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M Make Your Own Gear: Igloos

by Tad Englund

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Article Summary:

When I was in grade school, back in the 1960s, my teacher showed the film Nanook of the North. I was enthralled by the igloo the title character built and always wanted to try my hand at it. When my oldest boy entered Scouting, his troop planned a trip to Mount Rainier for igloo building. I beyond excited to accompany the troop. There weren't any pre-trip instructions for the adults, and I knew my son didn't have a clue. When I arrived at the igloo site, the Scoutmaster gave me a five-minute briefing, then turned around and left to build his own igloo. I started to build what was going to be a great igloo for me, my 12-year-old and his tag-along friend, Chris.

After about three hours, with a storm approaching and four layers of blocks laid, I had the same diameter of building as when I had started. It was a nice fort, or maybe the start of a silo, but definitely not an igloo. The early winter evening was closing in, and the storm had already arrived, chasing some of the other members of the party to head for home rather than spend the night. I wasn't a quitter and had never been run off the mountain by a storm, so instead of packing up, my son, his friend Chris, and I decided to use one of the abandoned "igloos" left by some of the escapees. It was still silo-shaped, but more enclosed than ours. After settling in, it became very apparent why they left this particular igloo. There were large holes in the "roof," so it snowed both outside and inside the igloo. At least the walls were a wind-block. All in all the three of us stayed warm enough and had a great adventure.

The next year we were up for another adventure and decided to try igloo building again. My oldest, Chris, and my second son, now 12, signed up to go. That year I read and re-read the handout from the troop, and we successfully built a hybrid igloo/silo without any holes in the roof. Those boys are grown and gone, and I had two other boys go through the program. One of my daughters braved the coldest trip we've taken and successfully constructed an igloo with me as well.

Over the years, though trial and error, I have learned what works and what doesn't. Meanwhile I ran across a building technique that speeds the building process and makes efficient use of time, space, and materials. We call it the "Hub and Spoke Method." It allows the flexibility to build an igloo for two to six people, using the same footprint. It also speeds the time to construct the igloo. Two knowledgeable adults and four boys working on the same igloo can complete it in less than three hours. I was able to complete an igloo with five novice 12-year-olds in two and a half hours; we finished before the four adults next to us were even closed in.

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