Sleeping out in minus 23 degrees

PUBLISHED: 11:10 01 February 2013 | UPDATED: 11:11 01 February 2013

Simon and Tracey Hill with fellow fundraiser Helen Roberts in the middle

Simon and Tracey Hill with fellow fundraiser Helen Roberts in the middle


Been feeling the cold recently? I bet not as much as one couple, who bedded down in temperatures beyond teeth-chattering.

Tracey Hill bracing the coldTracey Hill bracing the cold

Earlier this month, keen skier Tracey Hill slept outside in - 23° C with her husband Simon when they went to northern Sweden for a week-long survival course to fundraise for EllenorLions hospice, where Tracey works as head of support services. Both love the snow and were looking for a way to raise money for the hospice, a cause close to their hearts.

“We have always tried to support the hospice but with the recession hitting donations hard we felt now was a good time to do something special,” said Tracey. “The trip was in memory of family members who all received support from EllenorLions – my previous partner David Austin, my uncle John Harper, my aunt Gladys Reed, another aunt and uncle Kenneth Vincent and his wife Doris. Finally, we both lost our dads two years ago so this is for them too as we miss them so much.” Returning to a warm England, by comparison, the couple have raised a massive £7,800. Here, Tracey gives us a day by day account of her experience.

Monday 7

Building a seating circle out of snowBuilding a seating circle out of snow

Twenty of us (including two instructors) meet at Heathrow and fly to Stockholm, then take an internal flight north to Ostersund and drive an hour north again to a remote part of Sweden, 150km south of the Arctic Circle. We spend the first three days staying in a cabin to acclimatise. It is between -18 °C and -22 °C and there is no electricity or running water.

Tuesday 8

Today we go cross country skiing. We haven’t tried it before and consequently fall over a lot.

The shelter made out of timber and branchesThe shelter made out of timber and branches

It is about -18 °C. That type of cold is very intense. You realise that it slows your mental processes down and you don’t respond as quickly as usual. And you’re constantly hungry, eating to keep yourself warm.

In the evening we build a fire and get timber ready for many more, and learn some survival skills involving axes and knives.

Wednesday 9

Temperatures dipped to minus 23 degreesTemperatures dipped to minus 23 degrees

After dog sledding in the morning we build a seating circle which is basically like a circular sofa made out of snow, topped with timber and reindeer skin.

This is our final night in the cabin. We get our kit ready, making sure we have enough clothes and enough food in our ration packs. I’m feeling nervous about what is to come.

Thursday 10

We spend the day snow-mobiling up a mountain and down the other side.

Then we travel a mile away from the cabin and put a teepee up, have a meal and get into bed to keep warm.

That night we take turns to do fire watch. We have to make sure no one has hypothermia and check the fire is still burning. I was slightly hypothermic that night and I got the shivers and couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up all night sitting by the fire.

Friday 11

Today we have a race to see who could get a pan of snow boiling the quickest, then practise making signal fires and learn how to use axes and knives safely. We spend the day building a shelter out of timber. That night the temperature drops even more. Normally at -20 °C the instructors would check us every hour, then when it got to -23 °C they checked every half hour, but tonight at 4am it dips to -25 °C and we have to quickly get back to the cabin as it was too dangerous.

Saturday 12

When the temperature rose a little to -23.6 °C, we head out again. We sleep out under the stars in our snow circle around the fire, but two of our group have to stay in the cabin as one has bronchitis and the other has frostnip. At last I manage to get a bit of sleep.

Sunday 13

We clear up so we don’t leave any trace and head back to the cabin where there is a hot tub and sauna that we have heated using fire for 14 hours. We get to wash and change our clothes and have a night’s sleep indoors.

Monday 14

We fly back and walk into our home to find we have a power cut. Within 10 minutes we have lit a fire and have our thermals back on. It’s almost like we never returned.

The week has been a fantastic experience, one we will never forget. We learned things about ourselves and each other which we probably never would have in any other way. The nights were long, but adrenaline kept you going. We are blown away by the support we received financially and having self-funded the trip every penny raised will go to the hospice.

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