Day 45: Perils of Crossing a Body-Heat Rubicon
We encountered large sastrugi for most of the morning.
Today's wind: 10 mph NE. Sky: mostly cloudy with cirrus. Sastrugi: yes. Today's challenge: the cold.
We have noticed that the temperature can rise or fall significantly within a few hours, and such was the case today. In the morning, the temp was -20C with 5 mph winds. A few hours later a new system moved in, and the temperature dropped like a rock.
We realized the temperature was dropping, but because the wind was blowing northeast we didn't feel the extra cold on our faces, like we normally do in headwinds. The wind was blowing at our backs, essentially. So I had unzipped my ski parka, pulled the hood down, and removed my neck gaiter - all in an attempt to clear the ice and fog from my goggles.
Getting through the sastrugi was a tough job, and we were working hard. So I thought I was keeping warm, despite the open jacket and the temperature drop. Mainly I was concentrating on getting through the sastrugi, and not thinking about my body. We estimated the temperature dropped to minus 30 C. And still I was doing everything to try to clear the goggles.
It came time to stop to drink water and eat a few snacks, and that is when I realized I was beginning to chill. We resumed skiing, but for the next hour I could not warm up my hands, feet, or body. I could not generate enough heat.
This was not a big problem, but I learned something from it - about the margins of safety, and how close we are to them. I had crossed my Rubicon, body heat wise. In retrospect I could have prevented that by bundling up before the rest stop.
After that hour of feeling uncomfortable, I remembered something from our CDT hike, years ago, in much the same situation. Back then we had kept warm by nibbling small candies. So we did that today, and the effect today was almost immediate. End of the problem.
Jenny experienced an incident also, mid-afternoon when we stopped for our only sit-down rest, to eat a few quick bites of granola. The wind had piped up to 10. We had been sitting there for five minutes when Jenny crossed her body-heat Rubicon. While putting the food away she lost function in her hands. Without the hands you are pretty useless out here. You can't even get your mittens back on.
I quickly pulled her jacket out of her sled, and helped her put in on. I suggested we make camp immediately; but she wanted to get moving. I sheltered her from the wind and tucked her hands (still wearing her inner gloves) under my armpits. That was enough to get her hands functioning and within ten minutes of skiing she was back to normal. The lesson here was when you stop, put on more clothes, and in such cold temperatures keep the rest breaks short, no more than a couple of minutes.
Quite cold this afternoon.
Late afternoon we were warm and happy as we climbed a long hill. As we got higher, the scenery expanded. The sun was shining, and the white and silvery landscape rolling into the distance was extraordinary beautiful.
Icicle blob formed inside my face mask and running down my chin. This is all condensed breath, and is stuck to my mask. I had to melt most of it, in order to remove the mask from my head, because the beard is firmly embedded in the ice.
The double sun.
Snug and warm inside the tent, we had another visit from Santa's helpers. They brought cake and a bag of chocolates!
Evening camp: S 87° 38.382' W 86° 39.812'
Today's mileage: 12.8
Altitude: 8230 ft., Temperature in camp: -22C