Friday, 18 September 2009

Not so certain

Me and my rucksack as the sun comes over the mountain

Last night was quite mild, around 10 degrees centigrade. Nevertheless, this was chilly enough to make me realise that there is a flaw in my plan to use a duvet rather than an arctic sleeping bag. Every time I rolled over I was rewarded with a nice blast of cold air coming in under the duvet. It wasn't much of an issue last night but as the temperature could fall to -20, that's 30 degrees colder than last night, it could well become one.
I have kind of figured out how I am going to make the roof and where the door will be, the big problem is that I don't necessarily have the skills to build it. I foresee a lot of trial, error and swearing over the next month or two. Although the problem with that is that the hunting season starts soon so it might be that I have to take an enforced break from woodland living for fear of being taken out by Elma Fudd.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Ha ha

Newly comfortable abode

It may not come as a complete surprise to learn that night after night of not sleeping properly is gets tiresome after a while. By yesterday afternoon I was walking about like a zombie, the idea of another night of waking up ever hour or two with no feelings in my arms, and having to shake the life back into them. I decided that I had had enough of sleeping in all my clothes and a one piece ski suit, something had to give. I left the ski suit and extra fleeces at home last night and opted instead to bring a duvet up to the forest. Wow. I slept like a baby. So now I'm considering whether it is worth spending a couple of hundred pounds on an arctic sleeping bag or if I can get away with a nice thick duvet.

One thing that being warm made me realise was that my bed has become uncomfortable. The thick layers of moss that I lay down on branches has compacted and now follows the contours of the branches. This afternoon I'm going to take the bed apart and rebuild it so it has a flatter base on which to lay the moss. I'm also going to puzzle over how best to build a roof that will hold the weight of lots of snow, I know it should be relatively straight forward but the geography of the place is throwing up some difficulties.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

First signs of snow

It snowed last night, not on me, I got an amusing covering of rain. Higher up the mountain there was a thin covering of snow this has now melted away and what had been green yesterday is now a rich russet. The very highest mountain tops are still white, but then the snow on them never completely melted away. Whilst it did not snow on me It's definitely getting colder, it was 6.2 degrees C when I woke at 6.45 this morning. I suspect it was colder still when I woke at 4 am but I was not inclined to rummage around for the thermometer at that time. Not having a proper sleeping bag is becoming a bit of an issue. I'm warm enough at night as I wear lots of very warm layers, the problem is that wearing so many clothes is cutting the circulation off to my arms and I keep waking up with no feeling in them.

In celebration of the forthcoming winter here is a video that I have been studying closely


Sunday, 13 September 2009

Satisfying

Satisfying

Written on an itouch with a teeny timy keyboard so please excuse typos.

You join me this evening as I sit by a fire, my front warm yet my back distinctly chilly. I am of course boiling water for tea and I'm feeling distinctly happy with my lot. This may of course be due to having recently worked my way onto the outside of a fillet steak but I think there is more to it than that. When I woke this morning I felt terific, which was a surprise as last night was rather cold and there is no zip on my sleeping bag. Despite this I woke feeling refreshed
and more. I had the sense of well being that comes after playing sport. A rather good state otlf afairs seeing as all I had done was sleep, and I have never seen that at the Olympics. I suppose it was down to having a sense of having achieved something, and having done so before even getting out of bed was the icing on the cake. This good feeling has followed me around all day, and now I have been to work, done some sport, eaten well and read a little I'm on top form.

Perversly I'm enjoying being out in the woods a lot more now that autumn is here and the chill wind brings the promise of winter. It's more challenging. No doubt I will rue these words before long when the cold closes in. Or even tonight when the temperature drops. It's currently around 8 degrees C but it gets colder in the small hours of the morning.

Whilst this excursion might well currently be enjoyable it isn't the primary purpose. The reason for doing this is to raise money for Rainforest Comcern, a fine charity. So if you can spare a little cash please sponsor me (click on the link to the left to get to my sponsorship page). If you are not minded to do so then could you forward a link to this page to some friends instead so that they can consider doing so.

Things to do

Collect loads of pine resin for lighting fires in the winter.
Colllect loads of kindling.
Obtain solar pannel and go self sufficient for power.
Build a roof strong enough to support a meter or more of snow.
Buy a winter sleeping bag.
Stop writing blog and take a moment to appreciate my surroundings.

Starting Proper

For most of the summer it had felt as though I have been playing at this woodland living thing. My girlfriend has been staying in my studio on Verbier, the sun has shone and life has been easy. This week I helped the girlfriend move into her apartment in another ski resort where she will be working for a year. Save for the holidays I will only see her at weekends when she comes to stay at "base camp". For me this moment has always been the time when this venture stops being a game and I fully turn my attention to surviving for the winter.

Tonight I am sitting in the shelter assessing what needs to be done. Number one on the list is to find a quick way to make tea. Lighting a fire can be a bit long winded even at the moment, it has been raining so all the wood is wet and I can imagine it taking longer still when I have to fund my firewood under a meter of snow. When it is cold not only will it be harder to light a fire but it will be more important to have a nice warm drink. I will keep using a fire as it is a quintessential part of the woodland experience and handy for keeping warm by. I am a little concerned about using a fire on the shelter as it is built out of things that are very flammable, in fact the only non flammable thing on here is me. I do have a rather groovy paraffin lamp that Mrs Ditch Monkey got me as a house warming present. I have been planning as using it as a heater once there is enough snow to build walls. I got the idea from watching an Inuit heat his igloo with a lamp fired on seal blubber. Apparently such a lamp gives off enough heat to keep the temperature at around freezing point, toasty. Tonight I am giving the theory a test run, having only one wall and thus being exposed on three sides I am not expecting to be warmed by the single flame. I have set the lamp between some rocks and there, where it is sheltered from the breeze, the air is quite warm. The real test has been to make a cup of tea over the flame, if it makes tea then I will want for nothing. The water has been over the flame for a little over an hour and fifteen minutes now, and the water is still only warm. I have been thinking of using a thing called a jet boil, it boils half a litre of water in 90 seconds which is handy but the last one I owned fell apart after a couple of months use, I think I'll have to get one and save it for emergency use only.

I gave up on the lamp as a stove and cooked over a heximine block instead. Tortellini with a stock cube thrown into the water, this flavours the pasta and creates a nutritious drink at the same time - maximum efficiency and minimum requirement for culinary dexterity. So here is something I made for the long suffering Mrs Ditch Monkey the other day, you can try it at home.

I bought a couple of mini pumpkins to make this with but you could use any size pumpkin.

Chop the top off the pumpkin, cut the insides out and put the seeds and all the gubins attached to them to one side. Well, either throw them away or sprinkle them with salt and bake them with the pumpkins to make a nice snack.

Chop up the pumpkin flesh you removed like so



Chop up a small onion and crush a medium sized garlic clove.

Toast a handful of flaked almonds by putting them into a hot dry frying pan and keep moving them about until they go brown. Then tip the nuts out into a bowl, add some olive oil to the pan and return to the heat. Put the onion and garlic into the pan and cook for a couple of minutes before adding in the chopped pumpkin. Sweat the pumpkin down for about three or four minutes then add enough ricotta to make the amount of stuff in the pan fill the hole in the pumpkin(s). Stir it around for a bit, add salt and pepper to taste. You could always add a sniff of cinnamon at this point if you liked. Meanwhile put a large basil leaf into each pumpkin then stuff with the ricotta mix. Put the pumpkin lids back on. Bung em in an oven heated to 180 degrees C until cooked. About 20 minutes for a small one.

Whilst they were cooking I made a fresh tomato sauce by chopping some tomatoes into small bits and letting them cook down with some olive oil, salt and pepper, then adding some basil leaves for the last five minutes of cooking time. Serve with crusty bread, your fave drink and good company.

Monday, 31 August 2009

New Technology,

This is the second night of my writing this blog from the woods via an Ipod. I bought it specifically to use to write the blog as a lap top is too cumbersome and has a short battery life. I found that i jist did not hace time or insperation to write during the day. With this I can write whilst here in the woods and the ipod will automatically email it next time. I have wifi access. It does seem a little incongorous to be sat here typing away on a little hand held touch screen device whilst getting back to nature. Things have come a long way from when I did this Oxford, then I only had a small radio for company, but I did have a job at Sotheby's that required me to sit in front of a computer all day with no work to do. There was plenty of time to write a blog then.
Hopefully this new technology will allow me to write much more regularly, at least until it gets so cold that I have to wear gloves and this can't type any more. Drat, I hadn't thought of that before. Well I'll worry about that when it gets cold.
Things should start to get interesting soon as the night time temperatures are falling, although it is quite mild tonight at 12.2 degrees C so I will not be needing all the extra layers I brought with me.
That's you up to date with the latest technical developments, will write about something interesting tomorrow night. Possibly the ongoing debate about possibly using an old snowboard as part of one of the walls; is this cheating? You never know by tomorrow night i may have thought of something interesting. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

First signs of autumn

The summer season here in Verbier is drawing to a close, friends are leavimg, not to return till the snow comes. Bars are shutting. As the resort closes down the first chills of autumn replaces the holiday makers, there is a definate cold snap in the air tonight and as I sit here in the dark I am begining to think that I may not have enough warm layers for tonight.

I have just got my sleeping bag out only to discover that the zip is completely broken, in the open position of course so now the sleeping bag is as much use as a thin blanket.

I'm not sure how cold it got last night, it was 8.2 degrees centigrade when I woke at 8.15 and the sun had been up for some time by then so it was a bit nippy last night. I have been fattening myself up over the summer on the basis that my body is probably going to need all the reserves it can get, last night I felt as though I was taking from those reserves for the first time. It's all good though, I'm going to have to get used to the cold at some point.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Bed Building


Breakfast courtesy of nature


As I may have previously mentioned, the woods are not a hugely comfortable place to sleep. I have been putting up with discomfort on the basis that it was probably a good idea to toughen myself up a little before the onset of winter. A couple of days ago I took an executive decision, decided I was not tough enough and set about making a comfortable bed. To my mind, a bed needs to be flat, soft and warm. I am only aware of these required attributes on account of having been trying to sleep without them. The first challenge that I faced was to build a flat platform for the bed. Flattening the ground with a shovel was out of the question on account of the rock sticking out that, on closer inspection, turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. A wooden frame built around the rock and over the dips in the ground would create a flat surface. So I scouted around looking for some long strong straight bits of wood, only to discover that I had used all the local examples of such in making the roof. It took a lot less time to take the roof down than it had to put it up and soon I had a rough frame for the bed laid out on the ground and propped up at one end with a rock.



Next, I lay lots of sticks on top (see photo below), followed by some spruce bows, of which I forgot to take a photograph. I only took bows from a tree that had already fallen down as I thought chopping trees down wasn’t in keeping with the whole ethos of the venture. So I was left with a bed that was essentially a pile of sticks with some thinner sticks on top. It was not very soft.



I knew that one of the three vital attributes of a fully functioning bed was softness; I was going to have to find some. I figured that spruce bows layed thickly enough would create a reaasonable level of softness. I would need to find another recently fallen tree. As I walked around the forest, I noticed the ground beneath my feet was all springy and soft. It turned out I was standing on a big rock that was covered in a thick layer of moss, and furthermore that that layer of moss peeled away really easily. So, within half an hour I had a thick layer of moss covering the bed. It was time for a test run. I tentatively lay down, half expecting the entire structure to collapse, pitching me down the mountain side. But it held firm and remarkably it turned out to be flat on the first build, though perhaps a little lumpy. This was nothing a little re-organising of moss wouldn’t sort out. Best of all the moss is soft enough to be a pleasure to lie on. The whole structure also acts as fantastic insulation from the ground so that, for the moment at least, I’m nice and warm at night in only my summer sleeping bag.



mmmmm comfort

However...


There was a massive thunder storm last night and you may recall that I took the roof down to make the bed. I discovered that a properly functioning bed has four attributes; the fourth being dryness.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Ninjas and Berries

It has been a while since I wrote so I best give you an update on developments. The mountain is as steep as ever which is resulting in my building up some muscles in unusual places, such as along my shin bone. Fortunately the mountain side is virtually awash with wild strawberries, raspberries and blueberries so the walk to work or home is punctuated with breaks to fill up with fruit. Apparently there are a lot of wild mushrooms, specifically chanterelles and ceps but I have seen neither yet but have eaten lots in a local restaurant but was disapointed to find discover that their mushrooms were brought in from Eastern Europe rather than from the adjacent forest.

Currently the weather is hot, constant blue skies with the day time temperature in the high 20s to low 30s during the day yet it is still cold at night. There is a feeling, at least amongst my friends, that we have had enough of summer now and it ought to start snowing pretty soon so we can go out for a slide on the mountain. However, summer seems fairly relentless and, not having been in the Alps at this time of year before, I do not know what signs would indicate the changing of the season. Certainly 99% of the trees here are coniferous so there is no tell tale leaves turning to brown. Further down the valley there are many more deciduous trees so by looking accross the valley to the side of the mountains opposite which seems to stick up almost vertically it is possible to make out perhaps the first signs of autumn. Looking at the trees there is like looking at the top of a head of broccoli and one can just make out a few dark spots, as though the broccoli was starting to go off, I assume each of these dark spots is a tree whose leaves are starting to go brown. For now though it is still August, it's nice and warm and I suspect I shall come to regrett wishing for winter to come quickly.

In expectation of the coming winter I have bought a one piece snowboarding suit to use as a pyjama during the winter, pictured bellow, I think I look like a ninja but apparently I look like an idiot.


Saturday, 8 August 2009

I'm back, lucky you.



Hello

So I went to the UK for a holiday, it rained, drove back through France, it rained, got back to Switzerland, it was raining, went back to work and the sun came out. Sorry not to have been writing recently but I've brought my girlfriend back with me and I've not really spent any time with her since before Christmas so I've been giving her my attention rather than the blog.

Normal services will now be resumed.

You'll be glad to hear that you have not missed much. I did manage to get the long suffering girlfriend to come out to the woods, the promise of wine, starlight and picnics will work miracles I find. Curiously there is nothing that will tempt her to come out to stay in the middle of winter.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Holiday


Sorry about the dull blogging at the moment, I haven't quite hit my stride yet. A combination of being busy and not sleeping very much has left me a little brain dead and short of time. I'm sure this is only a temporary state of affairs, I go on holiday on Thursday so soon I'll be back to being brain dead with plenty of time.
It seems that what I thought were wolves howling in the night was in fact huskies, this is a commonly held belief of sniggering people WHO WERE NOT THERE and therefore don't know. The fact that there are huskies living roughly where I heard the howling coming from proves nothing.
In August the woods are thick with hunters and it is strongly advisable not to go walking in them for fear of being shot. Might have to re-think my sleeping arrangements in August then. Either that or walk about the place wearing a fluorescent orange bib and frankly there are limits to what one is prepared to do to raise money for charity.

Holiday involves vineyards and collecting as many tea bags as I can from the UK.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

banging on about being uncomfortable again. Get a grip dude.

Note big rock to left offering protection from weather assuming weather comes from the left.

I spent the first portion of last night sitting by a fire and having a very nice evening. Then I went to bed and spent the rest of the night ruing my decision not to make a bed, eventually I gave up on trying to sleep where I was and opted for a nearby flat but exposed piece of ground. Do you remember when you were small, one of the first things that had to be done upon being placed in a sleeping bag was to hop about the place as if taking part in a sack race. Well I'm not sure I can recommend doing so in the woods, in the dark, whilst very tired, I suppose if it had not been dark and I had not been so tired I might have given more thought to the fact that I was in the woods. As it was I had no little difficulty in ascending the near vertical slope covered in fallen trees and and the big pile of wood I have collected to make the roof with. However, I'm not bruised and I did eventually reach somewhere that was flat enough to sleep on. It is of course tempting to build a shelter on the flat ground but it is very exposed and offers precious little in protection from falling trees.

conclusion

tired, very tired, probably not speaking much sense.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

cold


Home sweet home
A. Pile of twigs hopefully placed to prevent sleeper rolling into abyss.
B. Wolf dissuasion system
C.Thin end of fallen tree, other tree not shown
D. Tree feature, prevents sleeper rolling into abyss, suggest using in conjunction with twigs
E. Rock feature / seat. Based on an original design by Easy Jet

It snowed the night before last, not on me but higher up, last night was cold but there were no signs of snow. Having no work to do permitted me to stay in bed until midday, this was only partly to do with being tired and more to do with it being too cold to get up, I think I'm going to have to get used to this getting up in the cold thing.

The main issue at the moment is getting enough sleep. I have found that filling one of the gaps in the floor with twigs makes me more comfortable and also helps me avoid rolling off the very narrow area of flat ground and onto the 45 degree slope covered in rocks. Of course I still have to jam by knees into the tree to stop me rolling down the hill but I'm not quite so reliant on this now. It has been suggested that I level the ground with a shovel, a fine theory but one that sadly does not account for the outcrop from the rock that shelters me and stands clear of the ground by a good five feet. I suppose the rock could be chiseled through and the roots, some of which are as thick as my arm could be sawed through but not only would chopping through roots kind of defeat the purpose of the exercise it would, more importantly, weaken the tree small tree it is attached too to the extent that it would probably fall, on me. The level of top soil here is so thin that the forest is littered with fallen trees, there roots having been spread across the rocky ground rather than going deep offer little protection. Today I followed a trail of five fallen trees, one having been toppled by being hit by another and so on. So the rock that I live by not only protects me from the wind on one side and provides me with an amusingly bumpy bed it also offers some protection from falling trees. The fact that there are already two trees that have fallen on it gives me some comfort in as much as there can't be that many more to hit it. Then again, as the saying goes "whoever said lightening never strikes the same place twice doesn't know very much about lightening.

So the order of the day today was to construct some form of flat sleeping surface, I had a design in mind and even a name, a bed. This "bed" would be made by hacking some bits of wood into various lengths with an axe, hammering a few sharpened bit of wood into the ground to hold it in place and covering the lot with soft looking things from the surrounding area. Simple. Once I had got up, forrgotten about spending the night shivering and had a couple of cups of tea I decided it would be more sensible to build a roof instead. The roof is going to have to hold the weight of a lot of snow that will become compacted and turn to ice as more snow falls on top, that's going to be a lot of weight so it's best to get that built properly I think.

In other news, a wolf or wolves killed 22 sheep in Chablais which is not very far from here. However, further research on the wolf question has revealed that there are only eight, possibly nine, wolves in the country and although most of them live around here I think I am unlikely to be lucky enough to see one.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Busy

My sleeping position is something like this, only with more foxes

So the last few days have been very busy, I've hardly had a moment to myself so haven't had time to write. I have a couple of days off coming up so I'll have time to write a little and spend some decent time in the mountains rather than just sleeping there. I have developed a technique of sleeping with my knees jammed up against a tree trunk to stop me sliding down the hill. into the rocks, it has even become comfortable. When I have my time off I intend to build a floor / bed out of wood but in the meantime it's just a matter of making do.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Fox





Saw a couple of foxes on my way to work this evening, will post some more photos of them later but this one is my favourite.
Here is a video I shot, it was only with my phone so the quality is poor.

video

Friday, 3 July 2009

Wolves?

It was dark by the time I gave up teaching my self to climb by dangling off a cliff on the end of a bit of rope in the hope I had tied the knots properly. So having misplaced my head torch I had to light the fire, make tea and cook half a chicken by the light of the moon. Sitting there for a while gave me the opportuntiy to contemplate life, the woods, everything. I don't think I reached any particularls insightfull conclusion other than that I am getting fit, discomfort is mererly relative and I need to stop dropping the chicken into the fire as it is doing it no good whatsoever. Nevertheless a healthy coating of hot sauce ensure the chicken tasted good, anything tastes good sitting by a fire after a day of intense exertion. I had contemplated eating some broccoli as well but my inner caveman had rejected this idea, it had also rejected the idea of making a bed in favour of going climbing. Having thrown the bones into the bushes in the hope of attracting the fox back I settled back on the 40 degree slope I was sitting on to watch the fire die out and the occasional cloud to pass the stars.

"That howling doesn't sound a lot like dogs" I thought to myself. "It sounds more like wolves, ha ha". After a while the howling came again and again it didn't sound like dogs howling at the moon. Only one thing for it, I googled "wolves Switzerland" on my phone and discovered that the Swiss have laid on Wolves for the benefit of lone campers and that they are mostly found in the area of Switzerland I live in. "why did I throw the chicken bones in the bushes?" I'm not particularly bothered by the idea of them now, the forests are full of various four legged dinners and the pastures have many a sheep to keep the wolves occupied. In the winter though, when they are hungry it could be a different story. I have seen a hungry wild dog stalk a child so a pack of wolves could conceivably have a pop at a sleeping man. I reckon I could win a fight with one wolf, but a bunch of them would be another story.

Must do some research, for now though I'm getting into the habbit of using my axe as a pillow and keeping my knife in my sleeping bag at night.

So I have done a bit more research, have not had time to look into it properly as I have been quite busy today. What I did learn is that wolves rarely attack people and "attacks from non rabid wolves are rarely fatal". Wolves are now available in rabid are they? Fantastic. Time to buy an axe with a longer reach I think.



Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Ich Bein Ine Ditchmonkey

Somehow I ended up in Frankfurt the other day. I had to take a hire car back. By the time I got there it was too late to take a train back so I ended up staying over in a hotel, it seems that whilst I may not have become fully accustomed to living in the woods yet I have managed in the space of just over a week to become fairly unaccustomed to the indoors. It was far too hot and stuffy, the bed was too soft and the pillows whilst looking luxurious were far too impractical to use as each one was the size of a small horse. Having discovered that sleep was not an option, at least not in the short term, so I went out. With the sharpened senses of an ally cat I surveyed my surroundings, kebab shops jostled with all you can eat buffets, neon signs indicated that in the clubs on the street dancing was a spectator sport rather than participatory event one is accustomed too in discotheques. Outside one such a club a girl wearing little more than tatooes smoked a cigarette and handed out fliers to a group of drunk lads. Hmmmmmm? I think I'm staying in the red light district, I phoned the girlfriend to share the good news but was disapointed to find her less taken with my situation than I.

I am pleased to report though that, despite having taken many a lecture on the superior standard of German public transport, my first train was ten minutes late and as a result of this I missed my second train and had to wait an hour for the next one. It took nine hours to get back to Verbier. I had been away for two days and one night and the entire journey had been bathed in glorious sunshine, so despite being fatigued from a poor night's sleep and much travelling I was looking forward to heading up the mountain, lighting a fire and cooking some decent food. Not having any food I popped into the shop ten minutes before it shut, bumped into Nat who was very pleased at just having met Lance Armstrong, grabbed some key ingredients and headed back out into an enormous rain storm. Fortunately I had left the basha up in a spot I wanted to check out for suitability so at least I would have somewhere dry to sleep. Somewhere dry and extremely uncomfortable as it turned out.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

One week down


fox sunning itself, fox barely visable 9/10 for effort 3/10 for achievement
I am slowly adapting to life back in the woods, the cold air on my face at night no longer keeps me awake and I'm beginning to quite like sleeping on a hard surface rather than a soft bed, it feels as though it is good for my back. Like most things that are "good for you" the initial experience wasn't so enjoyable. I did get woken up by a fox sniffing at me the other night, I made my best growling noise and it ran away, not that I dislike foxes but I wished to discourage it from attempting to chew it's way into my rucksack to get at my food. Such behaviour could injure it and would do my already well chewed rucksack no good at all. To counter such insurgency from the local wildlife I have now invested in a length of rope so I can dangle my pack from a tree, knowing my luck a family of endangered bats will take up residence one night and it would be an offence for me to disturb them by reclaiming the pack.

One week down, fifty one to go. It seems like a very long time indeed. However, by the end of the year I will no doubt be reasonably well versed in living in a snow drift which will look good on my C.V.

Friday, 26 June 2009

A Message from Avaaz

Hi,
Peru has suffered violent clashes between indigenous groups desperately trying to protect the Amazon and the government, who has pushed through legislation allowing intensive mining, logging and large scale farming in the rainforest.
I just signed a petition urging President Alan García to immediately cease the suppression of indigenous protests, to suspend laws that open up the Amazon to extractive industries, and to engage in a genuine dialogue with the indigenous groups.
Click on the link below to support the campaign:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/peru_stop_violence/98.php?CLICK_TF_TRACK
Thanks!

Hugh

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Steeper?

I'm still having dificulty in coming to terms with just how steep the ground is here in the mountains. Obviously one expects there to be a certain amount of up hill going on, these are mountains after all, but it seems like most of the wooded areas consist of ground that is predominantly vertical. Yesterday afternoon I went for a bit of a stroll in the hope of happening across a patch of south facing flat ground with shelter from the wind and easy access to a river, all I found was myself halfway up a cliff. I'm not entirely sure how I got there, I was just bimbling along, hello clouds, hello trees, and before I knew it I was clinging onto the ground with both hands and having to make very sure of my footing. After a couple of hours spend zooming up and down like a yo yo the novelty of vertical waned, it was time to go home.

One back at Chez Monkey I set about trying to design a suitable shelter in which it would be possible to survive the winter. Size is one of the biggest issues, the larger it is the harder it will be to waterproof and heat but the smaller it is the more uncomfortable it will be. It would be quite straight forward to build something just big enough to sleep in, insulate it very well and allow it to be kept warm from body heat and a couple of candles. Such a design would be fine in an emergency but to live in for an entire winter, which is about six months here, would be uncomfortable in the extreme. I managed to find one location where a massive rock would form a wall against which I could build a roof. Building a fireplace next to the rock would turn it into a kind of radiator to release heat during the night, the problem though is that the ground disappears very steeply so a floor would have to be built and there are a number of trees growing in just the wrong places so whilst I might be able to build a shelter for one there would be no space for my girlfriend should she want to visit. As I was pondering this she called me and I explained the difficulty. Apparently this is not a problem at all, she doesn't mind not coming to stay during the winter and she assured me she is not just saying this to make my life easier.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Just a quick bit of self publication

Ray Mears in the 23rd Century


Had a bit of a hectic day today and got another one booked for tomorrow, it's already 21:15 and I need to get up the mountain before it gets too dark so there is no time to write a proper blog today. However, should you really wish, you can listen to the radio Oxford interview by clicking the link at the bottom of this page.

Monday, 22 June 2009


I win


Ha ha, I didn't freeze. All I had to do was put on lots of winter clothes, tie up the hole in the sleeping bag with para cord, move to a (nearly) flat bit of ground and liberate a reindeer skin from a friend's house to use as insulation from the cold ground.

Allegedly radio Oxford are going to post the interview online, I haven't seen it up yet though.

If you wanna get up to the minute updates, no idea why you would, then you can follow this on twitter @ditchmonkeyII

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Forecast is sub zero for tonight

Crikey last night was cold cold cold, I spent most of the night far too cold to be able to sleep, it was not very nice. But at least when the sun came up it was no longer uncomfortably. This on the longest day of the year, I think the shortest day of the year in six months time is going to be challenging but at least by then I will have toughened up a bit. The only problem with toughening up is that the process of doing so is deeply unpleasant. I recall from Ditch Monkey I that I spent the first week or so not being able to sleep because of the discomfort and then eventually became so exhausted that I could sleep anywhere. Should get a decent night's sleep in about five days then.

I have just looked at the weather forecast for tonight, at an altitude about 600 meters above me there is a maximum temperature of -1 and minimum of -5 with a wind chill of -11 and light snow showers. It should be about 4 degrees warmer at my altitude so it will be hovering around zero degrees or just bellow tonight which isn't so bad but the wind chill and lack of ground insulation will be what gets me. Fortunately the sun comes up at 4.39 so it will get warmer then.

With my new job I was offered accommodation in a rather nice apartment for the summer, instead I have rented a tiny studio to use as a base camp / office and spend my nights shivering in a cloud,
here's what I could have won

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Switzerland, very pretty but the wrong angle for sleeping on


You find me sitting drying my jeans by the fire, the rain has stopped, mostly, and I am feeling very content in fact I think I feel better than I have in a long time. This might be a sense of accomplishment, sleeping out in the woods for a night is no greater achievement than going to the gym but doing either feels great once it is over. It could be that the friends I visited fed me a very nice curry and that I have just had a sausage sandwich and two cups of tea (yes I remembered a mug today). I feel though that the sense of contentment that I have comes not from endorphin type rush nor a raised blood sugar level but rather from something deeper. I think that I have spent far too much time lately sitting around watching T.V. and reading the Internet and not enough time spent in the real world. I have said it before and no doubt I will say it again, there is something primal about sitting out in nature for a period of time. Having a fire helps. I can’t help but feel that as we evolved living in the natural environment, attuned to the rhythms of the world around us that our bodies and minds react well to being put back into close proximity with nature. I’m sure that anyone who surfs, walks, climbs, camps, goes for picnics or any such thing must get a taste of this.

Whatever.

Despite the fact that it is the summer solstice tomorrow it is dashed chilly on the side of this mountain. I will get one of those thermometers that record minimum and maximum temperatures at some point, that should be interesting during the winter. In the mean time I will have to guess the temperature, my money is on 3 or 4 degrees. It is certainly not cold enough to cause any concern but I had expected it to be warmer than this. Anyway, the fire is almost out and my jeans are still wet so I’m going to bed and listen to another learn to speak french C.D.

In bed now, the temperature has dropped, the fog (cloud to you that live down at sensible altitudes) has rolled in and it has started to rain. The environment here is quite harsh, and it is certainly going to be unforgiving, it’s nothing that can’t be handled if approached properly but I have my work cut out for me for the next year. I am regretting bringing the wrong sleeping bag with me, this one is very thin and has a hole in the bottom big enough to stick my foot through, this is letting in lots of cold air. There is no insulation over the zip and I can already feel damp tendrils of fog working it's way in through the zip. In some ways I suppose that

Lesson learnt – fate is stronger than planing: I did as taught me and packed each item in a waterproof bag and then put all those bags into a big waterproof rucksack liner to prevent any liquid based disasters from occurring. The only thing that I didn’t put in a waterproof bag or even the rucksack liner was a carton of milk, I figured it didn’t matter if that got wet. What I didn’t allow for was the carton leaking and the now free range milk being absorbed by my rucksack. My rucksack does’t smell very good. Really gotta go now, fingers are going numb, next time I do this it’s going to be somewhere warm.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Relativity

Last night once I had eventually got bored of huddling from the rain and attempting to learn French I went to bed. I soon realised, as I have done on numerous occasions in the past, that ground that appears to be flat is only relatively so. My head was only elevated 50cm above my feet, this alone would have been easy to deal with, the problem was that the ground bellow my torso learnt to the right and bellow my legs it went to the left. The ground bellow my knees didn't do anything at all as it simply wasn't there. I had had no time to make a mattress which would have served to soften the ground and also leveled it out so I spent the night contorted on the hard and surprisingly cold ground. Curiously I slept very well only being woken three times by rain falling on my face, twice by an insect crawling over my face, five times through cold, about six times through discomfort and once by my alarm that I had forgotten to turn off. Strangely though when I woke I felt refreshed and ready to go.

Unfortunately I did not have time to do any work on my new home today so I will be sleeping in exactly the same position tonight. Amusingly, for you reading this but not for me, it has started to rain again, what makes it particularly amusing is the fact that I just carried all my stuff, including waterproofs and head torch into the woods before leaving it there and walking on to a friend's house to make use of their internet connection to send this blog, looks like I'm in for a nice walk back, especially as I'm wearing jeans and they are so nice to wear when wet.

All I managed to do today was set buy some winter clothes at hugely discounted rates in the sales and also buy some waterproof mountain boots. So at least my feet will be dry tonight. Yay.

A friend of mine has set up a Ditchmonkey II facebook page which can be visited here

Friday, 19 June 2009

Day One. Dramas

9.30 am. Breakfast with neighbour, pleased to see that it is raining, heavily.

10.50 am. Coffee with neighbour, still raining, fortunately my bivi bag was lost in the post so there will be no waterproof layer between the wet ground and my sleeping bag unless I can fashion such a thing from leaves.

11.24 am. Rain stops, dash to shop for supplies.

11.57am. Blue skies and sunshine, time to start packing.

2.30 pm. Throw stuff in rucksack and head out in the pouring rain, drive the quad as far up the mountain as possible then strike out on foot. The ground is very steep, covered in boulders, fallen trees and occasionally covered in thick undergrowth. A lot of time is spent variously, crawling, clambering and climbing. Time set aside to rue decision to delay purchase of gore tex mountain boots, my feet are soaking and I keep slipping on the wet ground.


3.30 pm. Arrive at woodland home and scout around for a flat dry patch of ground to sleep on, under the pine trees the ground is dry but not flat, between the trees there is an occasional patch of flat ground but it is soaking wet. I could wrap my sleeping bag up in my basha (waterproof sheet) and sleep under the stars but would rather use the basha as a roof and have a bit more comfort. Eventually find patch of reasonably flat ground that is dry and just about the same size as me. Quickly put the basha up, light fire, put saucepan of water on, discover forgotten to pack mug (again), drink saucepan of tea (being careful not to burn lips), question wisdom of living in woods again.

4.33 pm. So here I sit in a forest high up in the Alps and despite the fact I have soaking wet feet and I am currently enveloped in what appears to be a cloud I have realised that it is going to be very dry up here over the summer so I’m probably going to have to use a camping stove rather than an open fire to cook on. Which would be a shame. I know someone who has some land on another part of the mountain that I might be able to use so if there is time tomorrow I will go and have a look at that. Hopefully there will be some flat ground next to a river I could use to drink, wash in and extinguish a fire if necessary.

17.50 pm. Was interviewed over the phone by a presenter from BBC Radio Oxford. I don't think he understood.

18.20 pm Rain accompanied by thick fog.Trudge back down the mountain to post this blog, met a loose cow in the woods then shortly afterwards met a farmer on the track. Attempted to explain about the cow but only have limited French. Managed to put together a statement I thought summed up the situation "one beef has disappeared" but the raised eyebrow it was met with told me I had more explaining to do.

19.11 pm. Raining, heavily. Don't make me go back out there.


Lessons learned - need more kit, don't like rain.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

new job

Well there is just one more night to go before moving out to the woods and I'm glad to report that it is raining. Yay. I'm making the most of tonight by doing as much sitting around doing little as possible and appreciating the whole being warm, dry and comfortable thing. Today also brought about a change of employment for the coming year, no longer am I to be a private chef, now I will be gainfully employed as a property manager ensuring the smooth running of a small portfolio of chalets in Verbier. No doubt I will still do the odd bit of cooking and I'll be sure to keep you up to date with any particularly good recipes I come up with.

It has been brought to my attention that I run the risk of ending up in someone else's recipes in August, the mountains are awash with hunters that month so there is a danger of being mistakenly shot if I walk into the wrong area so that's something to watch out for. Seems like the Alps are beset with distinctly more dangers than rural Oxfordshire where they have the good grace to mostly only shoot at things in the air, a place I rarely inhabit.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Scouting out the woods
















Greetings. I am writing for the first time from what will soon be my new home high in the mountains. I made and admittedly hopeful search for a network connection here but found none so I will be sending this from my “base camp” as I have enthusiastically re-named my apartment. Now that I am here I find myself filled with a new confidence in my ability to succeed in this challenge and I’m beginning to think it might actually be quite fun. Do feel free to quote me on this come February dear reader as it is not without possibility that this view might be somewhat rash. It is possible that my new found confidence might stem from the fact that it is so absolutely beautiful here right now. It truly is stunning, I have never seen such an array of wild flowers, nor so many of them. As I write I am basking in the sun yet being kept cool by the ambient temperature of the surrounding woodland, the sky is blue and the only sounds to hear are the songs of birds and the gentle melody of cow bells in a distant pasture. It would be disingenuous of me to describe the place solely in terms of idyllic pleasures, I did manage to pitch myself into a patch of nettles by leaping on to a log I had mistakenly thought was firmly anchored to the ground and there is what appears to be a horse fly buzzing about in a threatening manner. On balance though it is very very nice, the butterflies outnumber the slugs by a ratio of three to one and that is all good in my books.




Of course it would be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security by the sheer beauty of nature in the summer and thus not make proper allowance for the harshness of winter, I should know, it was just such a mistake that led to me living out in the woods in the UK for a year. So what I have been doing is looking at the geography and natural resources of this spot on the side of the mountain and assessing it for suitability. I really think that with a bit of effort before the snow comes, a few choice pieces of modern equipment and a good sense of humour I should be able to pass the winter without any major dramas. Of course there are plenty of hurdles to face and there is plenty that could go wrong. This is of course one of the reasons for starting the mission in the middle of summer, it is far better to resolve as many of the difficulties as possible before having the added difficulties of operating in sub zero temperatures and waste deep snow.
There are plenty of strong straight lengths of wood here from which to build a frame for my roof here, just hanging a basha (tarp) between some by bungee cord as would happen in the UK would not be enough to deal with the winter. 50+ cm of snow falling overnight would collapse a normal basha construction so I am at the very least going to build a lean-too out of strong load bearing wood and cover it with branches. Then I can attach the basha to the underside of it when I need to keep it waterproof i.e. when I’m not at work or out on the hill. The rest of the shelter can be built from snow thus keeping the worst of the wind out there, will probably be a large gap where some of the roof should be but if I can keep the wind out it should be quite nice.

Blah blah blah, waffling now must stop.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Why why why?

This Friday is the day when I will move out into the woods and I have to admit that I am currently not looking forward to it one bit. You see I have got rather used to some of the trappings of modern life, not just the obvious things life television (albeit in a language I don't understand) and wardrobes with their ability to keep clothes to hand rather than having to rummage around in a bag for the things. I am embarrassed to admit that I have also grown accustomed to, comfort, being clean, running water, shelter, warmth being dry and not having slugs eating all my possessions. As much as I enjoyed going out in the woods in Italy it seems that I enjoyed the coming home, having a shower and getting into a bed with a mattress made out of proper mattress making stuff rather than a collection of leaves and twigs. Furthermore, my girlfriend, Mrs Ditchmonkey, is moving out here to Switzerland in July and will be borrowing my apartment for the summer. She has the good fortune of having a long summer holiday before taking up employment here in Switzerland in September and has informed me she intends to spend it reading, sitting in cafès and wearing summer dresses. At no point in this description does there appear to be space for lugging a backpack up and down mountains, spending evenings being bitten my mosquitoes or sleeping in a ditch. So my apartment full of the comforts of modern life and a pretty girl to whom I grown rather attached will be in the village whilst I sleep on the side of a mountain. I have analysed this situation from all angles and can see no sense in it. On reflection there are a great many things that could be said not to be sensible about living above a ski resort without a tent for a year. Ho Hum.

Unless there are any last minute setbacks I will move out to the woods on Friday.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Practice Run, Italy.

I have made my first foray into living in the Alps, work took me to Italy on Monday which was rather fortunate as I had Tuesday and Wednesday off work. At the first opportunity (after lunch) on Tuesday I drove up into the mountains, hairpin bend after hairpin bend till the road narrowed to the width of the car and there was not a soul to see. From there I grabbed my pack continued my climb on foot, I`m sure that it was not the novelty of exertion and the accompanying shortness of breath that made me decide on a camping spot quite so close to the car, rather I expect it was the realisation that I was already in the middle of nowhere so there was no point to go further. Anyway it was about to rain so there was a necessity to stick up a shelter pretty quick, there is no point walking about in the rain when you could be sitting down in the dry drinking tea. Ground flat enough to sleep on is a resource I have found the world is sadly lacking in when searching for places to sleep in woodland and beaches all over the world. I have to report that the Alps are less well endowed with this precious commodity than any other place I have yet been. Ground so steep that the use of hands as well as feet is required to propel the walker is not in short supply, as is sheer drops, raging torrents and vast arrays of jaggedly uncomfortable rocks sticking out at all angles. Eventually a patch of flat ground large enough to hold a grown, albeit contorted awkwardly around a couple of large rocks, man. There was even a couple of handy trees to attach my basha (waterproof sheet) to, happy days.

I was pleased to discover that I remembered how to put the thing up and then less pleased to find I am no where near as good at lighting a fire as I used to be but I did get it lit. I was pleased to be nice and close to a raging torrent to fill a pan with water to make tea but less pleased to discover that I had forgotten to pack a mug and would thus be drinking from the saucepan. I was pleased to be sitting in the basha drinking tea when the lightening and the rain started but less pleased to discover that I had not, as previously assumed, remembered how to put the thing up properly and would thus be going out in the rain to do it properly. Having fixed the basha I then contented myself with sitting under a small waterproof sheet on the side of a mountain in a thunder storm and questioning what I was doing. Had I not had a nice hot saucepan of tea to drink I might well have let such questions bring doubt to my mind about the wisdom of my choice to live in the hills for a year. Fortunately PG Tips was at my side and doubt had been swept much like the road had been where I had been forced to abandon the car, whether the work of an avalanche or flash flood I could not tell for sure.

I did not sleep well that night, I do not recommend sleeping with a rock where your head should be and another where your legs go, it leaves precious space for comfort. However, being awake for most of the night did ensure that I didn`t let the fire go out in the night so it was easy enough to make tea in the morning and by this point I had an empty pasta sauce jar to use as a mug. Verily I was living like a king.

After breakfast I moved further up the hill and this is the shelter I built.


I managed to find a flat bit of ground hiding under a spruce tree that had been torn from the ground by some fierce act of nature, having dragged the tree aside and put the basha up I trimmed loads of small branches off to make a bed from. I was pleased with the result of my labours right up until the third hour of not being able to sleep, it was a lot less comfortable than it looks.




Having built the basha and drunk a restoring jar of tea I had a bit of a stroll about the place and was mightily pleased to discover a silver birch tree that had been recently uprooted and tossed down the mountain, no doubt in the same action that did for the spruce tree and the road. Birch bark is the best thing I know of for lighting fires and I always welcome the chance to top up my supply when it comes along. It turned out though that this tree would provide me with more than kindling. The tree was so fresh that I soon realised that I would be able to remove sheets of bark and that could be used for making tiles for a roof. I had never tried this before and the first couple of attempts didn`t work so well, leaving me with just strips of bark but soon I had the hang of it.



Once you have got to this stage peel back slowly and evenly.
Having collected the bark I wasn`t sure what to do next so I rolled it out flat and put it in the river to soak, using rocks to hold it flat and stop it from being swept away, I figured that it needed to be kept moist so I could work with it. Annoyingly it dried out somewhat on the way back to Switzerland and started to curl up at the edges so I have blocked the plug in my shower tray and weighed the bark down with jars of jam and saucepans fill of water and am soaking the bark in the hope it will become pliable again. I like the idea of building a shelter tiled with birch bark, it would be reasonably waterproof, beautiful to look at and highly flammable, what more could I ask for?
Aside from falling on some rocks and dislocating my shoulder again the two days were a great success, it was great to be out in the woods again, it felt like being home again. I`m looking forward to starting for real, in the mean time I`m going to be working and keeping an eye out for more birch trees. I will be moved out to the woods within a week.












Saturday, 6 June 2009

Packing

I am now really looking forward to moving out into the woods as I just can`t get any sleep in my apartment, it is designed in such a way that no matter how many windows are open the bedroom is far too hot to sleep in. No doubt this means that in the winter it nice and warm but right now it is too much. So having had hardly any sleep last night I spent the morning being grumpy at my girlfriend on Skype and drinking coffee until I could function in a near normal fashion. Eventually the caffeine kicked in and I have since been rushing around sorting through all my kit, finding things I had forgotten about, remembering where everything goes in my rucksack, discovering I packed the wrong sleeping bag and waterproofing everything in sight. I`m probably going a bit over the top as I am packing as if I am actually going far off into the mountains rather than not very far at all but it is best to get into the mind set off doing things properly from the start. That way everything will automatically be done properly when it matters.

I`m also watching everything I can find about survival in the cold such as this one on building a snow cave and this on igloo building

Friday, 5 June 2009

An Outline.

Well, I have now caught up on sleep and almost settled in to my apartment in Verbier. I shall take advantage of being awake and having a couple of hours off work to try to explain a little more clearly what this Brass Monkey business is all about.

The basic idea is to live in the mountains for a year without a tent and to do so to raise money for charity. Having previously lived out in the UK without a tent for a year does not really prepare me for this as the challenges faced are so much more extreme. I made a mistake when living in the woods in the UK and ended up with bronchitis, make a mistake in the winter in Switzerland and I could end up with hypothermia, a potentially fatal condition. Thus I am putting far more time and effort into planning and operating this venture than I did on the original. Whilst the hardships to be faced and the potential risks are so much greater there is no reason to believe that with adequate planning, sensible precautions and perhaps a little luck that the winter can not be survived.

Allow me then to give a rough outline of how I intend to tackle the challenge.

As with the first challenge I will be leading as normal a life as possible whilst living outside, I have a job as a private chef, friends in the area who I will be going out with, a girlfriend I want to see regularly and I will of course wish to ski and snowboard regularly during the winter and windsurf during the summer. This is not an exercise in isolation or extreme survival for which I am not trained for, moreover I can not afford to take a year off work so have to combine the desire to take on such challenges with the restrictions imposed upon me by the realities of daily life.

I will then be living a short walk from my place of work, a ski in ski out chalet up in the mountains, and will therefore be close to habitation and rescue should such a thing be needed.

I will be renting a chalet or apartment for the duration of the year to be used as an office, a place to dry clothes and a retreat in case of illness, injury or not being able to take anymore. I shall also shower there as I work as a chef and the level of personal hygiene required as such is a little bit higher than that offered by washing in a mountain stream.

My girlfriend will be working in another ski resort about 90 minutes drive away and will be visiting at weekends, she has told me firmly that she has no intention to come live in the forest even when I said she could use a tipi with a fire in it. Thus two nights a week I shall be staying in the chalet, failure to do so would result in cross girlfriend and it`s just not worth it. Similarly if I go on holiday I will stay inside. The idea of this thing you see is to lead a normal life whilst I just happen to live outdoors, thus I spend a couple of days a week away with my girlfriend that`s just normal behaviour. Oh and I suspect I might well give myself a couple of days off for Christmas, although if the weather is nice I might well invite a bunch of friends over for lunch.

No tent, this is the really tricky bit as if I just wandered off into the mountains and hunkered down in a snow drift in my sleeping bag I would most likely be dead or seriously ill by morning. Some shelter is therefore allowed and as far as bought materials are allowed I will be taking the same equipment as last time, a basha (large waterproof sheet with eyelets to attach bungee cords or tent pegs), bungee cords, tent pegs, paracord etc. I`ll also allow myself to use anything I find in the woods, although I did find an abandoned tent yesterday but would not use that as it would constitute cheating. A basha on it`s own will not provide sufficient shelter from the elements and I really do not intend to end up dead so I will be supplementing it with a shelter built from natural resources by my own hands. Now with six months until the snows come, an axe and a pine forest it should be possible to build a house, that would be cheating. I shall build something that provides adequate shelter to survive without being luxurious. Knowing me I shall at first built something that provides adequate shelter until the weight of the first snows causes it to collapse. I am uncertain of the design just yet but I am thinking of building a very small waterproof well insulted sleeping area that itself is within a larger structure that is by nature of it`s construction and all the snow windproof but probably not waterproof.

Fire, I will of course be having a fire, I might allow myself to use a camping wood burning stove, as it is enclosed thus allowing the wood to burn more slowly and so conserving precious supplies. More importantly as it is enclosed no sparks from the pine wood being burnt will be able to burn down the shelter and myself.

Last time I slept on the floor and in winter used sleeping mats to keep off the ground and so reduce the amount of body heat lost to the ground. This time I will use reindeer skins instead as they are so much more effective at doing this.

I will over the coming months be collecting as much wild food from the woods and preserving it as well as buying seasonal produce and preserving that too. A friend of mine is building a smoker so I shall be borrowing that to preserve meat and fish. I`m also learning how to cure my own bacon but have not quite mastered that yet as the one I just finished is too salty to be edible. My cupboards though are bulging with rhubarb jam. I will be writing up many recipes on this blog as well as some of those I invent during the course of my employment.

One of the biggest worries is what to do in an emergency, one can only prepare, plan, put procedures in place and then hope for good fortune. I have three mobile phones, all on different networks to reduce the risk of not getting reception, I also have a walky talky. I will be working with a local team of sensible "mountain wise" people and will have a pre-arranged time to make contact every morning. If I do not do so the alarm will be raised. On the advice of IJ55 who tells me that hypothermia can set in within minutes I will text someone when I get home with instuctions that if they do not hear from me 45 minutes later to arange rescue.

So that is a rough idea how this thing will work. The plan for the next few days is to go and have another look at my chosen site, maybe have a quick scout around to look and see if there is somewhere more suitable, get my kit together, make sure it works and hopefully move out on Sunday night for a practice run. On Monday my work takes me over the border into Italy to visit someone who just happens to be an arctic explorer, handy huhn? I`ll be sure to take the chance to get some tips from her and will be staying in the hills above her house.


ODM

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Travel

Greetings from sunny Switzerland where I am currently on a train skimming along between vineyards and the shore of Lake Geneva. Dark along the horizon jagged into the clouds lie the Alps, still the winter`s snow clings on amongst the higher peaks. My destination high in mountains is still not visable, lying as it does two hours from here, but viewing these mountains gives me a sense of the harshness of the environment I will be living in yet I feel far less trepidation than when I woke. This morning there was something of a sense of dread about me that can not entirely be attributed to waking at the ungodly hour of 6:40 am (6:20 if we don`t include snooze time), I have been feeling uncertain about this venture since I rashly announced that I was going to live in a snowdrift two days ago; I seem to have become somewhat attached to comfort over the past winter and the thought of leaving it behind for such a lengthy period of time leaves me at times with a deep discontent. Now though, with my battered rucksack in tow and new boots on my feet I feel a certain degree of excitement at pitting myself against the challenge ahead.


Yesterday having, much to the surprise of all involved, passed my driving test a mere 18 years after taking my bike licence I set about a last minute dash about the shops buying what bits of kit I still needed to get. Or at least I should have but decided not to get a hammock despite it only being ten pounds on the basis that I`ll soon acclimatise to sleeping on the rocky ground again, the same dubious reasoning saw a camping pillow being returned to the shelves, I left with a pair of boots and hope not to have to use them as a pillow.

As I was writing this I got a phone call asking me to get off the train and go and pick up a car so the rest of the journey was spent behind the wheel which did not afford me much opportunity to keep writing. More later.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Preparations

Well it`s four years to the day since I moved out to the woods in Oxfordshire for the first Ditch Monkey thing so it seems appropriate to be making the final preparations to move out to the Swiss woods now. Although thinking about it these are less of the final preparation and more of the first, I only decided for definite yesterday and I think if I had not announced the decision I would now be changing my mind. Never mind.

Today then I have been taking some unlearning to drive lessons, I have a driving test tomorrow and whilst I have motorbike licence and have driven cars, tractors, landrovers etc off road for years I have never taken my car test. My job in Switzerland requires me to have a driving licence so I booked 20 hours of lessons over a week with the test at the end. I was surprised to discover that there was something of a disparity between myself and the instructor on our opinions of good sensible driving. I have four hours of lessons today, my test tomorrow and I fly out to Switzerland on Wednesday. So what with packing, sorting out bank accounts, eating and the like there has not been much time to prepare. I did manage to go and look in a couple of shops today and have nearly decided on which hip flask to take.

I have also found my rucksack with all the outdoors kit in it and dug out anything that looks like it might be unsafe to take on a plane, lighters, petrol; that kind of thing. I do have a zip lock bag full of birch bark which is used to light fires with but I`m interested to see what customs officials will make of it should they spot it. So I suppose I`m just about ready, all I need to do now is go to the shops and get a goodly supply of PG tips, Marmite and Frank Coopers Oxford Marmalade (thick cut) and I`ll be ready for anything. Contrary to popular belief I do not have porters to lug a mahogany writing desk up the mountain for me so I`ll be taking a lap top and purchasing a portable solar panel.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

What`s this Brass Monkey thing you`re whittering on about?

So for some reason that I`m not quite sure about I have found myself having just decided to go and live back out in the woods for a year without a tent, which is all very well but it does get a bit chilly up there in the winter. Not to worry though as right now it`s quite hot and sunny so being in the woods will bring a bit of relief from the stuffy atmosphere in my apartment.

Currently I am in the UK packing up all my outdoor kit ahead of flying to Geneva on Wednesday, from there I travel to Verbier and then even higher into the mountains to a spot I scouted out a couple of weeks ago. Basically I`ll be using the same kit as I had whilst living out in the woods in the UK, with perhaps a warmer sleeping bag and I`m definitely going to have a coat this time. I`m allowing myself to the same waterproof sheet, bungee cords, tent pegs and bivvy bag that I used before, well maybe not the same bivvy bag as the only perceivable function of the one I had was to get in the way and occasionally attempt to suffocate me. I shall, for fear of frost bite, allow myself to build a shelter although based on previous attempts I hold out little hope that it will provide much in the way of shelter, Ray Mears I aint.

Whilst living in the woods I shall be working as a private chef and also using as much local produce as possible, so I`ll be picking, foraging and purchasing produce in season and preserving, smoking, bottling and drying as much as I can in expectation of the winter ahead.


More soon

ODM aka Brass Monkey