Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2010

As a young man in Wisconsin, I awoke one morning and decided to jump on my snow machine and do some riding. I slipped on all of my cold weather gear, which included a very warm Arctic Cat snow machine suit, mittens, and my helmet. I started my snow machine and was off, despite the snow being so dry and fluffy it made visibility very poor. Despite having at least one road in site all the time, I never saw one vehicle or another snow machine that day.

I drove over to my Uncle's farm that was approximately 3 miles away, and was told it was -60 below zero! No wonder there wasn't anyone else out in that kind of weather. I never got cold that day, but the wind wasn't blowing either, which can really change things in a hurry. Lucky for me, my machine did not break down either, as we had fairly deep snow and I did not own any snow shoes at the time.

In 1984, I was living and working in North Dakota and saw the temperature drop down to -50 below zero and stay there for a week! With the wind it was estimated to be -108 wind chill, although I understand they are now coming up with a new formula for figuring out wind chill instead of using the old method. Some scientist's claim that the old version is inaccurate and have now apparently proven their case with facts and data. Because of this, soon all of our old wind chill charts will be obsolete.

I shot a lot of late season pheasants that year, due to the fact that they simply felt it was too cold to fly - because whenever they did they lost all their body heat. So they were content just to run along the ground ahead of you, which made them a pretty easy target in the snow. But I also discovered that hunting in wind chills colder than -50 can be very risky business, as I ended up freezing both my ears on that hunt.

I have also been out ice fishing in severe weather many times, but usually we have at least one heated shack along with us on these trips. Having some type of shelter has enabled us to camp out on the ice for as long as a week at a time. Being out there on the surface of a frozen lake, and having the wind pick up can be a real problem, even if you have the right equipment. I have seen the wind blow big shacks across the ice at 60 miles an hour, and once watched the wind blow a shack that had 3 fishermen in it at once!

This week, I returned home from the slope where we had to work in conditions that were colder than -78 wind chill. We were in the process of moving our drilling rig from Kuparuk to C pad in Alpine. Moving the rig means we have no heat, other than what we can get from our vehicles. Once we leave the shelter of our vehicles, we're out in the cold and forced to deal with whatever elements are present. For the first time in my life, I was not properly dressed for dealing with this type of weather, and I paid dearly for not having all of my arctic gear with me.

I got chilled despite having 5 layers of clothes on, mainly because of the wind that just seemed to penetrate everything I had on. I would return to the crew van as often as I could, but because I had lost so much of my core heat, I was cold almost instantly. I felt the wind freezing my face, neck and hands, and it even made my back feel cold! I used my extra hat liner to protect my neck from the biting cold, but because my insulated mittens were in my garage instead of my work bag, I never could keep my hands warm.

I could not even imagine trying to live in this extreme cold weather like the early Eskimos did, as the weather was simply indescribable and unbearable. We had heated vehicles we could crawl into, but years ago, they had nothing but the ability to put up an igloo. Each day after our 12 hour tour ended, we were drained from being out in the weather for long periods of time, and I know personally I ached all over from the intense cold.

Without the heated vehicles, I think it would have amazed people how quickly we would have perished as a crew. I have never been in a situation quite like this, because I have always had better arctic gear with me before. But I must admit, it was an eye-opening experience for me. Too bad Al Gore was not there with us to explain to us his global warming theory.

After several days of working in this extreme outdoor weather, we finally got the rig reassembled and the heat turned back on again. I know I will be rounding up the rest of my gear before returning to the slope again in two weeks. I will never again attempt to do what I did without all of my proper gear.

With this in mind, it might also be the time to make your vehicle winter-ready by putting in an old blanket or two, plus a few candles, matches, energy bars and water just in case. It can be a bother, but a small cooler stocked up with survival food just in case you were ever stranded or run off the road is a good idea. If you don't have a garage to put your car inside, you will have to bring it in every night to keep everything from freezing.

Most people are not prepared for their car breaking down, or running off the road because we live in the age of the cell phone. Well, ask yourself what happens if your mishap occurs on the way to Anchorage where cell phones don't always work? Will you be able to survive or will you be a victim of the cold? See you next week!

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