Social Ice Climbing

By Jenni

When I casually mentioned to friends and family that Alpkit were taking me to the Ice Festival in January and that it would involve a bivvy at around -15 degrees the responses all followed a similar theme. The general assumption was that I would surely perish and I have to say, I held the same fear. I use a -10 sleeping bag to camp in the summer in the UK, I wear full thermals to work (the warehouse can get chilly in winter) and my down gilet hasn’t come off my back since September. All fears aside though, it did seem to be a fantastic opportunity for me to test some of the Alpkit gear and as one of my friends said, to see just how cold I could get before I exploded.

The Alpkit ‘Social Climber’ t-shirt could have been made for me. My idea of climbing is a couple of gentle routes in the sun followed by a large picnic. Therefore it was understandable that I was a tad scared to be following Dan and Ashleigh to the ice after just two hours’ sleep (see Col’s account as to why!) on Friday morning. However it’s something I have always wanted to do and I was really excited to be getting the opportunity to do so with a guide as good as Murray Hamilton. He explained the basics and with a couple of top ropes set up, I was able to find my ice feet. It was brilliant! I had always imagined it to be similar to rock climbing but I found the stepping motion much easier on the knees but it took a while to get used to trusting my feet rather than my hands.

The following day it was time for me to try another new snow sport. This time, we all headed off for a day’s snow shoeing. With wall to wall sunshine and blue skies the day promised to be pretty perfect and it was. It was made even better by a cheese fondue lunch all washed down with ice cold white wine! Who said mountain food had to be boring?! As part of our product testing aim, I used the CarbonLite poles for our trek. I have never used carbon fibre poles before and I was very impressed at how light they were. They also proved to be pretty good in the Alpkit winter Olympics javelin competition, for Nick that is. (I’m afraid Ash and I proved that girls just can’t throw!)
Learning to ice climb in the Ecrins
After returning to man the stand for a couple of hours it was off to the Fournel valley and my first ever bivvy! It took almost an hour’s worth of two shuttle bus rides and a 15 min walk to reach the bivvy site but it was well worth the journey. The moon was so bright we were casting shadows as we walked. We were met at the entrance to the site by a huge cauldron of Vin Chaud, it was going to be a good night! The food was good and the fires were big but by 3am it was time for bed. We all headed to the large snow trench that Jim had built earlier that night in a rush of energy and enthusiasm. As the coldest of the group, I was testing a sample AlpineDream -30 degree bag combined with a sample Hunka XL. I wore just my thermal base layer, a light fleece jumper and socks and I also used a silk liner. We put the max/min thermometer in my inside pocket and the sensor outside, propped on my bag. I used a closed-cell mat combined with a Fat Airic who, sadly was a very flat Airic by the time I came to use him as he’d frozen solid! Pete managed to pump a bit more life into him but the beauty of the Fat is that even when ‘flat’ he is more insulating than a Wee for example and so I went to sleep pretty warm and comfy.

I woke at one point with cold knees but after rearranging my Filo over them, I was able to drift off again. When I woke to Jim asking if I was still alive I still felt pretty warm. We checked the thermometer and the temperature overnight inside my bag was 14.1 degrees. The external, minimium temperature was -16.1 degrees. Pretty nippy! As I had stored all my clothes and boots inside my sleeping bag and Hunka respectively, they were warm to the touch and getting dressed wasn’t the chore it could have been. My night on the snow proved that I do sleep a lot colder than the lads and has given me a really good idea of the comfort rating that I would require for winter camping. I think I could have coped with a cooler bag had I worn another layer and so I think I require a bag that has a comfort rating of at least 5 degrees lower than the expected minimum temperature.

We finished off the weekend with some skiing and snowboarding. I love snowboarding so for me it was the perfect end to a pretty darn perfect weekend. Go team!

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