“Exposure hypothermia is an insidious process. It creeps up on you. If you are the victim you may well be the last to notice it. Whatever the level of your experience, you should never underestimate the risk.” Paul Kirtley, of Frontier Bushcraft.
Last weekend I had my first foray into the art of bushcraft, after being invited to join a group of more seasoned folk, up the woods in Silsden, North Yorkshire. We were lucky with the weather, incredibly so. I don’t think we had a drop of rain the whole weekend. We even had glimpses of spring-time promise, snatches of radiant sunshine…But gosh, did it get cold at night! I shivered through the first night, having made the basic error of not stripping off my dampish, sweaty clothes, giving them a chance to dry out from my radiant heat. I spent the next day learning about fire, how to make a pot hanger, and finding a nice branch with which to make a catapult. By nighttime, and a pleasant enough evening spent around the campfire, I was cold again. More to the point, I was still cold. With my cotton clothing I was not able to retain as much body heat as if I’d had a dry, woollen base layer. Besides which i’d been sat on the ground all evening, not finding the logs all that comfortable. I know now I could have grabbed my sleeping mat from under my shelter, lay upon it and insulated myself from the malevolent, icy tentacles. By the time my teeth were chattering and my body was gripped by uncontrollable shivers I realised the error of my ways. It all came in a flash, like a download that had finished..downloading. Your software is installed. My companions didn’t miss a beat, filling me with chocolate, stoking the fire for hot water and fetching the articles I had so sorely lacked, my sleeping mat and arctic sleeping bag (thanks Pip). I got in, stripped off and slowly warmed up. By the next morning I had begun my own personal debrief. My brain buzzed from the moment I woke, thinking of ways to ‘Dear Gods above and below never let me feel such cold again’. I’ve spent the week since sourcing the kit I will need to fulfil that wish. And nursing literally the worst cold i’ve had in years. It felt a humbling experience, to have so misjudged one’s basic needs.