I hit a bit of a low point with venturing out following an assault on the way out to a trip to the woods. It left me a bit shaken and nervous about heading out.
After scratching a couple of planned nights out, either due to the weather, work shifts, or bottling out. Everything lined up and I finally forced myself out the door with the intent of a night in the woods.
The plan was simple, take the train a few stops, cycle up the hill, bivvi in the woods, enjoy the evening, cook breakfast, break camp (making note to fix it later), cycle down the hill, and come home. All pretty simple.
Step one was to load up my bike – a Brompton folding bike, with my camping gear, and as much water as I could sensibly carry. Before I added water, but including food, the whole lot came to about 7kg. To which I added 3.25L of water. 300ml to rehydrate dinner, and just under 3 litres to get me through the night.
I arrived at my destination station, activated my buddy beacon, saddled up, and headed into the hills…
I had planned it all on the map, I’d even driven up the road a few weeks ago. So how hard could it be to cycle up there…
The honest answer is – very. The Brompton is a lovely bike, I’ve modded it to have 8 gears, and it’s a joy to ride. But it’s not really designed for hills… So I ended up pushing it up about 2km of the hill. To a max height of 190masl.
Having reached the summit, I then cruised down into the woods, past families returning from their afternoon walk. Past dog walkers, and deeper into the trees. Eventually I departed from the path and headed cross country in search of a bivvi site.
I found a spot in the shelter of a large mound, by some trees. I did a scan for widow makers, pulled out my sit mat, and collapsed by a tree. Phew. By now I had about 20 minutes until sunset and the sweat I had produced from the push up the hill was making me cold. Time to make camp.
I had brought with my my flecktarn tarp, along with a 10m ridge line. I tied one end to a tree, and walked over to the other tree I wanted to use for the other end. Stopping at the end of the ridge line about 1m short of the tree. With a James May like exclamation, I retreated to the original tree, and pondered my options. Rummaging in my bag I realised I had a pair of heavy duty bungees that had attached the dry bag to the rear rack, so I put these round both trees, and had enough ridge line to string it up between the two bungees. Phew. Tarp went up in a lean to config with one end pinned down to shelter me from the wind. The weather forecast was for no precipitation, and a light breeze, so the tarp was largely for concealment, as well as from the breeze. Tarp up, I folded the bike up, wrapped it in my old flecktarn poncho, and tried to lock it to the tree. Discovered that my bike lock wasn’t long enough, and sat down to have a cup of tea.
Tea and rethink complete, I locked the bike to the luggage, making it unwieldy and noisy to steal, so that I should at least wake up if someone tried. Wrapped in the poncho, I stuck it in the back of the tarp, and set about making the bed.
At this point I was getting very cold even with all my coats on, the sweat from the hill climb was really chilling me down, and even tho it wasn’t yet 1700, I crawled into my sleeping bag stuck some radio 4 on, and tried to warm up.
My camp from up the hill:
I was laying there listening to the radio when a light flashed across the inside of my tarp. Slightly confused I sat up and looked in the direction of the light. It shone around all over the place, flashing straight in my face again. It belonged to 2 dog walkers, who walked by about 50m from my position. I don’t know if they saw me, or realised what they had shone their light on, they didn’t disturb me. But it did get my heart rate going. The only other people I saw during the night were a couple of mountain bikers who cycled past 100m or so away.
A text from the friend who was monitoring my buddy beacon, informed me that he was in the area, and he would drop by to say hello. This would be a nice test of the buddy beacon technology, could my friend find me in the woods, in the dark, hiding in a DPM bivvi bag, under a flecktarn tarp…
Turns out, yes, tho he did walk past first, and then turned round to spot me… he’d very helpfully brought me a litre of water, and a bar of chocolate as “house warming” gifts. Both were very gratefully received.. We had a chat and warmed up with a hot chocolate. I was still fighting the cold, even in my sleeping bag my toes were numb, but that was nothing compared to the fight I was having with my meths stove.
I’ve only ever used the stove in the summer before, and it’s always worked fine. In the -2°C of the woods. It wasn’t working nicely. After a few minutes with the ferro rod doing nothing, I dug into my Staying Alive Cold kit for my lifeboat matches. This got the stove going and allowed me to make the hot chocolate. But I couldn’t keep doing that, I only had 5 matches in my SAC kit. After messing around trying to warm the meths up with body heat, I eventually had a eureka moment. My SAC kit has a US aircrew fire kit in it, this is a spark thingy like you get on a cigarette lighter, and a load of tinderquik. Using this I was able to get the stove going reliably.
My friend left and I went back to trying to defrost my toes. I nodded off for a bit and woke to a grumbling stomach. Excellent, curry time.
I dug out the curry pouches from my pack, and relit the stove using the tinderquik. It took me 3 fills of the stove to get enough hot water for the pouch of Korma sauce, the rice, and a mug of tea. Until I had the eureka moment, of using the second pot from my firemaple set as a lid. This made an instant improvement on the efficiency of the stove.
Unfortunately it turned out the curry was vile. After a few mouthfuls, I gave up and put it in the rubbish bag. Ew. I fell back on the chocolate my friend had kindly brought along. Very glad for the extra food.
Eventually I managed to get my toes warm, and snuggled down to listen to the owls. I counted 3 different species of Owl calling out.
I had expected that I would be woken by the sunrise, around 8ish. Not as it turns out by a full bladder, at 1030… oops.
It took me quite a while to summon the courage to crawl out of my toasty warm sleeping bag, into the freezing cold morning. Nature called, I returned to the warmth of my bag to plot my exfil. Only to wake up at half 1 and exclaim loudly. I packed up quickly, trying to stay warm. Reloaded the bike, and hit the trail.
The advantage of the 150m hill I climbed to get in, was the 150m hill I got to free wheel down to get home. Hitting in excess of 30mph on the Brompton on the way down, I cruised into the station for a train back to civilisation, and a fry up.
Not everything had gone to plan, I’d had trouble with the stove, had to deal with very cold toes, overslept, and forgot the frying pan to cook breakfast in. But I had managed a night out in the woods, on my own, in the middle of January, with sub zero temperatures. and survived! I’ve proved to myself that I can do it.
Now to unpack the map and plan my next trip…
This post was originally posted on Bushcraft UK forum