I love the cold. It’s clean, it’s crisp, it’s fascinating, yet it hurts.

We’ve gone into the -40’s for a few stretches this winter. Most people will never experience this type of cold, so let me tell you about it.

First, let’s clear any mistaken belief you have that all cold is the same after -20C, or that a cold windchill or “feels like” temperature is the same. No. Not true.

The difference from -20C to -30 to -40 is the same degree of difference from their positive equivalent.

As soon as you step outside in the -40’s, you’ll cough. Your lungs can’t handle the quick difference in temperature. You’ll likely purse your lips a little to slow the air intake. I rarely use my nose to breathe in the cold. I prefer to cover my mouth and breath in through a scarf, or preferably my neoprene face mask.

Every breath you exhale contains moisture, and it will freeze. Not only will you see your breath, it’ll freeze to your face, every tiny hair on your face, your nose, your eyelashes, your hair.

This is why real fur is used on the trim of hoods on parkas. Not only is it warm and blocks the wind, but every one of those hairs can catch your frozen breath and keep it from freezing to your face.

The snow is incredibly loud when you walk on it. It’s almost like rubbing styrofoam together. It’s so loud, and high pitched, almost squeaky. You can’t sneak anywhere in the cold!

Usually here, an ice fog will hang over town when it is cold. It comes from the frozen moisture from vehicle’s exhaust, chimneys, and from the open areas of the Yukon River.

When it is below 40, it takes a bit of time to gear up. I wear:

  • snowpants over track pants
  • thick wool socks, or sometimes two pairs of socks
  • two long sleeve shirts
  • my Skookum parka that pulls over my head
  • a tight fleece neck warmer than pulls over my head
  • my neoprene face mask that covers my temples, and from below my eyes down, with holes for my nose and some smaller holes to let my breath out
  • hat with fake fur and ear/cheek flaps
  • Canada Goose down mittens

Dressed like this, I can stay out for a few hours or take the dog to the dog park. I can go for a walk, walk the dog, even hike.

But things can go wrong so quickly.

Last week it was -42 or so with a wind chill warning of -50C. I took Hank for a short walk on the flexi leash one afternoon during a break from work. The flexi leash was a terrible, terrible idea. The cold plastic handle of that leash immediately cut right through my down mitten and my hand went from okay to freezing in just a few minutes.

By then I was in trouble, and I was only a few blocks from home! I tried to put the lock on the leash so I wouldn’t have to hold it so hard, but my fingers wouldn’t work. I had a package of those hot pocket things in my parka in case of emergency, but even those take a few minutes to work and I’d have to take my mittens off to fish them out of my pocket and open the package. That wasn’t going to work. I headed for home.

By the time I was two blocks away my right fingers were in real dire straits. By the time your fingers are that cold, there is no way they can warm up on their own, even in a down mitten. There just isn’t any warmth to warm them up. I didn’t know if I should try to run, if I should drop the leash and hope Hank came with me, so I just cringed with the incredible pain of the cold and marched home.

I made it home and thawed my fingers. They were pink and puffy for the rest of the day, but are fine now. Until you experience temperatures like this, I don’t think you can fully understand the pain of the cold. The pain is so incredible. From what I understand, as soon as that pain goes away and you’re still in the cold, you have frozen digits and life is going to change.

I’ve got 3 pairs of winter boots and none of them can keep my toes warm while I’m standing around at the dog park. I’ve tried battery powered insoles, metal fibre socks, and hot pockets. None are ideal, and often within an hour I have toes that are close to frozen, with incredible, incredible pain. This week I borrowed a pair of old bunny boots from Jeff’s coworker to see if they will be better. So far, yes, but I didn’t have the right socks on. You can only get them from a military surplus store, but they really seem to be the best choice. They are huge, and rubber, and have no material inside to get wet, frozen, or cold. All the insulation is inside the boot, between the interior and outside layer of rubber. The -100 rated boots I got earlier this winter made by Baffin are comfortable, but terrible! They need to be on the boot drier after every wear and they are not warm. They are a huge disappointment.

So I’m still learning how to survive here. I love our winter. I love the cold. But it is not something to underestimate. If you don’t take it seriously, it will hurt you.

Today it froze our hot water pipes. We have a water bleeder on all winter, that is constantly running the cold water and keeping the water in the pipes turbulent, and the drains flowing. But we hadn’t run the hot water since yesterday morning when we showered for work. We didn’t do the dishes last night, and no laundry yesterday. I guess that was our mistake. The pipes aren’t copper, they are plex, and they go under out house, which isn’t heated, but they are deep in insulation. Not good enough apparently! The hot water pipe froze near a manifold area where all the pipes branch off.

Jeff tried with a heat gun for awhile, and turned a space heater on, but no luck. Then he borrowed this beautiful heat monster from a friend.

It is a kerosene heater. Jeff put it under the house and funneled the heat to where he thought the frozen pipes were.

After 30 minutes the fumes were getting so bad in the house, I evacuated with the cat and dog to the garage.

But within an hour, the hot water flowed! And there is no leak, no broken pipes. Whew!

We kept the pets out for awhile longer (the garage is heated to 50F). While the CO detector didn’t alarm, the fume smell was strong!

We try not to drive when it is so cold. Even if I plug my car’s block heater and oil pan heater in for 4 hours, and start the car and idle it for 20 minutes, not only will the windows not be cleared of frost, the power steering doesn’t work. Even your tires won’t feel round. Metal is so brittle in the cold. When you close your car door, it’ll often just bounce off and open again. Latches don’t work. Nothing is lubricated. Most people leave their vehicles running during any errand they are running, hoping it’ll thaw a bit. Even the seat is hard in my car, like the foam and fabric doesn’t compress when it is so cold.

Somehow, we have a -32C forecast for tonight, but in two days, on Monday, we have a +2 forecast! Wild! It should bring a fresh layer of snow, which is nice, since it’ll cover Hank’s yellow snow in the yard!

If I haven’t recommended it before, you really should read this great short story by Jack London about the cold: To build a fire It isn’t a surprise that he can describe the cold so well, since he lived here and felt it.

And here are a couple more pictures, one of Jeff (left) and a friend of ours at the dog park.

And another of Jeff all bundled up after walking home from work for lunch:By the way, the iPhone 8 Plus is doing better in the cold than any cell phone I’ve had yet! I keep it warm in my pocket, but can take it out for pictures in the cold and it doesn’t shut off! This is a first!

Lisa

Lisa (Verkley) Schuyler is a blogger reporting live from her new home in Canada's Yukon Territory. Often found wearing a hoodie, covered in pet hair, Lisa is a mis-placed forester who now spends her days engineering happiness for WordPress users. Lisa loves nature, animals, and most importantly, her handsome husband Jeff.

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