I’m so excited – I’ve been benighted!

More hills!

More hills!

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…I got comfortable.  I suddenly realised that I was warm.  My feet were at a nice temperature and my new Montane Extreme jacket was holding on to heat like an Aberdonian clutching a whisky glass.

I decided to pass some time by watching TV.  I had my little Nexus 7 tablet with me that everyone told me would be no good in sub-zero conditions.  I warmed it up for a few minutes in my sleeping bag, put my cag over my head and stepped into the TV lounge of my bivi.  For about 90 minutes I watched March of the Penguins which turned out to be a sort of rom com about penguins living in very cold conditions.  It probably wasn’t the best choice, I think something about people splashing about on a tropical island would have been a more effective way take my mind off my plight.  It’s amazing what technology can enable you to do these days, I was surviving a cold night on a Highland mountain and watching a film at the same time, George Mallory would be turning in his grave.

In the morning I discovered a herd of deer had been sleeping in the snow a few yards away, I wonder what they had been watching on TV, “Oh no, not Bambi again!”   I had a lie in the following morning as I was so comfortable.  The bothy, of course, was five minutes from where I slept.  I must have walked all round it the previous night cleverly avoiding it with my torch beam.  The power of navigation appears to have left me, unless, of course, the bothy, like the mythical village of Brigadoon, can get up and move about.  I think I’ll finally have to give in and get a GPS or perhaps, even better, just stay at home and indulge in virtual hill walks on my computer.

One day I might actually walk in to a bothy and spend the night, as planned, in comfort and tranquillity, but then I wouldn’t have anything to write about…would I?


9 responses to “I’m so excited – I’ve been benighted!

  1. There’s an old joke:
    A religious man is on top of a roof during a great flood. A man comes by in a boat and says “get in, get in!” The religous man replies, ” no I have faith in God, he will grant me a miracle.”

    Later the water is up to his waist and another boat comes by and the guy tells him to get in again. He responds that he has faith in god and god will give him a miracle. With the water at about chest high, another boat comes to rescue him, but he turns down the offer again cause “God will grant him a miracle.”

    With the water at chin high, a helicopter throws down a ladder and they tell him to get in, mumbling with the water in his mouth, he again turns down the request for help for the faith of God. He arrives at the gates of heaven with broken faith and says to Peter, I thought God would grand me a miracle and I have been let down.” St. Peter chuckles and responds, “I don’t know what you’re complaining about, we sent you three boats and a helicopter.”

    God invented GPS for a reason…
    Glad you managed alright. Keep it up!

  2. It might not have seemed great at first but it’s getting you some good star ratings. An epic always makes for a great blog post. I usually use that thought to cheer me up when it’s all going very wrong in the hills! Really interesting read.

    I imagine the deer were actually not sleeping but lying there muttering about that bloody guy who’d pinched their snow-free bit of heather! LOL

  3. Do you realise that your Nexus 7 has a built in GPS function? If you had the OS map downloaded onto your tablet, you could use it for that purpose, as well as entertaining yourself while sleeping in the heather. I’d also suggest a more powerful headtorch :o)

    • Hi I didn’t know that at the time but now i think, with a bit of fiddling, I could get the Nexus 7 to work as a GPS. i’ve decided, however, that I’ll stick to a map and compass. i know that is a bit technophobic but actually I think we problably spend too much of our lives in front of a screen and GPS actually distance you from having to work more closely with the landscape. I know that makes no rational sense but i think I’ll risk another night in the frost rather than give in to a GPS. On the head torch from i’ve a brand new, mid-range, re-chrgeable petzel, not exactly state of the art but not bad. Even with that I couldn’t find the bothy!

      • What you say about spending too much time in front of a screen does make perfect sense, and I do agree. What doesn’t make sense though, is with that sentiment in mind, the fact that you walked into the middle of nowhere with a device that allows you to watch films!

      • Hi Scott,

        you are quite right, there is a contradiction there. I think of it like this, it’s not technology versus nature, it’s not one or the other. I think it’s the balance we have to get right. I certainly wouldn’t claim to have got anything right but I think that there’s a difference between using technology out in nature, where it can be a barrier and using it to relax where it has its place. afterall I spent 36 hours without even entering a biulding on that trip so maybe a little TV was okay. I don’t know the answer. technology has brought us amazing gifts, we just have to manage it. does that make any sense?

      • Hi John,
        There’s been a few times when i’ve been extremely grateful to switch on a gps and get a confirmation of my location. It is about getting a balance, and I was in no way criticising – I just thought the 2 differing views expressed did contradict each other and made me chuckle.



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