February’s outdoor sleep – 12 in a row, challenge complete

Posted by on Mar 16, 2016 in Bivvy, East Highlands, Scotland | No Comments

After dinner  on the 26th of February I felt inclined to settle down with a well earned drink. But it wasn’t to be, for the weather was settled and I was running out of time to complete my year of outdoor sleeping. I quickly packed my bag, drove a short distance and started climbing up the snowy hill that was to be my bed for the night.

Looking south to the Cairngorms (left) and Monadhliath (right)

It took over an  hour to each the summit in hard conditions of unconsolidated snow. I wandered around, searching for a suitable spot on the plateau, thinking of Castaneda and Don Juan, of the old man’s insistence that his student find his spot, that once he had found it he would know that it was the right one. Mine was on some snow just south of the trig point. I excavated a scrape and bashed the snow down. It was too sugary to compact and I had to push it aside, leaving only enough to smooth the heathery ground. The walk had been warm enough to complete without gloves, but it was now cold. I downed a miniature of Norwegian Aqua-Vit, just as Amundsen’s men did to raise their spirits before making camp when on winter sledge trips from  their iced-in ship on the Northwest Passage, then settled into my bag.


Light pollution to the north emphasised the wastefulness of modern life. Why do we require so much light while we sleep? As a society are we that scared of the dark, of what we might do to one another if we thought that nobody was watching? It was wholly unnecessary, even more so when a huge moon rose just after I lay down. Soon after I fell into the first of a series of sleeps, gauging the length of each by how much the stars had rotated the sky above me. At around 0400 I sacrificed the comfort of my pillow and put my down jacket on inside my bag in an effort to get warmer. Despite wearing the clothes that I would normally wear to go skiing inside a (formerly) – 15 °C rated bag I could still sense a slight chill from both bag and mat. Not enough to make me cold,  but not truly warm either.

View north across the Moray Firth to Ben Wyvis

Soon the night was over. I awoke from dreams of precarious sleeps, of icy roads, of struggling to complete long itineraries, thinking that I might be done with the challenge of monthly outdoor sleeping, at least in winter, that I had proved my point, whatever it had been.  I saw the lights of the piste bashers grooming the slopes at Cairngorm, and the orange glow where the sun would rise in the east. The  moon was still high and bright.

But as I ate my breakfast, watching the alpenglow on distant snow peaks, the mottled cloud speckling with pink, and finally, as the orange orb of the sun bathed me in light, I realised that it was just a matter of equipment, that I would get my winter bag refurbished or replaced and the winter bivvies would continue. This wasn’t the end of a year long challenge, it was the start of a habit that would last a lifetime. If I make it to a ripe age, say 115, and am asked the secret of my longevity I will recount how in the month of my 40th birthday I adopted the habit of sleeping outdoors once a month and the fresh air has kept me young ever since.

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