Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Simple Sleeps

There is something really fulfilling and relaxing about sleeping out under the stars; no tent, just a sleeping bag, mat and bivi bag, maybe a tarp if the weather looks a bit dodgy. I don’t do it enough, walk up a hill with just my sleeping kit, a stove and perhaps book to pass the time. I love the simplicity of letting your body match the rhythms of the Earth, sleeping with the Sun's exit and wakening with the return of the light. Or maybe it’s deeper than that, some hidden psychological memory from our evolutionary past before we had evolved to regard walls and a roof as essential for living

With no roof or tent to shield you from the heavens bivying leaves you exposed to the elements and with a front row seat as Sun, Moon and stars dance overhead. The Sun has long been a linchpin of human thought, in many ancient cultures regarded a God which brought life and fertility, banishing the dark each morning and through it's inexorable rise above the horizon during Spring and Summer brought forth the bounty from the earth.

Bivying on the way to Skye last May

Sunrise and sunset; the Sun in all its glory, bathing the world in a light that extenuates the beauty of the landscape. Bivying is sitting snug in a sleeping bag, a cocoon of warmth against the oncoming cold as the sun leaves the stage it's encore a sky alive with colour. Then drifting to sleep with the feeling of with fresh air moving across your face, staring up at stars bright in the black sky or clouds drifting slowly across the havens.

I also like the way bivying makes use of the terrain, extracting positions of comfort almost anywhere (some mountaineers may disagree with this!). With so little protection from the elements you learn to use the shape and contour of the land to shelter you from the elements. Granted wild camping also teaches these skills but bivying sharpens them. Picking a great bivi spot is a art.

Moonrise (30 sec, f. 5.6, ISO800)

Then there is when it goes wrong, epic bivi stories are a favourite reminiscence amongst climbers and mountaineers. Badges we ware with pride even if deep down we still shiver at the memory. Climbing biographies are littered with stories of frantic searches for places to sleep in the mountains when with increasing desperation that chair sized ledge you spotted a while back goes from "unacceptable", to "a last resort", to "quite roomy", to "a 5* hotel" depending on your desperation. My favourite bivi tale is from Mick Fowler who spend the night wedged with his partner in what can only be described as a 2ft diameter ice tunnel half way up a mountain. I don't think they slept much.

I remember a particularly unpleasant bivi on top of Snowdon the night before I had a shot at walking the Welsh 3000’s (failed). To maximise our chances of success we had picked a particularly grotty weekend in November with bad weather forecast, and little daylight; we then compounded the error taking lightweight bivi gear. We had a cunning plan though; we would shelter in the doorway porch of the summit cafe out of the worst of the elements.

A first attempt at a long exposure night shot from a bivi in the Howgills, eight minutes at f. 5.6, ISO400. Still underexposed with some artifacts from the relatively high ISO setting. The lights at the left are the M6 motorway which colours the cloud considerably.

Somewhere in my head I thought I remembered reading they were rebuilding the summit cafe, however mentioning this to my friends I received assurances that they probably hadn't started yet. They had; arriving at the summit we were greeted not by a sheltered porch but by a site cabin, a portaloo, and a small excavator. 

I spent the night wedged between the site cabin and the portaloo in an attempt to get out of the wind and the snow which arrived to greet us. My friends George and Stuart the most experienced in our party who at the time I looked up to as experienced alpinists had arrive equipped with summer sleeping bags. They spent the night wedged between the tracks of a small excavator engaged in the kind of platonic heterosexual spooning action non climbers just don’t seem to understand.

1 comment:

  1. "They spent the night wedged between the tracks of a small excavator engaged in the kind of platonic heterosexual spooning action non climbers just don’t seem to understand." - brilliant!