Arctic Adventure

At the beginning of November 2010, the prospect of a bivvy trip at the beginning of December didn’t seem out of the ordinary. At the time, temperatures were still in the middle teens, and it was dry. By the end of the same month, over night temperatures were regularly to minus 8 degrees Celsius, and I even recorded minus 13 here in Brecon. Then followed some of the earliest snow I can remember.

After studying the forecast very carefully (which had warmed slightly to only just below freezing), a small group of hardened riders assembled from the forums of Singletrack World met outside a chip shop in Machynlleth to embark on an arctic adventure into Mid-Wales’ remote and frozen wilderness for a night under the stars.

The Fantastic Six

The route, arranged by Stuart of Forest Freeride, took a fairly sensible route out of Machynlleth up through Forge and into the forest around Nant-y-moch Reservoir. This was just as well, as with the warming temperatures on the Saturday, the snow was thawing a bit and the riding was decidedly tricky through the wet snow in the forest.

Tricky riding up through the forest

In distance terms we didn’t have to go that far and we’d left Mach full of chips at about 2 pm, so in theory had the best part of 3 hours of light. Needless to say, darkness fell and we still hadn’t reached our bivi spot.

Lights, camera...

After about an hour of riding in the dark, and a little bit of portage, we reached a small isolated stand of trees that was going to be our bed for the night. Stuart had a nice big tarp that we strung up between some trees, under which we spread out our array of down bags.

A sea of goose down wrapped in pertex

As we set up our camp, the sky began to clear and the temperature really bagan to fall. If anything, the prospect of a remote night out in very cold weather focuses the mind in terms of kit selection. As I don’t own a bag that goes down below about minus 2 degrees, I opted to combine my Rab Alpine 300 with my Rab Quantum 200. The problem was I didn’t know exactly how low I could go with this set up, so took some good thermal clothes I could also sleep in. The problem I did have though was only having a 3/4 length sleeping mat. To avoid cold feet, I put my hydration pack and shoes under the foot end of my bivi bag to keep them off the floor. Not onluy did it work well, but in the morning I didn’t have frozen shoes or camelbak to worry about. The best estimate on the temperature was about minus 10 degrees. By morning there was a very hard frost on everything, and the mild thaw of the day before meant that there was now ice everywhere.

Our bivi spot was in those trees

The ride back to Machynlleth was quite treacherous – our tracks in the snow from the previous day were now frozen solid making them difficult to ride and sheet ice lay across across the fire roads in several places.

Sunday: morning sun emerging over icy roads

Overall, it was a great ride in some testing conditions. It’s not that often we get the opportunity to experience such prolonged cold as we had last winter, and looking back now it presented a series of new challenges that required careful thought on kit selection and bike set up, which just adds to the whole experience. Even better was the opportunity to do it with some well prepared riders, all of whom came properly prepared and were great company. Roll on next winter.

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