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.


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