It finally happened, after over thirty years on the hills, an enforced bivi! I think I’m pushing back the frontiers of incompetence now. My second attempt to walk in to Bearneas bothy and I failed again. This time I was held up leaving Inverness and didn’t set off until mid-afternoon. I thought I’d just walk the last few miles in the dark. How hard can it be?
Wrong move! It turned out to be very hard with a foot of soft powder obliterating the track and no moon. To cut things short, close to the bothy, I spent about an hour walking about in the snow and dark, peering at the end of my head torch beam before I finally decided I wasn’t going to find the bothy. I then had a decision, either walk back out or stay where I was. It was a very cold night with temperatures well below freezing and by the time I gave up the search it was about 7.30 pm. I decided I’d stay put and just endure a long cold night, all prospects of sitting toasting myself beside the bothy fire having vanished.
I looked around for some kind of shelter, a wall, a tree, a hole in the ground even and could find nothing. In the end I managed to find a place in the heather relatively clear of snow and put down my sleeping mat. I discovered a number of things that night. One, it is possible to put your long johns on without removing your salopettes. It’s a trick, a bit like how women can remove their bras without taking their tops off. That shouldn’t be possible, I’ve certainly never managed it, despite years of trying. Another thing I learned is that ice crystals can form it your drinking mug in a matter of minutes and they can be very sharp, as my bleeding finger could testify.
Long Johns on I crawled into my sleeping bag, stuffed my feet into my rucksack and covered my head with my cag and waited to shiver. It was very cold, well below zero, and very still and the night sky was a spectacular show with stars and the odd meteor. Then something odd happened…
In reply to John Burns:
A similar thing happened to me a couple of years ago walking into Camban bothy via Gleann Lichd. It was late afternoon by the time I crested the ascending track into Fionn Gleann, but on entering the high reaches here the path was obliterated by snow drifts. I should have returned back down the path to the shelter at Gleann Lichd House, but instead I blundered on because "how difficult can it be?".
Result was a night spent in the open air sleeping in a snow hollow. I didn't have a zip-up bivvy bag with me, so my sleeping bag went into my orange survival bag.
And yes, it IS warm once a hot drink is inside you and you're all snuggled up. The night was SOOOO long - in my bag at about 6pm and not up until 8am. And I had no electronic diversions, so it was all star-watching and self-immersion.
A totally unique and rather intense night, and one that will forever live in the memory. Not one that I'd want to repeat again, not unless it's accidental again. Dozing looking at the stars but then being afraid to fall asleep and wake with my half my face and nose frostbitten! The scary way the weather picked up in the second half of the night with the wind blowing spindrift all around and over me wasn't pleasant. And for sure if it had started to snow and blizzard it would have become very worrying and frightening.
Perhaps an experience something that all hill-goers should under-go cautiously at least once!
It would have been a less interesting story if you had an iPhone with ViewRanger. Staying on the path and finding the bothy would have been as easy as keeping the little blue dot on the map that shows your position over the line of the track.
In reply to jleong: Thanks for all the comments, glad I'm not alone in loosing bothies. As far as i know the Nexus 7 has maps but not GPS as it can't detect satellites, does anyone know if this is true?
I've had a few forced bivvis, the best of which was in a blizzard at 4000m somewhere near the Col Maudit. Having completed the Kuffner on Mt Maudit in excellent conditions, we were greeted by snow, wind and zero visability on the french side. We knew that the best option was to lose altitude as quickly as possible, in the hope that conditions might improve and so made our way down the steep 40° slope towards the col. Unfortunately, things got worse not better, so when the terrain leveled-off, we found what looked like a decent spot to dig our snow-holes and got to work. An hour or so later, we were huddled in our snow-hole,shivering ! Regular brews and a nibble of a bar kept our spirits high and after what seemed to be an interminible night awoke to a clear, blue dawn sky ! About 20 cms of fresh snow had fallen and everything was a pristine white !
The one thing that really sticks in my mind is listenning to Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto on my Sony Walkman, FM radio cassette player whilst sipping a really hot mug of tea ! I've never been happier in my whole life !
Question, thought: it appears you had a relatively clear night (stars on show etc). What head torch do you have? I have a powerful one for any night time wanderings, which I hope would be capable of hightlighting a bothy should I be wandering in its vicinity. Indeed it found me an MTB track one night lost in a forest. Cutting through the pine, I came out near my home for the night, another bothy. I then got a fire lit and drank some whisky while listening to 'Roscoe' by Midlake. However, I like the sound of your adventure (except I wouldn't have watched March of the Penguins.
It reminds me of the time many years ago when me and a friend walked through from Torridon, over Baosbheinn and on to the road where we had cleverly arranged that a friend would pick us up in her car. What luxury to have a lift arranged thus allowing a through route.
It was in May I think so plenty of daylight. However we reached the road as it was getting dark. No mobile phones in those days but no matter, our friend would be along soon so we would wait.
In fact, to better advertise a location we lit a small roadside fire around which to huddle whilst we waited, and waited, and waited.
Nothing doing, so sleep beckoned. All I had was an orange bag, a nice roadside ditch to lie in, and my clothes. Luckily it wasn't too cold a night and dawn wasn't too far off so a memorable nights was spent testing the orange bag out for real. No food. Not very pleasant but passable.
The next day we caught up with our friend. It turned out that she had driven past our location, as agreed. Indeed she had seen the roadside campfire but said she assumed it to be somebody else's (flabbergasted). What can you do?
In reply to John Burns: Sounds fun, like your use of humour to justify/excuse your numptiness. I can just imagine the sight of your foot prints circling the Bothi dozens of times. Tell you what though choice of sleeping under the stars or in a hut, i'll take the outdoors everytime.