Snow-covered bivvy in the Pentlands

Snow-covered bivvy in the Pentlands

By Ashleigh Naysmith

Snow-Covered Bivvy in the Pentlands: Camping adventures in Scotland's hills.

"As always, the easy satisfying stroll back over the hills and down through the snow covered fields to the car gave me a sense of contentment that lasted months rather than weeks. It should be prescribed on the NHS!" - Donald

Donald got in touch with our Support Heroes to share his microadventure with his Numo in the Pentland Hills with mesmerising views of Edinburgh below.

"I don’t know why but sometimes artificial light central heating and conviviality become too taken for granted, and darkness and isolation are needed. Driving a warm car to a cold remote car park there is always a moment when you get out, boots on, and shut the door and you question your sanity, but the need to reach through the fear of doing something, overcomes the fear. With practice, the satisfaction that you know will come afterwards will eclipse all that.

With snow on the ground and swirling around in the darkness there is a muffling effect on your steps and your breathing that gives the impression of being in an enclosure; the grandeur of the landscape sweep you remember from the summer just doesn’t exist now.

In the close cotton-wool silence I thought I heard footsteps nearby and I jumped but realised the top of my army Bergen was brushing snow laden tree branches overhead. I felt stupid. Climbing above the tree line the view opened and the curtains of snow showers stopped letting me choose a hollow on a high shoulder sheltered from the south-west but still affording good views over the city. Again, the strangeness of rolling out a bivvy bag on snow in the dark, thinking this is where I will sleep tonight, was bulldozed back. Arranging the bag so that my head was slightly higher, I dug into the rucksack and found my new Alpkit Numo inflating sleep mat, sat on the bivvy bag, and began to inflate it.

Inflatable sleeping mat on snowy ground after a bivvy

I knew its depth would give me both the insulation I needed from the snow and a greater level of comfort than previous mats, while its slightly larger outer reservoirs made rolling off the mat and onto a cold snow bed less likely.

The sleeping bag I was testing was a British army winter bag which I reckon would stand more chance of resisting inevitable condensation inside a bivvy (albeit a Gore-Tex bivvy) than a down bag. The Gore-Tex bivvy with the numo mat and the sleeping bag inside was now comfortable seat in the snow. Watching to keep my feet off the snow I untied my boots and hid them at the bottom of my bivvy bag. Jacket off and everything else that might get wet or damaged by snowfall went into the Bergen, and a waterproof cover over the top secured my kit for the night.

Fumbling a bit to get sleeping bag zipped up and around my head, and bivvy bag likewise, I lay in the soft darkness, feeling the snow falling on my face and watching the showers drift in pale silent curtains across the streetlights of Edinburgh down below. I could also see the snow was beginning to cover me and the Bergen.

Wrapped up like this I suddenly heard 2 voices in conversation becoming louder and I wondered whether I was visible and should make my presence known. I decided against this and lay still as the voices faded into the distance. I did wonder what on earth someone was doing hillwalking at that time of night in the dark. Through a bizarre coincidence I heard later who they were - they had no idea I was there and if I had sat up out of the snow in the dark we might have had a coronary to deal with.

I will say that the numo mat give a surprising almost artificial level of comfort and the protection of the sleeping and bivvy bags left me feeling as smug as I was snug.

I was awoken at one point in the night with a cold back and dragged my down jacket out of the Bergen side pocket into service inside the sleeping bag and I fell back to sleep quickly. Having to sit up and strip off to get the jacket on was counterintuitive but perversely satisfying.

As daybreak came and the light spread over the landscape below the clouds were beginning to clear. There is something incredibly uplifting about waking up in snow with a clearing sky overhead even in subzero temperatures. A couple of early morning Hill runners stopped to ask me how the night had been and it struck me how ordinary bivvy in the night in the hills was to this outdoor subset of society.

Reversing the process to pack away my gear while keeping my bum and feet dry, I rolled up the mat back to its tiny packed size and reckoned it was the best £40 I’d spent in a long time.

As always, the easy satisfying stroll back over the hills and down through the snow covered fields to the car gave me a sense of contentment that lasted months rather than weeks. It should be prescribed on the NHS!"

Thank you, Donald, for sending us this story of microadventure around the city. A fab reminder that adventure can be had even around the big cities!


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1 comment

  • It all sounds so easy. I’m looking forward to my first bivy of the year but with everything the way it is at the moment and Suffolk laying under a foot of water it might be a while.

    The Ron

    January 07, 2021

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