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Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 12:50 pm
by seamus0
One of my goals this winter was to find a safe route where I could camp, just for the hell of it! My previous trips up to Scotland earlier in the Winter, there was a lack of snow and the conditions were not right. However last weekend the weather reports were fantastic, and I knew it was on. Minimal wind, high pressure, clear skies, just what was required, but what route?? As I was going on my own this time, I wanted a safe route, that could tick off some munros. I considered walking into Derry Lodge and climbing some hills in the Cairngorms, but after the spate of accidents there I decided it was too far a walkin and a bit risky to do by myself. In the end, inspired by ML's previous report on the Carn Mairg Horseshoe, I chose it as a good winter route - easy escape routes, and minimal avalanche territory, it was on!

After picking up some gas and supplies in Stirling Sat morning and leaving the YHA, I headed towards Loch Tay, and Invervar (666482) where the walk starts.It was lunch time by the time I started and there were several cars there already. My plan was to take my time slowly as I had a full pack, and was in no rush. It was quite a relaxing feeling knowing that i didnt have to yomp around the horseshoe to get back down before nightfall. That was until I put on my pack, and realised how heavy these things can get!!

Start of snow and ridge to Carn Gorm

Start of Walk at Invervar carpark

I started off, taking the redirected sign-posted route past the Lint house. The walk through the woods was pleasant and enjoyable and was settling in to the weight of my pack.
Helpful green and yellow signposts mark the way

The ridge up Carn Gorm was relatively easy. I decided to put on my crampons around 600m to make the walking a bit easier, as I was finding the extra weight was making me more unstable. However it would have been possible to do this without them. The walkers in front were doing that, as I saw their cut-in steps on some neve. Their tracks helped me throughout the walk as I followed them all the way, so have to thank them!
Views back down the ridge to Glen Lyon

By the time I got to the top of No 1 Munro (Carn Gorm) I was blessed by surrounding views of the Ben Lawer Hills and Rannoch Moor. After engulfing myself in the vistas for what must have been 20mins, the cold was setting in. Even though there was little wind, at 1000m it does get to you!
Summit of Carn Gorm

Ben Lawers in the distance

Time was ticking by and I realised that I wasnt going to reach my intended camping spot at the half way mark along the ridge. I was going to camp near the wee lochan on the eastern slopes of Meall Garbh. Im sure in the summer this would be a great spot! However looking along the ridge I decided the best spot would be just below Carn Gorm on the Bealach at around 900m. And thus, my long lesson in winter camping craft began!

Home for the night!

Lesson #1 - How do you put pegs in the ground?? - I thought I had planned for this bringing 9" Garden pegs with me, and my normal tent pegs. would they go in?? Not a chance. Luckily I chose a spot where the snow was about 6" deep and not just pure ice. So I slid the pegs in, covered them with snow and hoped it would freeze over, and pray to the gods for minimum wind.

Getting Dark!

My campsite

So, tent up, got my tripod out and started to take photos of the glorious sunset and again taking in the views of how beautiful the spot was. I could hear avalanches going off. I then looked at the slope up Carn Gorm and was 'reasonably' sure one wouldnt happen there over night. I got my small gas stove out and started to boil water....

This is life!

Sun setting

Lesson #2 - How do you boil water in freezing conditions?? - To keep weight down, I didnt bring my trangia stove, but only my wee gas stove that screws onto the canister. Yes I got it lit, but it was as much use as a chocolate teapot! After 1/2 hr the water was the same temperature when I started.....oh dear! Luckily I had one of those meals in my pack u just mix the chemicals together to heat the bag up.It wasnt much but it was better than nothing. I had a spare sandwich that was now also frozen...yum....frozen chicken sandwiches! Delightful!

The sun finally set, and settled in for the longggg night. Lesson 3 beginneth.....

Lesson #3 - Carry mats....are there different grades??? Oh yes! - my normal Alpkit carrymat was well, lets just say it was like lieing on a rug in the snow. After 15 mins, my sides got too cold and I had to roll over.Again 15 mins that side got too cold so I rolled back. This went on all night! I tried everything. I blew the mat up more, I tried to sleep on my rucksack, I put every spare item of my clothing on....still nothing stopped the cold of the ice coming through. Result -> no sleep!

About 4am I noticed it was getting brigher and thought...ahh sunrise...but its a bit early ?? I poked my head out and was blessed again with a still night and a fantastic starry sky and moon out. It was stunning. so as I wasnt getting sleep I thought I might as well go out and take photos.....yes..another lesson....

The moon peeking round Carn Gorm

Lesson #4 - How do you put on a pair of frozen boots?? - My boots were so frozen, they were literally like a pair of bricks. I couldnt lesson the laces as they were frozen to the boot and i didnt want to pick at them incase I damaged them. So me going out in the night was not going to happen. so I made do with taking some photos from my tent.

Eventually, with blodshot eyes, and feeling terrible, sunrise did eventually arrive. Given that one of the main points of this exercise was to take some photos, I wasnt going to miss it. So boots still wouldnt go on, I decided to hobble around in my knees...keeping my feet off the ice to take some was comical! Well I had a chuckle to myself anyway to brighten my spirits...the sunrise was fantastic!



Glad to get some heat at last, I packed up as best I could, and after 1/2 hour of pushing and shoving managed to get the bricks onto my frozen feet. I jumped about to get the circulation going and get some heat going thru the veins.
Munros in distance

Lesson #5 - How do you get fluids in you when everything is frozen and your stove wont melt anything? My breakfast consisted guessed it another frozen chicken sandwich. My water had frozen. So I had to make do and start off round the route again. I put my frozen water in my paramo pouch in the hope it would defrost as i walked.

Ice sculptures along the fences

I was glad to set off! The rest of the walk was tiring, given I had no sleep. I knew the 3 other Munros were only really dimples on the ridge, and 200-300m climbing for each was achievable, and also the easiest way to finish the route. However, the full pack, and lack of fluids and proper food meant that I was pretty exhausted. A freezing wind had picked up also, so I couldnt hang about or I would start to freeze again. My only saving grace was those helpful footsteps were still present, and led me around the horseshoe without requiring much navigation, except when just to confirm they were going in the right direction!

Cairn #2

Carn Mairg in distance

Cairn 4 Mean nan aighean

By the time I reached Meall nan Aighean I was overjoyed. The weather had stayed fine and dry, but extremely cold. After a long slow trudge back down the ridge to the car park, shattered, I decided to abandon my original plan of staying in the tent again for a second freezing sleepless night, and book myself into the nearest hotel with a bar !! :-) That night, as I thought about my wee adventure (over my guinness and steak!) I thought about how little I knew about winter camping. Oh boy, just means more gear to buy for next winter!

Does it never end :-)!

My route looking back

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 1:37 pm
by weaselmaster
What great twighlight/dawn pictures.
Must have made the discomfort bearable to see that.

From my "extensive" :wink: :wink: winter camping experience to date I found that putting the gas cannister next to your skin under your clothes for 10 mins before lighting up helps a lot, though it might need to be done again before the water's fully boiled.
Mats - I had success with a 12mm roll mat plus a thermarest under a down superlight 4 season bag - combo of mat and thermarest worked well to deflect the cold. Having a second person to share the tent with is considerably better, however :lol:
Boot freeze is avoided if you put boots and gaiters into a drysac and put them into your sleeping bag - behind your knees is probably the roomiest place - uncomfortable during the night perhaps, but they are warm and flexible in the morning and don't chill your feet.

I carry 4 snow pegs (but haven't actually used them yet) and also make use of ice axe & poles to help pin the tent down. I've read of others filling bags with snow/ice and using them as weights to keep the tent in place too.

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 2:49 pm
by seamus0
Cheers for's good to know for future. I'll definately be investing in a 4 season mat, and a better stove at the very least!

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:04 pm
enjoyed reading that ..thanks for sharing your experience :D
..hopefully you'll get plenty of folk on here offering help and advice on the problems you faced
...i cannae help ..only camped in summer!
good effort ..well done! :clap: :D

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:13 pm
by whiteburn
seamus0 wrote:.. I'll definately be investing ... a better stove at the very least!

There's nothing inherently wrong with using canister mounted stoves in winter providing you understand their limitations and adapt your camp craft to compensate.

There's a lot of information on various stove types on the forum the most recent being:

There's also been recent discussions on sleeping mats and tent pegs for winter, you only have to look.

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:19 pm
by seamus0
yup... in hindsight researching in winter camping gear would have been a good option....I have done it in the past, but not in those temperatures at 900m up....though I do think the simple screw on gas stove definately needs an upgrade :-)

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Fri Apr 05, 2013 2:46 pm
by Klaasloopt
Seamus, what a very good way to do things. Just do it. :clap:
Of course some things do not work out as hoped, but one learns. Too much research just kills off the fun.

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Fri Apr 05, 2013 10:02 pm
by mr_ash_37
Congrats we'll worth it for those pics. What kind of tent do u use?

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Sat Apr 06, 2013 8:33 am
by seamus0
Thanks guys for the comments.....I use a Vango Helium 200 tent. Althought its light and compact enough, I find it does flap about a bit and is therefore quite noisey at night. I've tried it other times in less extreme conditions and in windless nights, and you still get the flapping noise. The problem is that you cant get the fly sheet perfectly taut as it only has the one small pole at the end and the guy ropes. So, considering to sell it and maybe go for a hilleberg akto (only if I can get a deal on it...a tad expensive!)? However my first purchase is the mat...probably an exped downmat 7 UL (if i save up !)....I got the bug now! Here's to more wild camps up mountains!

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Sat Apr 06, 2013 9:25 am
by quoman
Hi seamus...Canny help with suggestions as ave not been winter camping.. but the report was superb and smashing picture's.

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Sat Apr 06, 2013 11:00 am
by seamus0
Cheers....just thought also u don't get midges in highly recommend it!

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2013 4:44 pm
by Rudolph
seamus0 wrote: an exped downmat 7 UL (if i save up !)....I got the bug now! Here's to more wild camps up mountains!

The exped is great. I use the 3/4 length with a closed cell mat underneath.

I was very nervous for you not having water for the second day but you seemed to have managed fine. We were lucky(?) in that we'd planned to camp where there were streams and managed to find two still running under the snow. Needed an ice-axe to get access to them and the water froze in a platypus faster than I would have believed. next time I'll take a pop bottle and fill it with warm water for the day.

As witburn says, gas stoves can be made to work in winter but meths (caldera cone for lighttness) are a bit less worry. I kept my lighter in a pocket with a hand warmer in our last winter trip and it worked first time (one up to me over Mrs Santa!). If you do that check it doesn't get too warm - mine didn't get past blood temp.

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2013 5:14 pm
by seamus0
Good to know! Do you think you needed the mat as well as the Exped? The Exped is meant to work down to -24C or something cold like that, so I'd have thought that would be enough?

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2013 5:49 pm
by Tomsie
Some excellent photo's

Re: Wild Winter Camping - Lessons Learned!

PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2013 7:27 pm
by Rudolph
seamus0 wrote:Do you think you needed the mat as well as the Exped?

The closed cell is useful as a groundsheet protector and it's nice to have somthing to kneel on when faffing on.
Also, with a 3/4 exped it keeps your feet off the ground. I've always assumed the closed cell makes a difference but have never been brave enough to go without it. (except once in the back garden when my old inflatable sprang a leak and I melted my way through the snow. Chilly)