|The coldest mountain in America - Denali.|
Here, enjoying the view of Mt. Foraker
from camp 14,000
Here in the Philippines, ‘cold’ could be a simple 24C especially when windy… A good time to wear our favourite sweaters and long sleeve shirts. Although bathing without hot shower is manageable, or sleeping in sando/shorts with thin blanket are enough - there are occasions and places when one need to properly plan and act - to survive cold weather. Climbing or otherwise, here are some tid-bits on this topic;
1. Layer, layer, layer. Putting layers of clothing is a simple trick that works. The key advantage is wearable/removable pieces of clothing adjusted based on cold protection needs. You feel hot, ditch a layer – you feel cold, add a layer. (Applies to torso, lower, hands, feet, head). There are ways how to maximize this technique by combining the right fabric and clothing make (below).
2. Fabric and clothing-make. Clothes are required to have fabric labels somewhere, much like processed/packed food have list of ingredients. Some friends buy purely on feel and look – you’ve got to read the labels. Different material and fabric have different heat retention rating (wool, acrylic, cotton, polyester, etc.). Clothing make (knitted, ‘fleeced’,woven) and thickness also affects performance. A +20C environment for example may be flexible to allow cotton-based knitted wears combined with a t-shirt. A 10C may mean adding an outer jacket. Something below -10C may mean better heat retention like wool-mixed fleece jacket plus down-filled jacket compared to knitted cotton sweaters and longs. Base-layers (next to skin) made from wool or capiline, even acrylic are normally ‘hotter’ vs. cotton or poly-based. If you are really, really cold – although heavy – wool-based layers would be your best bet. I heard merino wool is one of the best wool options. (I saw those black/spots Merino sheep in Kiwiland providing this fantastic material). In the mountains, light weight materials are favoured – ex. poly-fleece and down. If you’ll do something sweaty (ex. climbing), don’t wear cotton base-layers, cotton retains moisture longer; instead wear poly or wool-based, it ‘wicks’ (moves away) sweat. In the city, base-layers could be any ‘thermals’, I bought a few from Marks and Spencers’ (not realizing quickly that one piece I’ve been using in the mountains is 90% cotton! Cotton is a no-no in alpine mountaineering).
3. Body Oil. Not only that it moisturizes the skin (normal moisturizer lotions are almost useless in zero C and below environment), it keeps some heat. At least for a little while. I recall using body oil in Japan/Korea (during winter) and noticed better skin (avoiding dryness) and less itchy-irritation. Unfortunately, carrying bottles of body oil in the high camps is an unnecessary luxury – so this one is a city thing for me. My Pinoy boss in Korea proudly shared that he used petroleum jelly! I didn’t find it appealing, but recall using that during an adventure race and I find it really hot (- your skin pores are covered) – I don’t think I’ll recommend it for sports. If one is prone to blisters and frost nips – maybe an option (I have not tried this one though).
4. Hot drinks. Obviously, sipping something hot warms us immediately. Most appreciated when one just arrived from a freezing world outside (and into a tent, or resto, or house). It doesn’t have to be hot coffee, in cold mountains - we drink hot orange juice, hot lemon juice, hot lemon tea, hot soups, well sometimes just hot water!
5. Food and Oxygen. One needs O2 to do many things – including maintaining body temperature. While O2 is not an issue in most cities, extreme altitude poses cold-risk to individuals who are not acclimatized. Key is to acclimatize (adapt to thin air) to better fight cold and avoid frostbites. High-calorie and easily digestible food helps combat cold (think fast carbs). Sugar-loaded Chocolate/energy bar is a good quick source of energy and heat. Not so healthy on normal occasion – but good alibi when one is freezing his/her butt off.
6. Warmer packs, hot bottles. There are available foot, hand, body warmers by the packs. Sometimes we use that to warm sleeping bags and clothing and boots. Alternatively, a bottle of hot liquid (non-hollow, not the thermos type) can also do the trick. We used that in camps – either hold it (to warm the hands), tuck inside the jacket, or keep inside the sleeping bag.
7. Move! Fight cold with motion. Stay still and you’d feel colder. If you’re at home and heater is broken – best time to do some routines! Oh it will be cold after so bring the woollies out. In the mountains – rather than reading books or pretending to sleep, go outside and paddle some snow (either to clean/fix your tent surroundings, or for the heck of it!). Or just take a stroll.
8. Stay out of the wind. Wind (natural or fan) adds to the cold feeling (i.e. wind chill factor). If you’re wearing knitted, woven or any non-windproof make/apparel, either wear a shell (ex. goretex jacket) or switch to windproof jacket (ex. filled jacket or thick fleece). A waterproof jacket is a windproof jacket – so find any waterproof one, yes even the cheap plastic (kapote) version will work.
9. Heaters – home-use or camp. If one is home in a modern, wintry city – there’s a high chance that it has a heater. Small village houses may have their own fire place. Some campers bring portable heaters in the mountains. I’ve seen a few in Everest BC (and silently cursed at the owners in envy). In the tea-houses around Annapurna, they have this ember-based heater ‘installed’ under the dining table – those were nice and effective. In Papua, the indigenous folks use fire logs from night to morning – literally smoking hot! (I didn’t like the smoke). Not limited to external heat source, some branded jackets have self-heating capability, battery-operated.
10. Huddle. A group hug, a spoon, or just a side-by-side huddle brings not just extra heat, but social comfort. A “blanket-over” helps retain-and-share more heat. Need I say that couples can go the extra mile and generate more heat!? =P