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.
Sunday, 28 June 2009
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
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:
Thursday, 25 June 2009
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
Monday, 22 June 2009
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Unless there are any last minute setbacks I will move out to the woods on Friday.
Thursday, 11 June 2009
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.
Saturday, 6 June 2009
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
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.
Thursday, 4 June 2009
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
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.