Sunday, January 18, 2015

Skiing in the high arctic January gloaming

I'm back in Grise Fiord for two and a half months.  Grise is at 76 degrees north (that flat part at the top of the globe), and I usually don't ski at this time of the year as it's still dark out.  The sun is below the horizon for 3.5 months, and the sun won't rise until Feb. 11.  It's dark out all day, but we get some nautical twilight for a couple of hours around noon.  Civil twilight starts next week.

(If you are interested in the 3 different degrees of twilight, check out the link to Wikipedia.  I never even realized there were degrees of it until I started living it every day; when your light is so limited you notice the fine changes in it a lot more.  Even at the solstice there is a wee smear of astronomical twilight at the southern horizon in Grise.)

Because of the dark, and the risk of polar bears (which are present year-round, but one tends to fret even more about roaming toothy carnivores when you can't see them sneaking up on you), I have never skied before at this time of year when here.  Usually I wait until around the first of April, as it's just so darned cold until then, that my fingers can't tolerate much time outside until it warms up into the minus twenties.

The nurse I replace is fearless and very outdoorsy however, and she and one of the teachers have been skiing on the frozen ocean for weeks in the dark.  I figured I should give it a try, but worried about my poor little fingers, what to do to keep them warm?

Internet to the rescue ... I searched for hand warmers, and look what they have invented!  I found these "Swypers" online while I was still down in the States, and found a store in Chicago that carried them as I was passing through on my way back to Canada.  The guy at the store said they are new to them this year.

They're rechargeable by USB cable to my laptop computer.  My hands are small enough that they easily fit at the end of my mittens and keep my fingers from getting too frozen.  The minus-thirtyish temperatures give their heat-production abilities a workout, but they add that bit of heat that I need to keep the fingers from getting numb and painful.  I wear them between the mitten and a leather glove inside the mitten, so I don't use the little "sweaters" that come with them to protect the hands from direct heat.

For the light issue, I bought this headlamp, which is also rechargeable by USB, very handy.

I've been skiing twice this weekend with my friend, both times around noon.  This week I'll try going after work and see what that is like, in the full darkness.  Still, I am looking forward to the light coming back, although it won't be warming up for months.

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