Packing For Extreme Cold Part II: The Expedition Layer

In Part I of “Packing for Extreme Cold Travel,” I covered the basic stuff you’ll pack for your adventures in crazy cold climates. If you do any winter sports at all, you’ll likely have a lot of this stuff – it’s your basic ski vacation gear.

In this second part, I cover the serious expedition stuff – there’s not much of it, but it makes all the difference between freezing your backside off (just about literally) and having a great time in the minus temperatures.

When I arrived in the far north, it was -40F. Bitter cold. My fingers ached by the time I got to the car, just a hundred yards away.

An epic parka: Mine was a rental provided by Whitehorse expedition gear rental company. I have little use for something this intense in the moderate climates of the Pacific Northwest. But in the deep, deep cold of a Yukon winter, my loaner Canada Goose Resolute Parka was – well, I kind of fell in love with it. I’ve lived in apartments with less storage space than this parka. It took me 45 minutes to “move out” of it after spending a very warm ten days bundled up against the weather.

It’s a lot of work wearing a parka like this – it’s bulky, and I lost my glove liners inside the coat (I’m not kidding) to one of the many pockets. If I did not put my phone or pocket camera in the same place, it could take me ten minutes of exploration to find where, exactly, I’d stowed them.

But it was -40. That’s cold. So I appreciated the fleece-lined pockets, the secure zipper flaps, the slightly long sleeves with ribbed cuffs that I could tuck my hands up into. I liked the coyote fur lined hood – and I could never justify wearing a scrap of fur at home. I’m short, so the coat was almost below my knees, but I wasn’t sorry for the extra length when the wind was blowing. There are mesh pockets designed to hold warmer packs, I used them to store my phone because the battery got zapped of power easily in the cold. And I loved the bright red in the snow; you could locate me in just short of whiteout conditions.

You can spend a pile on a parka like this – over $700.00. Unless you’re planning to do repeated trips in this kind of crazy weather, there’s almost no reason to buy one, but an expedition outfitter will hook you up and that’s worth the money for the warmth.

The biggest boots known to mankind: “I saw that picture of you. What the hell is on your feet? You look like Rocket Boy!” Yup. That’s about right. My Bogs are swell in most conditions, and indeed, they were great for Antarctica, but when I went dogsledding, I was sorry I’d not pulled on the loaner -100 rated boots in my rented kit.

I was surprised, given the bulk, how light my -100s were. They were all insulation with a waterproof exterior. I wouldn’t have wanted to run for the bus in them, but they were fine for shuffling around Dawson City in the deep dry snow, and I wore them snowmobiling and was not sorry. Again, this is the kind of thing you’re not going to own unless you’re living the sub-freezing dream life, so whatever shows up in your rented kit is going to serve you just fine in the interim.

I got a huge laugh out of how out of proportion I’d become between my giant parka and my Frankenstein monster boots, but you know what, I wasn’t cold – not at all.

Photo Of The Day: Crossing The Frozen Songhua River In China

With daytime getting longer and longer each day, spring is soon approaching. But winter doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere anytime soon – especially in places like this one, featured in this photo by Flickr user Bernard Siao taken in Harbin, a city in northeastern China.

The frozen Songhua River freezes hard in the winter and people commonly cross it on foot, but as you can see in this photo, there’s another option to dart across the frozen river on a horse-drawn carriage. Harbin is a city of interesting and unique history. Originally founded by Russia and inhabited by Jewish immigrants, it also hosts the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, which goes on throughout January.

If you have some great photos just sitting there, fragmenting on your hard drive, share them with us on Instagram or in our Gadling Flickr Pool and they can be featured as our “Photo of the Day.”

[Photo Credit: Flickr User Bernard-SD]

Discover Scandinavia In Washington DC: Nordic Cool 2013

Aurora Borealis, new Nordic cuisine, ice hotels, hot springs, fjords, moose, meatballs and music? Scandinavia is at the top of the list for a lot of travelers these days. But if you can’t book a ticket to the northern countries this year, Washington, D.C., might be your next best bet.

The city is the host of Nordic Cool 2013, a month-long international festival celebrating the culture of Scandinavia, taking place at the Kennedy Center from February 19 to March 17, 2013.

Featuring theater, dance, music, visual arts, literature, design, cuisine and film, the festival aims to highlight the diverse cultures of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as well as the territories of Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Áland Islands. That’s a lot of Scandinavia in one month.

There is a wide selection of free events that are open to the public, including exhibits on Nordic design and plenty of musical performances. In fact, a total of more than 750 artists, musicians, dancers and writers, will descend upon the capital for the festival, all in an attempt to answer the question, “What is Nordic?”

There’s no simple answer to that, but at least you know it will be high on the cool factor.

[Photo Credit: Nordic Cool 2013]

Exploring A Snowy Traditional Village In Estonia

After so many years living in Spain, it was nice to visit Estonia and experience a real winter again. That numbness on the tip of your nose while the rest of your body is bundled up and warm, the way sounds get muffled by the snow, the intricate designs the icy branches etch into the sky – winter is a good season when you don’t have to experience it for too long.

The best way to experience winter is to get out into the countryside. Day trips from the capital Tallinn can be tricky, however, as the bus system isn’t the greatest. One quick way to experience country life and get a bit of history is to spend a few euros on a taxi and go to the Estonian Open Air Museum just outside of town.

This remarkable place is the Colonial Williamsburg of the Baltics. Historic buildings have been collected here from all regions of Estonia to recreate several traditional villages. Costumed employees practice traditional crafts as visitors wander around the forested paths between the villages.

I went on Shrove Tuesday, which is a special event in Estonian culture. The village tavern was serving up pig trotters with the warning not to wipe the grease off your chin if you wanted to ensure a prosperous and lucky new year. After a messy lunch that’s going to make me rich and fortunate in 2013, I headed out into the country lanes. Being the middle of a weekday, it was quiet. Visitors were spread out over the museum’s several acres and for the most part all was silent except for the crunch of my boots in the snow. Every now and then I’d hear the jingle of sleigh bells and see a happy family scoot by, driven by one of the museum employees.

%Gallery-179095%It’s a big day for kids, who go sledding on this date. For some reason sledding ensures that flax will grow tall in the new year. The child who sleds the farthest guarantees that his or her household will have the best flax crop. A gaggle of squealing Estonian kids hurtling down the slope next to one of the windmills were having too much fun to care whether the flax grew tall or not. Nearby was a merry-go-round set atop a frozen pond, spinning extra quickly on the ice.

Estonian kids have turned the making of snowmen into a fine art. Kadriorg Park, back in town, had an entire population of snowmen, snow women, snow dragons, and a snow bear climbing a tree to get a snow squirrel. Scattered around the 18th- and 19th-century buildings of the Open Air Museum I saw snowmen hanging out enjoying the holiday. It made me wonder how old the tradition of making snowmen is and why it started.

The homes, barns and churches collected here are now rarities. During Soviet times the emphasis was on collectivization and most old rural buildings were allowed to decay. So it’s a rare treat to see their distinct, homey style and watch kids play at the same games their ancestors did when these old buildings were new.

Read the rest of my series: “Exploring Estonia: The Northern Baltics In Wintertime.”

Coming up next: The Secret Tunnels Under Tallinn!

[All photos by Sean McLachlan]

Photo Of The Day: Sunset After Nemo

Last week, Winter Storm Nemo battered the Eastern seaboard of the United States with torrential snow and sleet, not to mention a bitter cold freeze that lasts to this day.

In the calm after the storm, Flickr user Peter Rood captured this image of a stunning sunset over Boston, one of the cities hit worst by the storm. Where Mother Nature wreaks havoc, she can also bring extraordinary beauty.

Do you have any winter photos from your neck of the woods? Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool or tag your Instagram photo @GadlingTravel and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.[Photo Credit: Flickr user Peter Rood]