Well after a little provocation by friend Massimo who reckons I should sleep out ON the snow rather than ABOVE the snow, I did. Good fun it was too. The sleeping bag is not waterproof (well what can you expect for 50 odd euros) so I put a tarp down and one of those thin sleeping mats on top of it for comfort so I don’t think that was cheating. Making the bed was interesting, I did it just like in the old Colgate toothpaste advert (or was it chewing gum?), falling back onto the snow/tarp to form a me shaped depression in the 30cm of crusty snow left after 3 days of sun. I would not recommend it though, as it’s difficult to sleep on your side in a me-shaped depression and sometime during the night I remember punching hell out of the snow to make a vaster depression which sort of satisfied my night-time comfort requirements. Punching snow through a tarp is a wonderful activity up to, that is, the point the snow compacts enough to become hard as rock. I would recommend it as a stress reliever.
Despite the weather forecast telling us it was going to be cloudy the sky was a-mazing. Deep does not do it justice, just absolutely full of milky way and stars and blackness and stuff. I spent a long while marveling in that childhood feeling that I was glued to the earth and upside down which truly is an odd feeling when you manage it. I don’t like heights but falling through space must be quite fun (until your oxygen runs out). Normally there are shooting stars every night but last night not even one and even though the milky way, seemed to be a bit off center and fainter than usual despite the absence of a moon it was still spectacular. I didn’t even see a satellite but this may have been because I had pulled the drawstring as far as possible and I only had a miniscule breathing hole so there was actually not much sky to be seen at all. I also learnt from this what seals feel like under the pack ice. The temperature was minus two centigrade and the air at ground level was definitely in movement. Almost a breeze which though bracing shall we say, when getting sorted out, became sort of nice on your face when you were in the bag. Only in the winter does air take on a solid feel and actually have a smell and a taste. Difficult to describe but if you splay your nostrils and breathe slowly you can feel it. It’s quite nice; a sort of ancient, familiar smell reminiscent of days on toboggans or jack frost’s fingers on the inside of the bedroom window as kids maybe. When I used to smoke I enjoyed blowing smoke rings and as there’s not much to do in a tight sleeping bag at night I shone the torch out of the breathing hole down towards the stars and spent a happy moment or two blowing breath rings which rose or descended depending on your point of view skywards enveloped in clouds of other breath. Something the survival books don’t tell you is how to pass the time; very important for morale. Licking the back of your hand and sticking the hand out of the bag also revealed an interesting phenomenon, vapour rises from your hand long after the saliva has evaporated. And pursing your lips in a sort of whistling way shoots out clouds way up high, much higher than you would expect. But all good things come to an end, frozzed noses do not invite bye-byes so I put Ali Khan on the MP3 which is excellent snow-sleeping music and settled down to see whether I’d freeze or not.
Now several things have taught me a lot about the goings on of the universe. One of these is urine production. When you are comfortably near a bathroom, indoors in the warm, and getting up is not a hassle, you never need to offload any of it during the night unless you have been drinking close to bedtime. However outside, once you have maneuvered the zip up the bag without getting it caught in the draft cover and once you have found a comfortable position in the, lets face it, rather lumpy snow-bed and pulled the hood tight around your face you do NOT want to get out again. But minute volumes of widdle seem to take on vast pressures and increase until you absolutely have to get up. I’d not even got past Ali Khan’s first track when I was already sitting outside the sleeping bag trying to get my clogs without sinking into the snow and getting wet feet and knees. Then, of course having to move at least a yard or two away to perform the act I sank up to my knees in the snow and rapid brushing of socks and trouser legs ensued before it melted. Perhaps not the place to describe such things but the quantity of widdle widdled was tiny, hardly worth getting up for. It was not actually cold though. When I go out, no matter how cold, even minus fifteen, to say get wood, or take the howler to play school, I rarely put a jacket on. Not that I’m any more macho than the next man, more lazy though perhaps, but as I always dress in layers, it seems that as long as there’s no wind the warmth in your clothes takes a while to disperse so staying out for five or ten minutes and moving about you don’t actually get cold. Widdling on the snow is something like this. You don’t actually get cold in the time it takes. Annoyingly I had to get up five times. Five!! So I figured that it’s not body cold that makes you widdle, because I was quite warm in the bag, but probably cold in your lungs. I am going to have to get out Gray’s see if there is some hitherto unknown connection between the lung and the bladder which makes this happen. A small bottle in the bag might help too. In between widdle expeditions I got visited by the dog who insisted in trying to get into the bag and at one point what looked to my sleepy eyes suspiciously like a vole came out of a hole under the box bush and sat a foot or so away from my nose on the snow. Don’t voles get cold bums? I don’t know what end it came to as when I woke up this morning there was one of the cats curled up on my feet. It’s quite humbling to think of me enjoying myself here all wrapped up in man made stuff to keep warm yet animals do this every day with just a bit of fur and maybe some chewed grass and a burrow or something. Maybe the next experiment should be in furs. I would imagine a couple of bear skins would be much warmer than a decathlon sleeping bag. Got to find a couple of bears first though.
Well the bag at minus two on snow worked fine. Not as warm as the last time as you could feel the chilly points on your hips and knees but not so chilly that it was uncomfortable. I’m never going to have to sleep out on the snow anyway but it’s always good to test your equipment out so you know what it is capable of. And this bag is excellent and means I can extend the trekking season a bit at each end. The snow, though cold of course, I think insulates a little despite being compressed, well that was the sensation anyway, so the next test is going to have to be in a hammock, with just cold air underneath me but for that I am going to have to get myself a less technical hammock than the one I have then I think that sleeping out in winter will become a regular thing. No mossies, crystal clear skies and deathly quiet with no twittering birds or squeaking dormice, not even any owls recently. And boy is it going to open up a whole new world in the field of moonlit winter badger watching. Roll on next full moon.