulation going. I had numerous foam pads to sit and stand my feet on for comfort’s sake.
After New Year’s dinner, I crawled into my “cave” for a short SKN fix. I started off with on 40-meters using my FT-817 with Elecraft’s little T1 auto-ATU and my trusty old J-37 mounted on a slab of brass stock.
I had an 88’ inverted V already hung nearby so rerouted the feedline to the cave and 40-meters lit up with SKN signals galore.
Into the night I worked stations with the candles flickering. I occasionally checked in with the wife in the 70 degree warm house to make sure SHE was ok.
What fun! When I said the QTH here was a “snow cave” it really spiced up the QSOs! It took several fills to explain it of course.
For a change, New Year’s day I QSY’d up to 17-meters to check on propagation and heard several strong Europeans on CW and SSB. But the pileups were too big to bust through.
I had several fun stateside SSB QSOs (not SKN, but fun just the same). I then checked into the HFpack frequency. Wow! I almost had a pileup on me when they heard “/snow-cave” after my call. Fun stuff!
I dropped to 20-meters for a few more SKN Qs and then arranged a QSO via the cell with my brother-in-law Rich, AC7MA, in Woodenvill, WA. We dropped to 30-meters as 20-meters faded. Thus went SKN!
I took a quick HOT soup break. Did I mention the average temperature in my snow cave was about 28F? But with the right clothing – lots of layers – it’s quite comfortable because its calm – no wind chill.
So I was getting my little ATS3a ready for January ’07 Spartan Sprint on 40-meters. I heard some loud QRP signals on around 7040 getting ready for the gun to off when I heard a weak lightly-whooping signal.
I thought, “Hmm, I bet that’s either a Tuna Tin-2 or SMK1 rig.” Just then, Steve, VE7SL, signed his call but the other stations we right on top him and I’d missed his complete call.
I did a quick QRZ the VE?? He heard me (woohoo) and we had a really quick SKN QSO just before the SP frenzy broke loose on us. I was right: Steve was on his SMK1 @250mW! What a huge thrill.
Steve and I have worked before on Tuna Tins but something about being in the snow cave and SKN that made this QSO the finishing touch for my SKN ’07 snow bound experience!
BANG! Off went the SP with a loud clang of signals spread out around 7040. It was hard to believe they were QRP they we so loud – or so it seemed.
It sounded more like November Sweepstakes. My ATS did a great job of separating them as I walked up and down the band logging contacts usually on the first call.
The second hour I switched rigs. I need to finish the ATS’s 80-meter module soon. On my FT817, my feed line was at some weird length and the rig didn’t like the match and folded back the power to less than a watt. Humph!
Maybe a 4/1 balun would have solved this? The QRPp made 80-meters tough going. But still I was able to bang out 6-QSOs including finally making contact with another Polar Bear: Ken / WA8REI - PB # 21 who was really patient with my 6-repeats!
Oops! I almost forgot to mention I couldn’t get Calvin – my grandson who’s not even 2 yet – to even think about stepping foot in the snow cave. We tried everything including having his mom crawl in first.
She tired to coax him in, but little Calvin wasn’t convinced he needed to venture into Grampa’s scary snow cave.
Too bad. Maybe next year? But that afternoon the UPS truck showed up. This whole experience has got me thinking maybe it would be fun to build a tree house for the grandkids to play in.
And while they’re not using it, this kid can use is for a hamming events.
This was the best SKN and SP ever!
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Steve Galchutt, NØTU, is an avid QRPer, field operator and expert outdoorsman living in Monument, CO.