I woke in a swaying hammock, too scared to peep over the rim in case four hundred pounds of muscle, tooth and claw was staring back at me.
When I first attempted to sleep in a hammock, 13 years ago in the Toluene meadows area of Yosemite, this fear left me unable to relax enough to drift off, despite a good intake of Humboldt’s finest. I was worried that if a bear came along it would see a tempting orange goodie bag suspended between two trees and at the very least be curious enough to paw at it. So I took down my hammock and retreated into the tent with my friend, reassured by the illusion of safety provided by two layers of nylon fabric.
That same hammock, purchased for Rs 150 (about £2.50) in the southern Indian town of Gokarna, has been used in my garden every summer since, but despite the absence of bears in Scotland I’d never tried to spend the night in it. Combined with a tarp it made a tempting alternative to tent or bivvy for December’s outdoor sleep. I slung it between two trees and put the tarp over it. Hammocks are pretty long and if it had been wet and windy the ends of the hammock may have got damp, which would almost certainly has wicked down to wet my bag. But it wasn’t windy, so I took the chance and shortened the hammock in the morning.
I put a Thermarest in the bottom of the hammock which made it a very comfortable sleep, much flatter than a hammock usually is. Temperature control proved to be the issue – it was cold with some lying snow when I turned in but it warmed overnight. I started with jumper and trousers and had to remove them after an hour or or so, then I heated up even more and had to unzip my bag and use it as a duvet. When a stiff wind got up later in the night and I had to get right inside my bag. Even then I had cold patches on my arms where they were pressing against the edge of the hammock, compressing the down and allowing the wind to blow close to my skin. The solution was to arrange my jumper and jacket as additional protection at the cold points.
All in all the hammock / tarp combo is a great one. It’s nice to be away from the cold, wet, lumpy ground, and while it is of limited usefulness in this practically treeless land it will open up a few camping areas that would otherwise be unusable due to heather or tussocky grass.
Also of note this week was an amazing Brocken Spectre spotted while out hillwalking near Ullapool on the Graham Meall Doire Faid. It had three pronounced rainbow rings round the central bright patch containing my shadow. This got me thinking about hoe many rings it is possible to see in ideal conditions. Has anyone seen 4 or 5? Or more?