Photo: All sorts of ice crystals form inside the unheated buildings
I thought I knew what cold was before. Standing at the base of an ice climb shaking my hands, stomping my feet feeling the full definition of screaming barffies as the blood flowed back to my limbs bring excruciating pain. That can happen in temps of -20 C or often even warmer. You can also feel that cold that gets into your bones. On that -3 C degree wet, rainy, muggy day where it penetrates every layer of clothing. Coming inside doesn’t begin to shake it. Cups of tea of hours are needed with a long bath. And there is the cold where you’ve just questionably plummeted into 0.5 C water for the polar plunge. Previous dozens of times haven’t been enough to prove to yourself that it’s a silly idea. So you do it again. This time trying to stay in longer. Soak up the icebergs off in the distance, notice the colour of the water, feel how actual cold your body is. “55 seconds” time to get out. I was in the sauna for an hour after till I could feel my phalanges.
That wasn’t cold at all. Now I know a new cold.
When I tell you what the temps are and you can’t comprehend it, I understand that. I couldn’t either. We hit -70 C the other day. The coldest recorded temp is -89 C so there is still a wee way to go but it’s the coldest temp I’ve ever known. I was asked if you reach a point where it doesn’t make a difference. That is false. You can certainly tell -60 C from -70 C. How quickly your water bottle freezes, how your fingers go numb out of their mittens, (but you don’t dare take them out of the 2 layers of liners and gloves). How cold the air feels on your lungs. What a juxtaposition with layers of neck gaiters blocking your mouth to the near point of suffocation, but if you take the layers down to breathe in that cleanest air in the world the needles come pouring down your throat stabbing at that warm tissue of your lungs. So you tolerate it as long as you can till the suffocation seems better. Back to this cycle of suffocation and needles. All while working at altitude so it is so easy to get desperate for air in your circulator system. If you were to keep your layers down too long you can frost bite your lungs and cough up blood. Best to avoid that.
Photo: All the clothes you need to wear to be able to go outside
Going outside means the different sounds of crunching snow under my feet. The layers of fresh blown sastrugi that are still hallow with an avalanche threatening ‘Whoomf’ under your weight. Good thing its flat for days or else we would all be driven into a panic with every step. Or the sound of the flags wiping in the wind. The sight of the clear night sky, the auroras dancing. The ever-present Southern Cross straight above. The cold has brought lots of new friends with it.
One of the fun things to do in the cold, is to cycle from the sauna. We go from 170 F to outside - 90 F. Well we would be frozen in minutes if we went outside coming from room temperature in our togs, coming from the sauna when your body is that hot you can tolerate it for a couple minutes and be fine. The hairs on your body turn white within 30 seconds. It looks like you’ve aged decades. The cool feels good as we are sheltered from the wind. This would be a different ball game if we were exposed to the wind.
The windchill sucks all the heat from your body. It finds the nooks and cranies and makes it home. Sneaking in relentlessly no matter how much you pull your zip up and your hood down. My googles fogged up one day, as they do pretty quickly with your humid breathe seeping through your buff, so I pulled them off. I had my buff up to just below my eyes, my hat down to the tips of my eyelashes. There was only a thin sliver of skin exposed around my eyeballs. I was outside for 15 min maximum under warmer temps of -50 C brought by the 30 knot winds. I came inside to have frost bite on that centre piece between my eyes. I walked around with a big red dot and scab there for weeks. It doesn’t take long for the cold to leave its mark.