Guest Post – The Ice Tomb

Moonlightshadow takes a stroll as the sunsets on Stanage Edge

As some of you maybe aware – over the past year I’ve introduced Moonlightshadow to wild camping. A hobby he soon got to grips with and has continued to partake most weekends. Including this winter.

A few weeks ago, I met up with Moonlightshadow in the Peak District to act as a friendly guide for his first night out in the snows – I warned him of how it’s the little things he’ll notice that can ruin a trip without due care – along with other insights as a beginner you may not imagine.

These included which fuel and why, insulation from the cold ground, sourcing and storing water, inserting and removing tent pegs from frozen ground and how peculiar it is when a tent flysheet resembles cardboard when packing than it’s usual flimsy material.

We chose somewhere not too high or low – even so, it was still cold and there was plenty of snow around.

So, in his words – here’s a guest post from the man himself. Perhaps it will encourage those backpackers who desert our hills in the winter to give it a go? Doubt there’s that many – but you never know – or is that just me?

The Ice Tomb

Having tried my hand at that wildcamping lark for a few months now, I felt I needed to crank up a gear for my journey towards being a proper, fearless backpacker. The desire was there, although tempered by concerns about being out in low temperatures and some potential bad weather. I guess it takes a certain mental discipline to approach this kind of endeavour, however small it seems to more experienced wildcampers. I do however have a fair bit of experience with cold temperatures, I grew up in Switzerland which is colder than the UK in winter and I went skiing in some very cold temperatures (-25c) so maybe this helped make the jump. What was missing was the opportunity and it duly came one Saturday.

Winter’s sun through the trees
Winter conditions in November are rare, particularly recently (temperature wise) and after running through a few excuses for passing on the occasion, I realised I was ready…Terry kindly welcomed me along for a night out in the rural setting of Eyam Moor so I packed my bag, running through my kit to see if what I had would pass muster.
Allow me a geeky moment – but what follows are a few comments on what I took with me and could prove useful to someone with less experience. As the journey would not be particularly long and in cold conditions, I could wear a fair amount of clothes and so a full thermal layer was the first thing I put on, I then fished out a cheap pair of winter line Craghoppers trousers as conditions would be dry. 

On top, a Paramo wind shirt and a Paramo Cascada. At camp site, I ditched the Cascada, put on my Uniqlo ultra-light down jacket and my Paramo Torres smock whilst I put on a pair of very thick sock. I made the mistake not to take off my thermal layer which was a bit damp and was too tight in my boots which meant no warm air layer. My toes felt uncomfortable later in the evening. The Dachstein mitts proved great at warming my hands when I was not cooking, drinking or smoking… 
Distant Western Moors of the Peak Park
Another consideration was water, I bought for the occasion a Sigg bottle which I filled with warm water before putting it in my bag and took an insulated bottle for day use. Neither of them froze and the Sigg served as a hot water bottle inside my bag and thus ensuring water in the morning. 

The insulated bottle eventually started to freeze overnight but it served its purpose by then. What did not freeze was my Primus winter mix gas can, well worth the extra money, just leave it in the porch. -9c and it worked a treat in the morning. Boil time with the Coleman F1 was barely longer than in summer conditions. 
Given how stormy it can get in winter or the possibility of heavy snowfall – the tent was always going to be the Wild Country Sololite and I realised one flaw with it – condensation. There was no wind in our sheltered spot and I closed the inner door leaving only a small gap. It made it cosier inside but next time I will leave it open a lot more unless there is a fair breeze blowing through the vents.  
Sleep system wise, I shoved a standard foam mat under the tent, my Alpkit Slim Airic went inside, obviously – and I plonked on top a thin foil mat. It worked well once the whole thing warmed up under my body. My bag was the Alpkit Skyehigh 600, rated -5c and a silk liner. I was never cold during the night aside from a shivery bum at first…No, it was not my arse twitching…Going to sleep with the Uniqlo jacket was superfluous, I had to zip it off during the night.  All in all, very happy with my kit.
The sock issue is a lesson learned, so is the venting in the Sololite plus next time I’ll have a PipeDream 600 with me so even less concerns about being warm… 
Anyhow, back to more verbose ponderings on the day… 

Bamford Edge
As mentioned by Terry (Wintry scenes in the Peak Park), the walk from Bamford was delightful, meandering through the frozen countryside, the sun shining on us and that pastoral delight was shared with very few people giving it a very relaxing vibe. We often stopped for taking pictures, enjoy the scenery and ponder our map. 

We finally arrived on Eyam Moor, still busy with a few people who soon left, leaving us in peace to set camp in a hollow offering us perfect shelter from the nagging breeze. Pitching was easy, the pegs went in easily enough (thanks to Terry’s small and light mallet) and I found what I usually seek when camping wild – a recess by some rocks to set up my camp kitchen. I took with me some pasta with tuna to reheat on the hob and plenty of bits and bobs to keep the calories flowing into my body. Neither of us thought there would be a need for much booze, some frozen lager for Terry and some rough rum for me (and Terry…) just to lubricate our social cogs and it made it perfectly enjoyable. I think my continental ways are spreading…. 
If anyone thinks Terry is not very fit, that person was not there to see him leg it to the trig point to catch the sunset on video…Our surrounding were very civilised, a wide track just below the hill summit, a mast ensuring perfect radio and mobile reception (we joked about taking a televions next time…) and two farms close by so no light show at campsite that evening. A thousand little lights lit up in the night, surrounding us with the comforting glow of civilisation yet we were alone on that frozen moor, a mile from a warm pub but a thousand miles from the comforts of modern life. 

Hiking in winter can be very tiring
There is no such thing as wilderness in the Peak District if one is objective but wilderness is a state of mind and this was our little corner of cold darkness. With our torches switched off, only the purple glow of my candle lantern away in my tent illuminated the scene with a faint glow. And the millions of stars in the sky including one shooting star only I caught the sight of… 
What hit me was how quickly I felt the need to retire for the night (7pm), it felt entirely natural to hit the sack despite enjoying good conversation. Our body was more atuned to the old rhythm of life before modernity gave us permanent summer conditions in our dwellings. This was also the essential difference with what we would have experienced in summer. The temperature is almost incidental, what surprises the most is how the darkness cuts short what would be long rambling discussion deep into the night in summer followed by a short night of sleep. Your body simply starts to shut down. So, we duly did retire to our tents and by 8pm I started drifting away listening to Radio 4.
The pitch was quite hard and bumpy so I woke up many times during the night, each time noticing Terry’s capacity for deep sleep in any conditions (aka he snores a lot…) but at 3am, something quite special happened. 

I mentioned above the venting in the tent was inadequate – I needed to switch on my torch to locate something and upon doing so, the inner tent turned into a milky white sky with a millions ice crystals scintillating! As if all those moments that made my life decided to coat the veil I was entombed into and were winking back at me. In the half-dreamy state I was in, it totally bemused me and I quickly sank back into the blackness of my dreamless sleep, warm inside my bag now coated in a thin rime of ice on the outside.  My very own ‘Ice Tomb’, you could say.
Dawn from Eyam Moor
The morning came, twilight then dusk followed before we were standing, awaiting the majestic rise of the shiniest star of all, our sun. The cold was biting, intensely so but dry, the wind was almost gone and when the sun was fully risen, a warm radiance brought back our bodies to life, ready for the day ahead. I packed a few things then went to sit by my rock, eating my breakast with the sun blinding me and bringing comfort to my achey limbs.  

It was a glimpse, much neutered by our modern contraptions and clothing, of how our long departed ancestors must have lived their lives, atuned with the cycles of nature. It felt good, for a time, to be reminded of that.  
We departed, on our separate ways. I felt grateful to have had the opportunity to try this in reassuring company and can now look forward to the time, soon to come no doubt, when I will walk into the night on my own and find my own comfort in the darkness and the cold. It is a tonic for the soul, try it…

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Martin Rye says:

    it great to see folks learning and building skills to be able to strike out on their own some time. Well done to Moonlight.


  2. terrybnd says:

    Hi Martin,

    To be fair, he didn't 'need' me at all. He's took to it all like a duck to water. I was more for 'peace of mind' I suppose. Either way, was good company as always.


  3. Excellent post moonlightshadow. Some good observations and common sense approach to winter camping. I have a Exped Downmat 7 – expensive, but very warm and is great for ironing all those lumps and bumps, because it is so thick.


  4. Jenny says:

    What an exciting read, and beautiful pictures. Maybe next time you should take along some HEATTECH thermal clothing to go under your down coat from UNIQLO!


  5. Moonlight Shadow says:

    Thanks people. Terry was indeed my “spirit guide” on those first two nights, he is so relaxed about the whole thing you can't help just chill out (pun intended) yourself…Still need to pop my “solo winter wildcamp” cherry but it will come…

    Cheers Jenny but I've been using Heatech for the last two winters already. I'm a big fan of Uniqlo stuff, be it for what it is intended, fashion but also in the outdoors in the case of some garments. That ultra light down jacket has garnered a tiny cult following as it happens, mainly thanks to an excellent review by R Mac on his blog.

    Re Heatech, I rate it more when active than at rest, that's why I've bought other stuff to test out, from that other great outdoors shop, Aldi…


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