Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Zero Waste Microadventure- Winter Bivvy

I was hoping for snowy winter since October. I desperately wanted to go and bivvy in the snow for the first time. It looked like spring was on its way and that I will miss my chance, but luckily for me, nature had “the beast from the east” up its sleeve.  And what a beauty that was. As soon as the snow hit the ground, it was as if all of the Sheffield adventure folk suddenly came out of the woodworks. People were skiing, swimming, winter climbing, walking and generally embracing activities which are usually reserved for Scottish Winter or somewhere in the Alps. I did not want to miss my chance either!
 These sort of days only happen once every few years and it is so easy to miss them. Life commitments, work and all sorts of things can get in the way. But at times like this you need to drop everything which is not life urgent and seize the moment! Because you might just wake up the next day and the opportunity is gone. I was not going to let that happen this time. I packed my bag, gave my 'yes sayer' pal Ollie a ring, and I walked towards my first winter bivvy.

                                             Setting off towards my first winter bivvy 

If you haven’t heard of bivvying before, you can essentially think of it as camping but without a tent. You use a bivvy bag which goes over your sleeping bag so that you are protected from the wet ground and from the elements (up to a point). Sleeping in a bivvy makes you feel so much much more exposed than camping. Or you could say connected? You don’t just hear the wind and rain outside of your tent, you feel it on the little bit of skin that is left exposed-your face.  It feels really freeing as there is no faff as there is with a tent.  You can sleep pretty much anywhere, curled up, trying to protect yourself from the weather. When the night is glorious and the stars are out, it can be a magical experience. You fall asleep looking at the stars and you wake up as the sun comes over the horizon. But it also has the potential for it to become a long and uncomfortable night as you are very much at mercy of the weather. 

                       One of the warmer, beautiful bivvies that I have done 

I have bivvied in the summer but never in the winter. I am not going to lie, I was apprehensive. But if my Lake District Winter Microadventure taught me anything, it is that we don’t have to fear winter and that with the right preparation and a few safety measures you can enjoy it in a relatively safe way.  I looked at it rationally. People do it all the time- total badass women like Rosie Swale-Pope even bivvied in Siberia in the winter! (If you haven’t already, read her book, it is one of the most inspiring adventure books out there).  I made a risk assessment in my head. What’s the worse that can happen? Hypothermia. Okay, I can eradicate that by making sure that I have enough warm insulation.  Next- what if there is a storm and I would get too cold even with two sleeping bags? No worries, I just walk home or get picked up at the nearest road. Next- what if I break my leg en route? There is signal in most of the Peaks so I can call for help. Next- what if... after a while I realised that all of the major risk negating solutions were in place and I was pretty safe. The apprehension was there because I simply never done it before. I would like to say that it was so hard-core but actually, if you look at it in this way, suddenly it feels pretty doable.

I packed my bivvy, 2 sleeping bags, winter roll mat and my down jacket as well as some spare layers. I was going for the ''better be safe than sorry'' approach and over packed my warm layers. 

                       I have taken both my summer and winter sleeping bags, just in case!

Food is often the biggest sources of plastic rubbish but not this time as everything I took was Zero Waste. Salad with cheese, homemade chilli and banana bread and a few nuts made for a pretty good dinner! I filled the flask with hot tea and took my stainless steel water bottle which was nearly frozen by the morning.

                              Camping out doesn't have to mean a lot of plastic trash afterwards

There are at least 1056 reasons why Sheffield is simply the best place to live in but the fact that you can walk out of your door and within a few hours be somewhere with 100% adventure potential is just one of them. Ollie was doing his own biking adventure that morning and so I arranged to meet him at our designated bivvy spot for the night and set off.

                            This is what I would call optimal trad climbing conditions!

The Peak District was transformed. I know some of the places like the back of my hand and with the snow cover, it was like I was transported to a different, more magnificent place. I would never describe it as imposing but with a extremely low visibility and snow everywhere, the place that I find so friendly and welcoming was suddenly cold and eerie.

                      You wouldn't believe that Stanage Edge can look like this 

We picked a beautiful spot which is the best-kept secret amongst climbers and overnight adventurers. If you search, you will no doubt find it.  It was a little bit sheltered so the deep snow all around and the howling wind was more mellow he.reThe forecast wasn’t great, it was meant to snow all night and rain early morning. Snow can be a really good form of insulation though, so we scrapped lots of it and made a thick snow cushion. I used a ground sheet, put my double sleeping bag and a roll mat on it and a top of the range sleeping arrangement was ready.  

                                          Cozy set up

One of the things about winter months is that it gets so dark really early on.  When you are out there, it forces you to just do less. I wonder what people used to do before electricity stormed into our lives? Probably pretty much the same as what happens when you winter bivvy - you chat with your mate, read, mull over ideas, eat, drink tea and go to bed early. Boredom and space to not have to do anything specific was invited. Sounds like a pretty good way of spending Saturday night to me! I have taken my favourite book with me- ''How to be Free'' by Tom Hodgkinson and we took turns reading different chapters to each other, contemplating life. We chatted about waste and the futileness of it after reading ''Reject waste- embrace thrift'' (chapter 28) and with Ollie getting a new job recently and me leaving my job for a year- ‘’Reject your career and all of its empty promises’’ chapter stimulated quite an interesting discussion.

                            This is pretty much my idea of a perfect Saturday night! 

When your eye lids finally grow unbearably heavy (about 8:30 pm) you switch the head torch off and suddenly the moment that you were waiting for is right there. Calm and peace engulfs you as you relish in the experience that there is only a thin sheet of fabric and some down insulation which stands between you and your favourite place in the world. There were no stars that night. The visibility was so low all day that I could hardly see a few metres in front. As I got deeper and deeper into my warm down cocoon, I felt really alive. Behind the thick walls of our home, we forget what it is like to be really exposed. And I slowly started to remember and felt really connected to the environment. There is nothing left to do but letting go of the control of the environment and your consciousness and any worries you may have about whether your sleep will be disturbed are taken away by the darkness.

It really was an amazing experience.

I did not get hypothermia either. In fact, even though the temperature was well below zero, I was really warm. I slept quite well and the frozen bivvy bag didn’t really bother me. I guess that meant that we were adequately prepared? Maybe that bit of risk assessment planning is actually useful!

                              Ollie reluctantly poking his head out the frozen bivvy

All there was left to do was to pack and LEAVE NO TRACE of course. Apart from a few solitary runners, we have seen no one. A couple of very smug looking chaps said hello as we walked past. They asked if we too camped out? It seems that smug face from sleeping out is recognisable.  They built an igloo and slept there which I thought was pretty cool. 

                       Smug faces are apparently instantly recognisable! 

By Monday afternoon, there was a little trace of 'The Beast from the East'. The snow has melted, the temperature has risen and the wind went back to where it came from. But by that simple act of seizing the moment, I was recharged and new memories are now engraved in my mind. That is the only lasting trace of that little microadventure as I have managed to enjoy the whole thing completely Zero Waste. 


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