Jeseníky - winter bivouacking

Arriving to the saddle below Šerák amounts of powdery snow there prove decision to take snowshoes with me to be right and its use unavoidable. I head to nearby Keprník, highest mountain in northern part of Jeseníky mountains, and despite the way being crossed by many cross-country skiers before me, it would be very hard to follow without snowshoes or skis. I know that somewhere on the other side of Keprník the path splits into two - one still followed by many during the day, other one leading to Vozka mountain scarcely visited even when there is no snow. 

In the saddle below Šerák it is time to put on the snowshoes...

Crazy morning on Vozka mountain in -14°C.

I wanted to see the rocky formations on the summit of Vozka during winter and to capture some of its wonders with my camera. With Vozka standing quite in the center of the mountains and far (well, not that far, but during winter still rather desolated) from any settlement it means that bivouac on snow is needed to be there soon enough in the morning. For that reason my backpack is fully packed with two sleeping bags, tent and layers of clothing, while many thing I could not fit inside dangle around from outside making it look like a Christmas tree. Two sleeping bags may seem like a bad idea as it occupies almost half of available space but it proved to me as a tolerable solution especially as I did not want to invest into dedicated winter sleeping bag. This way it is still possible to make use of old sleeping bag even after it was replaced with a new one. Surprisingly the combination works very well and makes purchase of dedicated winter sleeping bag unnecessary for my short winter trips. Moreover, I even use just two stacked foam mats as an insulation under myself with combined height of hardly 1,5cm. I had been told it is not enough for winter camping, tried it and has since disagreed with everyone telling me so. Still, with evening coming and temperature quickly dropping below -10°C on Keprník I tend to doubt if it will be enough. But then I remember that last time it went without problems and consider there is no reason to expect a failure this time.

Foggy sunset from Keprník. Slopes on the left side belong to Vozka.

Summit of Keprník is lost in clouds making me wonder where did the forecasters make mistake again with promise of clear skies. No reason to lose time here so I get below the tree line again. Soon afterwards the crossroads come and I almost miss it. All trail markers on trees are covered in snow and totally invisible, path to Vozka untrodden and only direction marker reminds of second way. I check the gps and take the only logical direction - if it is uphill, it must be the right way. Even though it is freezing I feel warm soon and realize that without snowshoes it would not be just hard but absolut madness to go there. With rich snowfall this year there are at least two meters of powder snow everywhere.

White forests reflecting remaining light long after sunset.

Looking back.

It is a strange feeling to be the first one breaking the purity of snow cover and making way through white forest with night coming. While skies darken quickly, white snow reflects remaining light for a long time after sunset making for unordinary contrast. Difference to summer snowless landscape is striking to someone not used to it. I immediately noticed this along with sudden drop of temperature during my first winter bivouacking trip not far from here. Back then it made a huge psychological impact, walking over shining landscape towards emerging darkness knowing that if something goes wrong, it may also go wrong fatally.

Avalanche slopes of Velký Máj from the campsite in 2018.

First winter bivouc (2018) on the main ridge of Jeseníky.

Skies clear up and full moon shines proving weather forecasters late but right when I notice summit rock of Vozka. Here it comes, the hardest part of every winter bivouacking - setting up the tent. It has to be done as quickly as possible for sweaty clothes can make you chilly in short time. It also requires preparing the ground as you want to flatten and firm the snow surface under the tent. Once set up the second hardest part comes - changing the bottom layer of clothes for dry one. Then it is just right time to go and capture some images shots if the light is good enough as I find it especially hard to leave the sleeping bag in winter more than once (in the morning). This time I do not like the conditions quite that much actually. Sun is already long gone and full moon is shining from high above so I decide to hope for good morning.

Once in sleeping bags all main problems with cold seem to disappear. It is still quite uncomfortable to have mouth and nose exposed (as you do not want to breath into the sleeping bag and increase humidity that can easily get you in trouble) and for this I carry a small piece of headdress with which it is possible to cover at least the nose. The face is never completely warm, though. It is not comfortable for the first hour or so but after then you just get used to it. Even so that you can check a thermometer (which I always carry with me in winter to know my bottom temperature camping record) and just smile if you see some crazy number in there. 

This is the point of it all. Looking from Vozka to Keprník in first light.

The night in winter can last for more than 12 hours here in Czech republic so it is quite a long time you have to spend in your sleeping bag. I am surprised at 7 a.m. when my alarm clock rings, not only because I have slept for so long but mainly because I have slept easily without waking up. Two three-season sleeping bags and two foam mats (ok, plus down jacket) once again prove itself as satisfactory. I look briefly at the thermometer, it shows -9°C - maybe a number I did not want to see at all. It means that outside the tent it is probably -14°C, as I made this small reasearch once when I wanted to know how much warmth can tent add up. The morning is quite easy compared to evening, even though you have to pack frozen things up.

Vozka summit in winter.

Same place in autumn. If you try, you can recognize the trees.

It is even better when you see that sun will soon rise up creating wonderful light conditions. The wind makes your eyes tear, it freezes immediately on the viewfinder making photography even harder. The largest drawback of such low temperatures is that you can never stay still on one location without getting cold. I stay on the summit of Vozka capturing its rocky formations and circular views until I get uncomforable and then I just leave. Finding the right way into the valley is once again a difficult task. Everywhere are just white trees, no paths visible, no clues to look for. Coordinating my movement with gps I spend half an hour finding the direction marker showing way to the valley, just to get the basic sense of "being on the right way". Halfway to the valley bigger way with track joins in and it is easy from there...

Back to articles 24.01.2019

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