So we’ve hit the magic number three times now – this past Saturday setting the record low for the year: -107.9F
This cold marks a whole new definition of the word. It’s hard to explain. Physical properties are different. Even finding words to describe it: frigid, biting, harsh, sharp…even the word “cold” seems too soft, describing a frosty fall morning or goose bumps. This cold makes metal tracks on the equipment pop and crack, sounding like rice crispies. It freezes huge sharpie markers after a minute or two leaving only a streak of black felt scraped off the tip. Filmy plastic bags become so brittle even being bent by the wind will snap them in half. Elastic bands on headlamps freeze solid, cracking sharply if you try to adjust or stretch them. Rubber seals break in half at the lightest pressure. Zippers and anything metal is cold enough to burn your fingers if you touch it with bare skin. Cameras slow until the shutter freezes in place. Hard plastic will crack if dropped or banged. Electrical cords crack or snap in half if bent. My breath freezes in the air so quickly there’s a sound to it – a gentle exhale, silent in warmer temps, produces a rushing sound as if I were blowing out forcefully…The snow squeaks like styrofoam, the air is perfectly clear. Sound travels amazingly well, footsteps echoing and voices carrying deceptively far.
It’s a cold sharpened by the wind, and with a wind-chill of -150F it’s cold enough to freeze your skin after only a few minutes.
Bundled up in our “ECW”, or extreme cold weather [gear], it’s tolerable for an hour or two at most. To work outside in these conditions I layer up: Wool or fleece long underwear, expedition weight thick socks, insulated carhartt bibs, a fleece jacket or hoodie, a thick fleece gaiter, a wool and fleece hat, my insulated carhartt jacket, warm liner gloves, and thickly padded leather mittens. On my feet I wear big FDX “blue boots.” With my gaiter pulled up to just below my eyes and my hat pulled down leaving only a half inch or so to see through I am set.
That said, it’s not instant death to step outside – I often run down DZ to drop of a bag of waste in just my jeans and hoodie. The only important part is to cover your mouth and nose with a sleeve or tuck it in the neck of your shirt…the cold air can burn your lungs resulting in a cough that lasts several days.
Ultimately, it’s so dry here that while it’s extremely cold it doesn’t feel quite as bone-chilling as a 40deg rain in the PNW.
An excerpt from one of my favorite folk songs that keeps coming to mind:
“The weather tried to beat him.
It tried its level best.
At one hundred degrees below zero,
He just buttoned up his vest.
It froze clear down to China,
It froze to the stars above.
And at one thousand degrees below zero,
It froze my logger love.”