Negative 36 degrees farenhieght
Last night I knew it was even colder. I had been guessing somewhere in the -20 range but had no real idea. It had taken me a while to fall asleep and to warm up my comfy little room, replete with sleeping bag and blankets. That alone told me the night would be cold. As I tossed and turned, the constant barrage of ice particles would spray down on my face, telltale signs that it was colder than before. I could even feel the entryway to the bag was more frozen than normal, again a sign that it was cold...
Still, I never felt uncomfortable, even with the cold signs and the wool buff across my entire face. At a certain point each morning, 12 hours of lying down becomes enough. Thank goodness I found a pee bottle, which allowed me to stay in the bag all night long. Once the tossing and turning reaches an intense pace, I know that it is time to get up. I crawled out of the bag and everything was frozen more than normal.
Ice crystals hung down from the zipper and vents of the shelter. My parka, which I had left out, was covered in frost from my bodies moisture that had accumulated the night before. The shock to your system, coming out of a warm cocoon, into this frigid cold, is extreme. Immediately any moisture on your body, face, fingers, begins to freeze. The pain in my fingers was instant, even as I struggled to strike a match and light my stove. Nathan's goodness the stove has performed flawlessly. I went to pump up the pressure, and got no resistance, so there was some concern that it might not light, but true to form it lit right up.
Quickly I warmed my fingers, which only promotes moisture that then freezes once removed from the heat, before beginning the task of boiling water and thawing my shoes. Placing my boots over the heat source quickly warms up the boots so that I can at least get my feet in them. Unfortunately the toes never get warm and the searing pain of frozen toes takes over quickly.
I made coffee, but had to get out and move around in an attempt to get my digits warm. The rest of me was fine, but toes and fingers seared. I hit the restrooms which are marginally warmer and tried to warm things up. Again, the warming creates moisture which then quickly freezes once you remove them from the heat source. In this case, I warmed my fingers up by placing them in my armpits underneath my parka.
I realized that things were bad. So I painfully packed up my kit and tried to load it on the bike, an exercise in pain management. When you are this cold your brain does not work right and there is definitely a sense of panic that begins to set in. I can't really perform any functions while wearing my RBH mitts, so I am forced to remove them, exposing my wool covered digits to the frigid cold, which then causes the cycle to repeat. It was the most painful process I have ever gone through and I was only loading up a bit of gear.
I told myself to be patient, back the bike up and soon the motion of cycling would warm me up. I hopped on the bike, went to peddle and met no resistance, causing me to tumble sideways off the bike. My cold fogged mind could not interpret what had happened, causing me to repeat the process two more times before I grasped what was going on. The rear hub, in the extreme cold, had ceased to function... I did not waist any time thinking about it and instead began to push the bike as quickly as humanly possible. The walking movement got the warm blood flowing and eventually the feeling in my toes and fingers returned.
The sun and light hitting the mountain tops was glorious, helping to ease my pain. I stopped to take a picture, deciding that the ensuing pain would be worth the capture, however my camera was like my fingers and toes, completely inoperable. The view of pink light, blue skies, and sunlit mountain tops will instead have to be a memory only to be shared with words.
I arrived at the visitor center, buff frozen, eyelashes and nostril hairs frozen, and gazed at the thermometer. It read an astonishing -36f degrees. I will say, I was in shock, expecting something in the -20s, but definitely not -36f. This is definitely my limit, something I am glad to have experienced once, but hopefully never again. That temperature is absolutely no fun at all.