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?