Monday, 4 March 2013

Year of Bushcraft 2 Camping in the snow

As January 2013 slowly moved towards February it finally happened. The weathermen said it would, the sky looked like it would, the barometer showed it would and it did. Snow! And this wasn't just southern softy snow, this was proper snow. And by a quirk of fate it was the same weekend as the Sussex bushcraft UK meet at Broadstone Warren. So armed with my kit and a Land Rover, off I went, not really sure what I had let myself in for.

It was in the air as I left home on the Friday morning and by the time I'd reached the motorway cars were already only doing 15 mph. Full of enthusiasm I pushed the Land Rover pasted, with a little curse at them, it's not even laying yet!

By the time I reached Broadstone, there was a good 50mm on the ground and it was falling heavily. Being the first one there I was able to enjoy the crisp virgin blanket of white that covered both the beautiful and ugly of a winter woodland. No fire scars on the ground or visible litter, not even tracks from animals (yet). All road sounds were suppressed and the wood just felt peaceful and still.

Virgin snow at Broadstone

But time was pressing and if I was to get set up before the light went, I needed to crack on. As I had the group shelter too, I decided to rig my own tarp first and string the hammock before the parachute and then go back to my camp and sort my sleeping kit. Now a 3m x 3m tarp wasn't going to cut it as it barely covers the hammock anyway and with the small amount of breeze it was going to be blowing in. So being a bit Heath-Robbinson, I added a small extension to my rig. This was a small tarp, but between the two of them I could close off the ends nicely to keep me snug at night. I also struck upon the idea of popping together the press studs on the smaller tarp to form a bit of a tunnel for the leg end of my hammock to go into. It wasn't a pretty set up, in fact it got nicknamed the 'shanty town' by the others, but it was set.

My Shanty Town

Now onto the group parachute, this is normally at least a two man job, but I though the sooner I get it up, the sooner I can sit under it!

So pulling out the new rope that had been donated to us, I hoisted up the chute and tensioned it off as best I could. By now some of the others had started to arrive and three of us finished putting it up, well we thought we had...

A not so well hung chute

By now it was snowing quite hard and there was a good 100mm of the white stuff and it was still coming. We started to settle down for the evening and had a bit of a fire going. It was then we realised that we'd pegged the chute out too close to the ground and had trapped all the smoke in. It then became a bit of a frantic trying to get the chute up higher, as the snow accumulated on it, and deal with the it over a lit fire. Enough was enough and we decided to re-rig the chute with the old ropes as the new one was more elastic than rope. With things set at a better height and angle, we settled back down round the fire and I started to dry myself out. It's funny that you don't notice how wet you are getting when you are working in the snow until you stop. With the snow still coming down hard and the occasional run round to knock off the snow that was gathering on the chute, things were settled down to the usual banter round the fire. Mind you, I did have to get my shoes and socks off to try and dry them out round the fire, which caused a bit of hilarity. 

And so it came time to turn in, a well rehearsed routine now for getting into the hammock, but first a final check on the digital thermometer to see that we'd already dipped to -2°C under the tarp. Knocking off the accumulated snow from the tarp I settled down for a good nights sleep.

Morning came all too quickly and my internal alarm clock woke me up with the usual urge to pee. This meant getting out of my lovely warm sleeping bag. But needs must and with an increasing sense of urgency I got up. Having checked the overnight low for under my tarp (-4°C), I broke the ice off of the outside of my sleeping bag. Now to the business of bushcraft, well, what we call bushcraft. This involves a leisurely breakfast after first man up has got the fire going (so that wasn't me then). This was followed by a group firewood expedition and mass processing. Expecting more latecomers that afternoon, we had a fairly large pile of wood ready to go. All of this had taken some time, what with the brews, lunch and chats, but we certainly were not going cold that night!

About a third of what we collected for Saturday night

A few of us had got together to make a stew. One chap had brought along a haunch of venison to which we added beef, vegetables, stock and dumplings. This took about 3 hours with prep and cooking. And again the Dutch oven was put to good use. Come the evening we all settled down for a feast of stew followed by a roaring fire and even more banter. The wind had picked up through the day and the snow had barely stopped to notice. Turning in for the night I knew it was going to be colder, but my setup didn't let me down and even though it got down to -6°C under my tarp, I was toasty warm again.

A stew in the making. this is just the meat browning!

And so to sit back and watch the stew, well, stew!

Sunday morning came and everything was still very white. It looked like I'd had visitors in the night judging by the tracks round my camp (deer mainly) and with a hearty breakfast inside me, I thought it would be best to get packed away and on the road so that I could get home and get sorted. The others agreed with me, and we broke down the camp. Now I've never put the chute away snowy before, but I can tell you it gets very heavy!

Heading off at lunchtime, I was proven right that I should head off early as there was an accident directly outside the campsite and another up the road. Using all of my considerable 4x4 experience and spacial awareness (if you've ever seen me drive, you'd be rolling around on the floor laughing now) I performed a 47 point turn in the road and headed home.

Lesson learned

1. Looks aren't everything. My setup may have looked like a shanty town, but the tunnel tarp for my legs really did the job and I'm sure it saved me from a chilly night.

2. Moisture management is key in the snow. If you sweat you are going to get cold.

3. Snow isn't wet until it defrosts. Working when it's snowing, you don't notice the snow on you. But if you are out in it for too long, you get damp.

4. Moisture management is key in the snow. If you get wet, you get cold. (I know I've said it before, but it really is that important)

5. I've said it before, but a group working together collecting and processing wood leads to a toasty warm night round the fire.

6. Group meals make sense. Shared cost, labour and less cooking pots round the fire.

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