This is Worst Wednesdays for real: a week has gone by, it’s 10:00 at night, and I’m just posting this now. At least it’s warm in Santa Cruz.
This day also (1 July) we were harassed by a nasty little wind which blew in our faces. The temperature was minus 66, and in such temperatures the effect of even the lightest airs is blighting, and immediately freezes any exposed part.
They wore furry balaclavas “of the greatest comfort.” Better yet,
They formed other places upon which our breath could freeze, and the lower parts of our faces were soon covered with solid sheets of ice, which was in itself an additional protection. This was a normal and not uncomfortable condition during the journey: the hair on our faces kept the ice away from the skin, and for myself I would rather have the ice than be without it, until I want to get my balaclava off to drink my hoosh. We only made 2 1/4 miles, and it took 8 hours.
Slogging forward with the sledges was the only way to get warm; it came to be the part of the day they looked forward to:
Our sleeping-bags were getting really bad by now, and already it took a long time to thaw a way down into them at night. Bill spread his in the middle, Bowers was on his right, and I was on his left. Always he insisted that I should start getting my legs into mine before he started: we were rapidly cooling down after our hot supper, and this was very unselfish of him. Then came seven shivering hours and first thing on getting out of sleeping-bags in the morning we stuffed our personal gear into the mouth of the bag before it could freeze: this made a plug which when removed formed a frozen hole for us to push into as a start in the evening.
That’s right, they thawed out their wet sleeping bags using their body heat each night. I just can’t figure out the math: at what point in the day are they actually getting back to a non-suicidal degree of warmth?
They talk of chattering teeth: but when your body chatters you may call yourself cold. I can only compare the strain to that which I have been unfortunate enough to see in a case of lock-jaw. One of my big toes was frost-bitten, but I do not know for how long. Wilson was fairly comfortable in his smaller bag, and Bowers was snoring loudly. The minimum temperature that night as taken under the sledge was minus 69; and as taken on the sledge was minus 75. That is a hundred and seven degrees of frost.
They did occasionally pause for scenery. But the cold was always ticking at them like a clock.
In the pauses of our marching we halted in our harness, the ropes of which lay slack in the powdery snow. We stood panting with our backs against the mountainous mass of frozen gear which was our load. There was no wind, at any rate no more than light airs: our breath crackled as it froze. There was no unnecessary conversation: I don’t know why our tongues never got frozen, but all my teeth, the nerves of which had been killed, split to pieces. We had been going perhaps three hours since lunch.
‘Things must improve.’ said Bill.
I remember being in Bozeman, Montana, when it dropped to minus 30 a few nights running. It was cold, and made my clothes creak in a funny way, but it didn’t seem so bad. Cherry had anticipated me by 92 years:
I have met with amusement people who say, ‘Oh, we had minus fifty temperatures in Canada; they didn’t worry me,’ or ‘I’ve been down to minus sixty something in Siberia.’ And then you find that they had nice dry clothing, a nice night’s sleep in a nice aired bed, and had just walked out after lunch for a few minutes from a nice warm hut or an overheated train. Well! of course as an experience of cold this can only be compared to eating a vanilla ice with hot chocolate cream after an excellent dinner at Claridge’s.