Post 2: Frosty Faces in Subzero Temperatures

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We staged this photo while the aurora was especially quiet last night.  Two of us, Will (left) and Cherilynn (middle) experienced the coldest temperatures of our lives (–25 F = –32 C), and it is predicted to be even colder tonight.  This temperature map gives you an idea of current temperatures across Canada, including Yellowknife in the far north. You can type (or select) Northwest Territories and Yellowknife in the query boxes to see more detail about the temperatures we are meeting each day of our Amazing Arctic Adventure.

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Duke, our expedition leader, experienced his personal record for cold in 2001 when he and his partner, Marsha, made a trek to Yellowknife during the last maximum of solar activity.  Many of the nights out for this special couple were as cold as –40 F, and this is the temperature where the Farenheit and Celcius scales meet up.  Yep!  –40 F is the same as –40 C.  Our Duke grew up in North Dakota, so he has the thickest skin of the three of us.  Will and I (Cherilynn) are currently living in Atlanta, Georgia where the temperature almost never goes below freezing (32 F = 0 C).

At such low temperatures you need a lot of protection to keep the climate of your body warm enough to function during long hours of exposure.  Aside from the many layers of down that make us all appear like advertisements for a famous French tire company, the boots and the balaclava are key items.   Some of you may remember my posting on Facebook when I purchased them from Zappos.com – a marvelous, high consciousness company with whom I enjoyed interacting so much (and no, they are not paying me to write that!).

Baffin boots    Balaclava - Outdoor Research

The Baffin boots pictured above are temperature rated for –100°C/–148°F!  You might think this is overdoing it since the lowest natural temperature so far recorded at the surface of the Earth is only −89.2 °C (−128.6°F).  However, for longs hours of shooting photography in the Arctic night, you need boots like this, and a few layers of hearty socks to keep the toes toasty warm (lovin’ that Smartwool!).   In a later post, I’ll upload a recording of the eerie sounds that occur when the soles of these boots walk on the snow and ice of Vee Lake where we are shooting our images.

Oh yes….the lights!  We recorded the image below last night (5-6 March 2013).  We were out for about 3 hours, and this time hauled equipment considerably farther from our little blue car, which was parked about 1/4 mile away from our camera set up on the side of one of the lake’s several ice roads.  By the way, this is a long exposure (~20-25 seconds) on an evening when the aurora were not particularly active.  The image shows you an intensity of color and structure that our naked eyes did not perceive.  It’s pretty exciting though, when an image like this pops up on the digital display.  I happened to be the one who made the exposure on this one, following the expert set-up Duke provided. Duke is an amazing photographer, flowing with an inspiring blend of intuition and technical expertise.

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Now back to the “balaclava”. Nope!  It is NOT a Greek dessert (baklava),  nor a Russian folk stringed instrument (balalaika), but a saving grace for protecting the skin of your face from arctic cold. We called them “balas” to help keep the syllables straight. The name “balaclava” derives from the town of Balaklava, near Sevastopol in Crimea, UKRAINE where British troops had been issued this sort of cold-weather “soft helmet” that covered the entire neck and head with holes for the eyes and mouth. The town is known for the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War due to the suicidal Charge of the Light Brigade, when a British cavalry was mistakenly sent up a valley held on three sides by the Russians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balaklava). Oooo….better to have the northern lights on all three sides, with us pointing and shooting cameras at them!

Balaklava - Aerial 900px-Panorama_ChembaloOh yes…another tad of history…During the more recent Cold War, Balaklava was home to a top secret Soviet nuclear submarine base that stopped operating in 1993 and is now a museum for tourists. Good idea! The portal for the base can be seen as a re-enforced stone archway built into the hillside at the upper right of the aerial image of the town (above). Click on the image for a closer look!  As a physics major I had been recruited to teach in the US Navy’s nuclear submarine program, but at the time women were not permitted to go out on the submarines.  Early in his career, my teammate Will did take the job of teaching in this program.  Now he teaches high school students…Good idea!

The close-up mug shots below show how our balaclavas and hoods looked just before we came in from the cold, as it were .  Enjoy noticing how the moisture of breath has frosted us over. I snapped these FROSTY FACES with the  2-way camera in my Galaxy S3 smartphone, which had been staying warm in the breast pocket of my parka.  I used E-tip liner gloves that allowed me to use the phone’s touch interface without exposing bare hands to the cold. Will’s photo (at right) provides the best view of the mask-like character of the balaclava. Click on the images for a closer view!!

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Meanwhile, we also learned last night how important it is to button up that hood muff to keep the arctic cold from creeping in. If you lose core heat from your neck and torso, the blood withdraws from the fingers and toes and you cannot last in the cold. We have so many layers to fit that it was often hard to get that muff zipped up. So we also learned the value of helping each other out, like mothers tending to children as they bundle them up to play in the snow.  We are a great team!

We are privileged and grateful to be living this dream of adventure and service, and are very excited about reports of increased chances of enhanced auroral displays in the coming days due to the Sun’s rising activity.  Please stay tuned to the daily blog entry here and share with your friends (thanks to Christine and Marsha for already doing some of this!).

And if the spirit moves you, please consider pledging some support for us at our Kickstarter site .  It was such an exhilarating moment for the team to see our first few pledges on the site yesterday.  It’s all or nothing. so if we don’t make our modest financial goal, then no funds are transferred.

BananasOkay, my teammates have just returned from a shopping spree for food.  How delightful that they were able to find bananas out there – a tropical fruit from a latitude about 40 degrees south of our base here in Yellowknife!

Now we need to eat, check equipment, bundle up, and get ready to move out! The sky is crystal clear and Will and I will certainly break our personal record for experiencing cold temperatures tonight.   Stay warm out there, wherever you are, and send a little warmth our way.

Oh!  and We are more than happy to answer any questions that are posted in the comments.

On we go!