Thursday, February 25, 2010

We Made an Igloo! Loads of Winter Fun . . .

It was about 8 feet tall (five feet on the inside), and 8-10 feet diameter on the inside.

By Dave Armstrong (2-25-10)

I've been wanting to do this for years. The closest I came was about 22 years ago in my parents' backyard, but I only got to a few feet high before the snow ran out (and I was sick as it was). We finally got socked last week with big snow (surprisingly, up here in southeast Michigan we haven't gotten much snow this winter, while everyone else has).

So about six days ago I decided to take the bull by the horns and make an igloo at long last. There was lots of fresh snow and it was perfect packing, at just under 32 degrees. I started by myself (the first three hours' worth of work). I carved out the inside diameter with a snow shovel (about 8-10 feet), left the snow as it was around the edges, packed it down with a shovel and carved it at a 45 degree angle on the outside, so that the foundation was about twice as thick as all layers above it.

After that, it was pretty simple: I made snow bricks using a dishwashing pan, stomping on it so it was well-packed. Then I added bricks all the way around for level two, alternating bricks up and down (because the dishpan tapers out on the sides). I set the bricks about two inches towards the middle, past the edge of the previous layer. We did this for the rest of the construction. Then I packed in the angled spaces on the outside with snow, so that it would be smooth. My gloves were absolutely soaked!

By that first day I had it built about three feet high. The next day my 13 yo son helped the whole time, and my 8 yo daughter did the filling-in packing on the inside (perfect for her since that was so low at first). We kept making bricks and bricks and got the igloo up to about 6 feet high after the second day of construction; eventually using plastic toboggans to pull loads of six bricks at a time to the construction site. We worked on the doorway, making it straight up, and then put in one piece of wood at the top, to make sure it wouldn't collapse. That was the only part of it that wasn't snow (if you don't count the wooden door).

On the third day we were determined to finish and see if the dome would hold. It was exciting! For some reason it got less round the higher we went, and took on more of a rectangular shape. But that probably helped stabilize the top more. It was a happy accident. The snow was less packable than the day before, when it was perfect. Now it was more icy and less like wet sand on the beach. After a few more hours, the igloo got to where there was just a small hole on top.

The top layer had to be added from the outside with the help of a small step ladder. We just set some bricks on top that covered about six inches or so of empty space. My son packed snow real good from inside, on the ceiling (saved my back!). I then put two more layers of bricks on the top, figuring that would cause the top to melt more slowly. That's what gave it the pointed "top of a mountain" look, because of this extra "padding" and the already rectangular top section. It was solid all around, with no hint of possible collapse. We had done it! We had no major obstacles to overcome. Everything had gone smoothly.

It snowed some more in the next few days, making a nice smooth sparkling white exterior. It looked like a miniature mountain. On the first night my son and I played chess inside of it, with a camping lantern (he won: he's better than I am). And the next night he actually slept in it, but got cold at about 6 AM (probably because he didn't have a proper winter coat: it was wet) and took refuge in the house. I camped in Rocky Mountain Park in 1979 (all of age 21 then) at 9000 feet in a funky little pup tent, and when I woke up a few inches of snow was on the ground. Gorgeous to hike in! I was perfectly warm with my down jacket. The day before I had hiked 17 miles at that altitude: a huge circle. His night reminded me of that adventure.

For the last three or four days the temperature has been above freezing, so unfortunately it is melting rapidly. What a shame, after all the work. But it was a blast. I wouldn't trade the experience, working / playing with my son, for anything. He said it was some of the greatest fun he had ever had, and I said I felt like a kid again: the new, fresh experience. It was one of those classic, priceless father-son "moments." That's what it's all about.

Hope you enjoy the photos. I'm curious to hear if anyone else has made one of these and if you constructed it differently, and if you ran into any "engineering problems."

Pretty dark inside and very quiet. The walls were about a foot-and-a-half thick. The square item is a plastic milk crate.

Here is my adorable daughter having a blast. My son rigged up a rope for the door that went through a hole, like a drawbridge.

Here's my son who worked so hard. The inside looked exactly like a cave (I slept in one in the Grand Canyon in 1978), with white walls. It settled in to something between ice and hard-packed snow. Here it is after several days of melting. The whole thing appears to have sunk. My son is almost 5'8", so the top has lost about two feet and the doorway is about two-thirds as high as it originally was. The inside is still solid: for now!


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

What a neat thing to do -- and I love the way it came out!

Dave Armstrong said...

Yeah, I like that "mountain" or what I have called the "Star Wars hut" look. Pretty cool. Too bad the weather didn't cooperate longer.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

I think it's a beautiful thing that you have done here--providing a new home for the beloved Al Gore and his family.

I'm a little disappointed that you forgot the landing strip, tennis courts and swimming pools, but hey--your heart is certainly in the right place. God bless you!

Dave Armstrong said...

And we can all enjoy the ceiling caving in on his head due to global warming: the glaciers of Melvindale, Michigan melting because of the massive, cataclysmic geological events taking place all around us . . .

I'm far more concerned about GM and Ford than I am about all that nonsense . . .

Ben M said...

I think it's a beautiful thing that you have done here--providing a new home for the beloved Al Gore and his family.

LOL, Pilgrim!

And here’s a little reading material for Al Gore to enjoy in his new home! ;)

Climategate and Galileo

Maureen said...

A little lower ceiling, a tunnel entrance, and maybe another body, and I think your son would have had a shirtsleeve sleeping environment. But your "snow hut" style igloo was also nice, and should suffice. :)