Tech Tip - Alpine - Basecamping

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Savyy tent craft makes for happy glacier campers.

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Basecamping, glacier style

Anyone who has camped for extended periods on a glacier knows how important it is to have a properly dialed-in camp. Since I climb for fun, and not to suffer needlessly, I don’t mess around when it comes to basecamp comfort. The first order of business when arriving on a glacier, regardless of how you got there, is to select the best possible spot to set up your tent. Most important is to make sure you are not below avalanche slopes or seracs. Generally speaking, the middle of the glacier is where you want to be. This also ensures that your camp gets adequate sun, which is always good for morale. Probe the area for hidden crevasses. Dig your tent platform one or two feet below the surface and orient the tent’s long axis in the direction of the prevailing wind. For easy access in and out, dig a hole in front of the entrance. To securely anchor my tent to the glacier, I carry small pieces of wood to use as dead-men. If your tent does not have built-in tensioners in its lines, try using a trucker’s hitch to keep the canopy snug — essential to minimize flapping or damage in high wind. Cooking outside the tent in a Megamid-type structure is popular, but I’ve always preferred to cook inside my tent. This way the stove acts as a heater for the tent, and I don’t have to suit up every time I want a hot drink. Rig lines or a mesh shelf in the roof of the tent to dry gloves, socks, etc. I carry a piece of plywood which I place between myself and my partner in the middle of the tent. The size of the plywood depends on whether I hike or fly to basecamp. The plywood will give you a level surface for cooking and storing various kitchen items. I store snow for melting in a big waterproof stuff sack just outside the door opposite the entrance. Somewhere in this same vestibule I’ll dig a refrigerated compartment in which to store perishable food. Try to have your fridge facing north, away from the sun, or dig it extra deep. A Crazy Creek chair is essential for tent cooking, as is a very thick air mattress. Orient your chair in such a way that you can reach the stove, the snow bag, and your fridge without having to shift positions. I almost always use liquid-fuel stoves because this type of fuel is not affected by the cold. If I have a lot of extra fuel, I’ll sometimes run the stove just to heat up the tent. Make absolutely sure you have proper ventilation, i.e., an opening on each side of the tent to create airflow. Carbon monoxide is denser than air and settles low, where you sleep, so don’t skimp on ventilation. During big storms, make sure that the tent never becomes completely buried as people have suffocated this way. You’ll need a big pot for melting snow and a small dipper for scooping up and pouring the boiling water. Getting out of the tent to urinate is a hassle, so bring wide-mouthed piss bottles, one for each person. Another important item is basecamp boots. I have a pair of foam “moon boots” that I take with me anytime I’m camping on a glacier. This way I don’t have to wear my doubles around camp, and the moon boots are easy to slip on and off quickly. When you do leave camp to go climbing, make sure to leave a gigantic wand sticking out of the snow, so you can find your tent if it snows heavily. A GPS waypoint is also great for this purpose.