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14 February 2013

Sleeping in the Snow

A soft, white blanket
Waking up in the snow

Last weekend I was out hiking with the folks from the Krystallis Mountain club. The plan was to go to the peak of Mount Taygettus, but that didn't happen. There was way too much snow, and since there was a layer of iced over snow two weeks old underneath the fresh snow, the risk of avalanches was too high. In fact, on the way up to the hut, while safe inside the woods, we heard the rumble of what I presume must have been an avalanche.

It snowed all the way up, small, hard flakes. Powder snow that was easy to tread, and not yet so deep as to be tiresome. All in all a good time. Arriving at the hut, we were welcomed by the people from the Spartan mountain club. We had a nice evening there, with some simple food and lots of laughter and stories. When I started to feel tired, I packed up my things and... went outside into the snow to sleep.

I had brought my norwegian sleeping bag, a goretex biwi bag (which the salesman told me would last two years or so and that was more than 20 years ago), and a borrowed hiking mattress. I stomped through the fresh snow to a nearby tree and lay out my bed. I also had a nylon rain poncho, which I tied to the tree, to fend off a bit of the snow that was still falling thick. That didn't work out so well, since I had nowhere to tie it to at the other end, so it would more annoy me from flapping around in the occasional wind gusts. In the end I rolled it around the bag with my shoes and give them a bit more protection. Dry feet in the morning are a good thing too. After unfolding the mattress, the biwi bag, stuffing in the sleeping bag, taking off my shoes without stepping into the snow with socks only and finally getting into bed and taking off my jacket, laying it under my head as a cushion, I had turned from tired and sleepy to wide awake again. So I was lying there, contemplating how I would sleep in the cold. I would guess the temperature to have been about -3C. The first result was that my feet who were quite frozen from the cold floor in the hut started to warm up and feel cozy again. Good start.

More of a problem was the snow that kept blowing into the opening of the biwi bag over my face. As I had given up on the ponche "roof", I decided to close the biwi's zip. That's always a bit claustrophobic, but I'd done it before and it was ok. Turns out either something had changed in all those years with the goretex, or else I hadn't had it closed for so long. After a while I was getting short of breath. I kept waking up breathing rapidly and having to open the zip. Each time I got in a good portion of snow. In the end I opened a tiny "hole" in the zip, to the side that was most away from the blowing snow. (Update: after further thinking I now guess that the problem was that the pores of the goretex were closed by frozen water, so the air wasn't getting through any more.)

I heard the hard snow "clicking" on the biwi bag all night. When it stopped snowing for some time, the snow from my tree would start to fall down. I liked that sound. Then the wind would pick up again, throwing the nylon poncho around and blowing more snow over me.

The snow was also much softer to sleep on than the hard ground when it's dry. The problem was that the snow got inbetween the biwi bag and the mattress, and the mattress froze over. It started to got cold from below me. My feet and the top side of me were perfectly warm. Even my head was warm, despite the sleeping bag around the opening being all wet from the snow that had blown in. The sleeping bag held up very well, none of that humitidy reached me. That's one point for synthetic sleeping bags (you carry that in extra weight compared to a down sleeping bag though). The cold from below had me worried a bit, but then I knew that the night wouldn't be that long. I guess the next time I'll try to put the mattress inside the biwi bag.

Despite those troubles, I had a good rest. I woke up a lot, but I also had long stretches of relaxed sleep. I did feel refreshed and not tired at all in the morning. I had a good time with my little adventure. Obviously in the morning I praised the comfort of being next to the hut. I could just get out and drag the whole mess of sleeping bag, biwi, and mattress to the hut, to let it thaw and dry out a bit in the entrance room, while I had some breakfast myself. Not the same thing if you're on a hike and have to do an emergency bivouac and having to pack up while in the midst of fresh snow and more snow falling on you. I guess it's a good idea to give this kind of thing a try at a place and time when you can bang on the door of the hut and get inside if anything goes wrong.

So, the next day, instead of going to the peak, we went on a small excursion on the E4 hiking path near the hut, well in the protective forest. Plenty of snow, with the sun coming through the clouds again. Took some pictures too, this was a cool weekend hike.

Picture by Rika Krithara

Posted by betabug at 20:26 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
ch athens
Life in Athens (Greece) for a foreigner from the other side of the mountains. And with an interest in digital life and the feeling of change in a big city. Multilingual English - German - Greek.
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