Day 5: Level 1 Polar Training
15 January 2020 | Lake of the Woods
At some point during the night the wind switched 90 degrees and clouds rolled in. It was both snowing and cold (a few degrees below zero) a uniquely Minnesotan phenomenon. It snows in most places in winter when the temperature increases and gets warm... but I guess the air is so used to being cold here that even single digit temperatures feel warm enough to precipitate.
I like the colder weather but am not a huge fan of snow (even though I love it) while on expedition. Generally speaking it either bogs you down or creates more friction (if itâ??s colder). However, what bothers me more than snow is whiteouts. It doesnâ??t have to snow for there to be a whiteout but often times it is.
Side note: even though I sound like a polar curmudgeon, Iâ??m generally a fairly happy person.
Snow aside, itâ??s just the lack of visibility that gets me down. And navigation through the inside of a ping pong ball. Last year in Antarctica, there were so many bad whiteouts that I nearly broke. Maybe Iâ??m still recovering.
Just to be clear however, itâ??s not that I donâ??t like whiteouts per se... itâ??s more the effect that whiteouts have on me: stumbling around, difficult navigation, uncertain terrain, etc.
Despite my complaining, it was actually a good day and the whiteout only added to the good polar vibes. After all, we are here to train for other adventures so being in a whiteout is a good experience (for everyone, including me).
With the colder temps and wind, it took a bit more effort to find the right balance of layers but eventually we were all skiing along nicely. For most of the day (except after breaks) I was that perfect temperature - not too warm and not too hot.
A little after lunch I spotted a small pressure ridge on the horizon and we skied toward it. There was an oblong split in the ice that had refrozen and was now cracking again. In the middle, there was a six inch wide gap of open water that was dangerously covered with drifting snow. We snuck around to the South and kept going. To me it felt like being on the Arctic Ocean.
It is hard guiding and leading groups in extreme environments like this. We have a very small margin of safety which is why the goal of this experience is to teach people how to take care of themselves. Anything else, I believe, would be unsafe.
In the late afternoon, visibility improved and we skied East for a few more shifts. Eventually, we were treated to a stunning tangerine sun set of that melted into the icy horizon.
Image: whiteout travel