Something that takes up a large part of our day and one which we haven’t really spoken about is what it is like on a day to day basis. Having spent over a couple of months travelling in an Arctic environment we are certainly building on our previous cold weather experience. The main priorities of the day are water, food, warmth and sleep. So pretty basic things. Our days roughly start at 5.30 am. In our bid for freedom, getting out of our sleeping bag resembles something David Attenborough would commentate on. Try and imagine the voice…
“Here in the Arctic tundra the small and now hairy faced Jamie/Benno wakes for yet another morning in this cold and wintery environment. Making an opening large enough to squeeze their arms and head….”
You get the idea.
We begin our day trying to avoid a freezing cold shower as the moisture in our breath freezes to the edge of our sleeping bag. As you open it down sprinkles tiny little ice crystals onto your sleepy face, any method of avoiding this is a bonus. Then comes the start of our daily tasks melting snow, boiling water, cooking up food (pouring hot water into our food to rehydrate it) and in typical British fashion a cup of tea to start the day. All of this is done whilst in our sleeping bags. The pans have to be constantly topped up with more snow, even a full pan of snow melts down next to nothing. Whilst this is going on we get ready as much as we can without leaving the warm cosy oasis of our beloved sleeping bag. They haven’t got names yet but they are defiantly our happiest places and out attachment to them makes a duvet morning on a Sunday look like child’s play. A morning isn’t complete without using our pee bottles; where despite lying down, it is possible to have a conversation in your sleeping bag without over filling or spilling a drop. If you are feeling clumsy the whole process is slightly easier kneeling. The important bit, particularly if it’s still quite dark, is keeping the now filled bottle away from the drinking bottle as they are exactly shape the same except in colour and in the past it has been known for people to have almost made the mistake of taking a gulp before the smell hits their nostrils and they realise their error. Best not to risk it in the first place. Then there are the socks and tent booties to get on. Trying to get the down booties on is hard enough for myself. Jamie opts to test out his sleeping bag yoga to get his socks on. It seems an impossible task but with a few groans, some weird facial expressions and some impressive moves, success! One sock done, one to go.
Wriggling down into our bags we finally make enough space to eat our muesli, or porridge if we are lucky. The short straw is something called hot cereal start. It resembles a warm brown sloppy mix with unknown ingredients bar a few raisins thrown in for good measure. It isn’t our favourite but apparently it goes down well with others.
Despite being in the Arctic and surrounded by ice and snow the area is virtually a desert with very low amounts of precipitation throughout the year. The snow tends to get blown off everything and instead collects in snow drifts generally around the rough ice and is where we tend to collect it. This is a bit of an issue as it means every time we get close to camping we have to think is there enough snow to melt and just as important; is it far enough from the sea ice to not have become salty? It is really not a great start to the evening when you have collected enough snow, started melting it only to find that your hot chocolate at the end of the day is salty and you have trundle back out for more snow. Doing this twice in a row is just gutting.
Following a hearty breakfast we pack up and hit the trail. In sunny conditions this is fine. However in windy ones we have to plan out each step to make sure nothing blows away mainly so we don’t get too cold before starting the day. This is particularly the case when going to the toilet. The hole is dug, the paper is ready and you’re thinking about how quickly you can get your trousers down, business done and them back up again before your bum feels like it’s been left in the freezer for too long. No one wants frostbite down there of all places!
Once we start skiing things settle into a natural rhythm. Ski for an hour. Have a break for a snack and a drink. This makes up part of our daily 4,500 to 5,000 calorie diet. It ranges from flapjack, cakes (our favourite being the Eccles cake), nuts, chocolate, biltong and Maximuscle protein bars. This pattern continues until about 5 to 6pm when we stop.
We spend the entire day constantly thinking how do my toes, fingers, face and general body feel. They can’t be too hot or too cold. Too hot and the sweat freezes when you stop. Too cold and you’re at risk of getting a cold injury. We have a selection of gloves we can change between which is pretty straight forward to do. Less simple is the task of removing our thermal top if we get too warm. Having to strip down to bare skin and then get your jacket back on is nippy to say the least. Despite being hot and sweaty at -30C your nipples can cut glass within seconds of taking your top off. It’s not a particularly pleasant experience although we do tend to do this only when it is sunny and little or no wind.
Finally when it comes to the end of the day the process is repeated in reverse. Tent up, snow melting, hot chocolate followed by a meal and a cake. It doesn’t get much better than having a warm drink tucked up in our sleeping bags. Lights out is normally around 9pm depending on when we finish. Although, with daylight gaining about an hour every 4 days it will be less of a lights out and more of a pulling our hats down over our eyes. With the increased daylight we are hoping the tent temperature doesn’t drop to the -40s we had at the start where we would diving into the bags with almost as many clothes on as during the day despite the huge amounts of insulation on the bags.
We have also upgraded our sleeping arrangement. Caribou hide. Jamie manage to locate one first in Clyde river. Despite looking really quite dishevelled it had made a big difference. I on the other hand manage to find a very plump and hairy one. The downside is it is malting. Everywhere. Fortunately it is now in a bag that keeps most of the hairs in but within an hour of testing it out hairs were turning up in our mugs, water bottles, clothes, food and just about everywhere else you can think of. Even after being sealed up we are still finding them several days later. Then repeat from start to finish.
Summing up the day to day Arctic life ignoring all the beautiful scenery, obvious good company and conversations musing over the meaning of life. Cold and monotonous probably cover it very well. Having the chance to visit local communities, meet hunters, look after a couple of dogs and of course each other make it a far more interesting trip.