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



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.