I had thought it was just me – but apparently this really is an exceptional period of cold weather. As well as being somewhat restricting, it’s much talked about – and my knowledge of the subtleties of sub-zero living is coming on leaps and bounds.
The first thing is that there is indeed ‘col’ and ‘cold’. It’s not just that you get to -10C and thereon down it remains ‘absolutely freezing’. The cold feels different every step of several degrees. So much so that someone suggested that I make sure that I go out in all temperatures just to feel it.
Without making a special effort I have made a reasonable job of this. Yesterday, for instance, while driving in the Rockies we stopped to look at a waterfall. Most of course were frozen solid – a paradise for ice-climbers – but this one was underground, and some glacial melt was to be seen deep down a rocky hole. Getting out the car into direct sun was sort-of pleasant for -20 something. Standing in the shady woods above the fall taking a photograph or two, however, I soon realised I was becoming very cold. It creeps very quickly through your layers until you feel wrapped in something dangerous. As someone said to me, ‘when your stomach feels cold, you are in trouble’.
I have learnt a few other local tips. Your skin begins to tingle just before you get frostbite, so its a good idea to do all you can too warm it when this happens. On the other hand, a pleasant warming sensation occurs just as hypothermia sets in.
Weather forecasts always include ‘wind chill factors’ here. This is not a gratuitous ‘feels like’ – there is no sensible ‘feels like’. It is because if you want to know how long you have before exposed surfaces freeze you need to take into account wind-chill. And when it gets to -40 you haven’t got long.
Which will make it seem all the more strange if I say that yesterday I went for an outdoor swim before breakkfast. Water temp was about 91F and air around -30C. (I say ‘around’ as different people say different things – someone said it was -31 two minutes before the swim.) Apart from a little frosting of the head, it was fine. The air temp just above the surface of the water must have been much higher than anywhere else. The view of the mountains as the early morning sun was beginning to strike the snow on the peaks was breathtaking.
Swimming apart, the cold is seriously restricting. Each time you ”bundle up’ you wonder just how hard the bite will be. If the wind picks up it is fierce. I gather that its a great time too ski – no one else is on the slopes!
It is famously a dry-cold here – but this isn’t all good news. I have fared a little better since someone told me to drink much more water. I have also taken to wearing a buff over my nose and mouth, which helps humidify the air I am breathing. The trouble is that it can make your glasses mist up.
And one of the differences between cold and very cold is that when it’s very cold glasses don’t mist up they frost up, as mine did yesterday morning – on the way to the pool.