/ Ethical issues with wild camping in Cairngorms in winter?

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jhw - on 06 Dec 2012
I've reviewed the guidelines published online for camping in the Northern Cairngorms in Winter and wondered, beyond that, whether there are additional considerations I should take into account.

I ask because I see there's not a lot of online guidance on camping in this area in Winter and so I wonder if this just isn't the done thing, for ethical reasons rather than that it's a bit uncomfortable.

What I'm really wondering is just why more people don't do this, given the numbers who do it at the Col du Midi for example. Or is there something specific like that it's impossible to get pegs in, for example?

Excuse my ignorance if there's something glaring I've overlooked! I wanted to ask before just showing up with a tent.

mikemartin - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:

I guess it's a mix of: The availability of warm accomodation in Aviemore coupled with the ease of access from the ski centre balanced with the potential for your tent to get blown away or buried.

Snowholes are probably more common.
martinph78 on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw: Why an "ethical issue"?

Seems to be the "in" word on the fprum lately...

I'll probably be camping up there this winter unless I decide on something else. Didn't think to ask anyone if I should.
Milesy - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:
> I ask because I see there's not a lot of online guidance on camping in this area in Winter and so I wonder if this just isn't the done thing, for ethical reasons rather than that it's a bit uncomfortable.

Because it is not pleasent in the teeth of a Cairngorms storm. Accomodation is close and walk ins are reasonably short, and many climbers etc would like to get maximum enjoyment out their day by being refreshed, warm, dry and fed and watered. That is not to say I would not do a Cairngorms winter camp - I would. I would only do it for that reason itself and not as an appendage to another activity.
jhw - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to Martin1978:

I'd spotted the preponderance of "ethical" queries too (maaaan) but this genuinely is a question about ethics rather than practical issues although I'm also keen to hear any practical suggestions.

The reason we're proposing to camp is (1) we're getting the sleeper train up from London just for the weekend so want to maximise time on the hill and avoid queues on the Sunday (2) that train is expensive so we want it to be the only expense of the weekend and (3) we want to build experience in this type of environment and the area we have in mind seems like an appropriate first testing ground as it's quite easily escapeable if things go south. We considered snowholing but think that's for later in the season, for us.
Yanchik - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:

Those are very much the constraints and reasons my mate and I were working to about ten years ago, and we came up with the same approach. You may never do it again - and if it does storm you might find it a handful - but the experience in itself will be valuable.

Like you, we fancied snowholing - but we had two feet of dry powder sat on top of icy slush, so that had to wait for another trip.

Y
Mehmet Karatay - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:

I've wild camped in the Cairngorms in winter, but it's not something I've done for quite a few years now.

There aren't really any ethical considerations beyond what you'll do with your waste. The northern Cairngorms run a successful poo project: http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=49686. In other area's you'll need to think what you do as the ground may be too solid to dig a hole as in the summer and anything left in the snow will eventually melt out.

There are other practical considerations, however. Like you said pegs can be an issue. The ground may be frozen or inaccessible under snow. Strong pegs and something to bash them in with can help. You can tie your guy rope to rocks or use bits of climbing gear to anchor it down. Axes can hold crucial guy ropes, on the assumption that you'll only be there one night. An other common idea, which I've never tried, is to tie your guy rope to a bag filled with snow, buried in the snow.

You also need to consider that it will be very cold in the tent. A snow hole is much warmer. The wind in winter can be much stronger than in summer. Also, if you're camping on snow then your body heat can make you sink into the snow overnight.

You often hear that in standard gas cartridges the gas mixture separates in the cold, making it unusable. The normal recommend solution is to keep the canister somewhere warm until you need it or use a petrol stove. This isn't something I've come across in my experience of cold places, but perhaps I've just managed to keep the cartridge warm.

I'm sure there are other practicalities to think about, but there's a start.

It's definitely possible to camp if you want to, but snow holing may be more practical.

Hope this helps,

Mehmet
Snoweider - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:

Only ethical issue I can see is covered by the cairngorm poo project mentioned above. If you use this, (info, bags and waste dump at the cairngorm base station at the cas carpark), then you will be doing less environmental damage than camping somewhere this service doesn't operate.

Practical issues- there are many. In stable weather its a wonderful experience (if cold). In poor weather its wild, scary and often hazardous. Snowholes *may* be a better bet, but have their own very scary safety considerations and wouldn't undertake lightly.
jhw - on 06 Dec 2012
Thank you for some very helpful replies - much appreciated!

Interesting about the gas separating. I had my first bivvy earlier this year at the bottom of the approach couloir to the Pigne d'Arolla N face, only at about 2,800m. My watch said it got down to about -4 which wasn't as cold as I was expecting but I remember having difficulty with my jetboil the next morning, although it did eventually light - I assumed something had frozen rather than that the mixture had separated. I can't remember how I got it to light - a few dropkicks might have helped.

http://www.ukclimbing.com/images/dbpage.html?id=206126
David Barlow - on 06 Dec 2012
Many years ago some friends had such an exciting time doing what you propose that they gave up winter climbing (I bought my 1st ice tools from one of them), and never retrieved the remnants of their tents....
jhw - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to David Barlow:

Heh.

Perhaps we (the Royal We) should heed the total lack of meaningful responses if you google "camping" "winter "sneachda"! It seems generally ill-advisable.

Can it really be that much more hardcore a place than, say, the Greater Ranges or the Alps where camping in these kinds of winds is routine and indeed the only option? Please feel free to slap me with a naivete fish if this is required.

Yanchik - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:

Never had the separation problem myself, but IIRC it depends on the mixture of propane and butane in the cylinder, and you can buy cylinders with different mixes to suit your needs.

Don't kill yourself. Cooking in a tent that's covered in snow and therefore more-or-less hermetically sealed is a good way to turn all the nice breathable oxygen into carbon monoxide. And don't camp at the bottom of an avalanchey slope.

Egg-sucking courses available on application.

Y
jonnie3430 - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:

If you did camp in Coire an t'Sneachda in winter, may I recommend that you take in 10 kilos of bacon, enough rolls and 200 tea bags, milk and sugar. You could easily make the cost of your fuel getting there by selling bacon rolls and cups of tea to climbers.
Robert Durran - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:
> (In reply to David Barlow)
> Can it really be that much more hardcore a place than, say, the Greater Ranges or the Alps where camping in these kinds of winds is routine and indeed the only option?

Comparison with Patagonia might be more appropriate; if you camp, your tent will sooner or later get blown down. So, for a prolonged stay, a snowhole is the sensible option. Of course, in the short term, given a spell of calmer weather, camping will be fine.
Robert Durran - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jonnie3430:
> (In reply to jhw)
>
> If you did camp in Coire an t'Sneachda in winter, may I recommend that you take in 10 kilos of bacon, enough rolls and 200 tea bags, milk and sugar. You could easily make the cost of your fuel getting there by selling bacon rolls and cups of tea to climbers.

What a brilliant idea! I might pack in my job, take up residence for the season by the first aid box and make my fortune.

jonnie3430 - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to Robert Durran:

I take milk and 6 for energy tea. Brown sauce on bacon.

I don't think I am the first with this idea. I heard that Jean's Hut went because McDonalds were looking at turning it into a "walk through."
Michael Gordon - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:

Other than to hand out bacon rolls there seems little point in camping in Sneachda. If you were going to the trouble of camping out in the Cairngorms you might as well go somewhere remote?
jhw - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to Robert Durran:

Thanks - I think then we'll make a late decision on this when the relevant MWIS is out. Hope the high pressure holds. It won't!
jhw - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to Michael Gordon:

The justification is that as an initial foray into winter camping this is a pretty escapeable option
JohnnyW - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jonnie3430:
> (In reply to Robert Durran)
>
> I take milk and 6 for energy tea. Brown sauce on bacon.
>
> I don't think I am the first with this idea. I heard that Jean's Hut went because McDonalds were looking at turning it into a "walk through."

:o)
jhw - on 06 Dec 2012
plus that the bacon rolls idea is justification in itself. I will corner the market with Reggae Reggae sauce too.
Webster - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw: Its not uncommon to see people camping in or near the ski centre car park over night, not a bad idea but you might not miss the queues
Joe G - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:
> plus that the bacon rolls idea is justification in itself. I will corner the market with Reggae Reggae sauce too.

That's fine, you can have your Reggae Reggae sauce, but if you encroach on my "Joe's Espesso, An Aladdin's Cave of Coffee Sensation" stall I'll throw snowballs at you.
Michael Gordon - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:
> (In reply to Michael Gordon)
>
> The justification is that as an initial foray into winter camping this is a pretty escapeable option

Ah ok. Another option would be camping near one of the bothies.
davy_boy - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw: even escaping from the northern corries during a full winter storm might not be possible there have been people killed before trying to get back to car park in a winter storm years ago. windspeeds have reached 170mph plus before so conditions that are closer to polar regions than alpine storms. main thing would be to check the weather forecasts and know when to call it off. never underestimate the conditions that can be found up there or the idea that the car park is only round the corner. get the right weather and it is a fantastic place to camp although using the bothys or snowhole would be more comfortable in winter.
Joe G - on 06 Dec 2012
I was going to mention something along that line,^ but then Davy Boy did.
jhw - on 06 Dec 2012
Thanks for this advice. I take your points :) The penny dropped when I saw the words "170mph winds". I'd forgotten how much I got blown about there last New Year's Day!
davy_boy - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw: yea it usualy has that effect when telling people lol there was an unofficial wind speed a few years back of 194mph. like i said check the weather beforehand and have a good time whatever you decide on.
The Ex-Engineer - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw: As a general rule, if you are doing a backpacking or mountaineering trip, winter camping (or snowholing) in the Cairngorms can be a good option. However, for technical climbing, I really don't think it makes much sense.

I have done it twice on climbing trips. The first time was depressingly expensive as I ended up with 3 broken tent poles and a shredded flysheet on my Ultra Quasar courtesy of the Cairngorms weather. The second time was an even bigger disaster as we ended up floundering around in a blizzard in waist deep powder in Loch Avon for 2 days and got bugger all done.

These days I firmly believe good food, a decent night's sleep, dry clothes and a light pack easily outweighs 2-3 or even 4 hours of extra walking over a couple of days.
ClayClay - on 06 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw: Plenty of people camp up there in the winter.
IanC - on 07 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:
I went to-do something similar one year in janurary, ended up spending both nights at the rothiemurchus campsite and hitchhiking into the ski center.
SeasonalDrip on 07 Dec 2012
In reply to jhw:

I'm a huge advocate for wild camping but you must remember to respect the weather. I got caught out in a storm there once which took out 2 of our 3 tents leaving us having to shelter in an emergency bothy. The wind was strong enough to literally throw us about. We bumped into mountain rescue the following day who were looking for a missing climber that was caught in the same storm. This obviously was very sobering. Just make sure your well equipped (with skills as well as decent gear) and perhaps more importantly know several possible escape routes/emergency bivi spots just in case things turn sour. Don't let this put you off too much though, for me there's nothing better than waking up in the hills, especially in winter, it feels more like an adventure than just kipping in a b&b.

As for pegs. I've always used "V" or "T" shaped ones for winter as they can be buried as deadman style anchors in decent snow or as others have said, a rock or bag of snow will work too.

Hope this helps a bit.
ben b - on 07 Dec 2012
In reply to Joe G:
> That's fine, you can have your Reggae Reggae sauce, but if you encroach on my "Joe's Espesso, An Aladdin's Cave of Coffee Sensation" stall I'll throw snowballs at you.

I'm going to open a soup kitchen. "The Mess of Potage" should do as long as we stick to french oignon.

b
professionalwreckhead - on 07 Dec 2012
In reply to SeasonalDrip:
> (In reply to jhw)
>
> Just make sure your well equipped (with skills as well as decent gear) and perhaps more importantly know several possible escape routes/emergency bivi spots just in case things turn sour. Don't let this put you off too much though, for me there's nothing better than waking up in the hills, especially in winter, it feels more like an adventure than just kipping in a b&b.
>

This.

Most of my wild camps tend to be on summits, but the first thing I do is look for a couple of emergency bivvi spots. I can't sleep properly unless I know where I would be heading if things got too hairy (actually, who am I kidding, I never sleep properly on a mountain in winter!).

Never had to ditch the tent, but it's been close a few times. There's nothing like an 70mph wind on a summit in winter to remind you how insignificant you are!

But as you've mentioned, you just can't beat sleeping on the hills in winter. The wind dipped down to absolutely nothing from about 5am on Sunday morning when I was up Beinn a' Chrulaiste. Being able to get out in relative comfort and admire the highlands under the bright moonlight for miles and miles is something you just can't describe. Completely peaceful and wonderfully grand, it's a very humbling experience.

http://i1073.photobucket.com/albums/w400/professionalwreckhead/DSC00528.jpg




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