Even though I am always cold at work, I don’t mind cold weather because I learned at a young age to dress properly. The trick is not to be cold. Besides, I went to college in New Hampshire. Freshman year it did not rise above 32 degrees for a month – not fun. Then a friend told me about the Outward Bound Program, a three-month survival program. The group of students and guides share a house, cook, eat, take a course together, etc. I had always hiked in summer so I asked my friend when I should do it. Winter. Why? “Because that’s the hardest, Silly.” Gulp.
My 90 days included many adventures with snowshoes, cross-country skis, all ways to trekking deep snow, and we carried everything about 40 pounds each. We all did a solo where we were alone near the top of a mountain. No tents, just igloos we built ourselves. Mine was utilitarian and minimalist, but others built elaborate two roomed 6 foot tall palaces. WOW!! I took a vow of silence for three nights and four days. I collected and chopped firewood - fires gave me a sense of security- and wrote poems on birch tree bark. I marveled at the beauty of the stark winter, particularly the sunsets, and listened to the sounds of the wind, mountains and woods. I had no concept of time other than the sun.
Our shared class was music history and if you could see the photo of me conducting our group project in top hat, tails, huge fake mustache and a wide white tie down to my knees you would howl.
We trekked every weekend for trips of up to five days. One was an ascent of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast. I have hiked Mount Washington in the summer countless times since I was five, and have done solo multi-day trips in my “childhood summer home” of the White Mountains. However, winter is a very different story, as Mt. Washington is known for its danger due to sudden changes in weather. That day, as we approached the summit, a blizzard and white-out popped up suddenly, and it was a little scary when our experienced guides left us in a protected cove while they left to re-orient us. We huddled together and were much relieved when they came back for us. Phew!
The other “moment” was after a long day’s hike when we ended the day above the timberline, so had to build fires to melt snow for water to drink (water is frozen at that elevation) and set up camp as night fell and I ended up with mild hypothermia. Treatment? Huddle close with buddies in the same sleeping bag if possible and drink, drink, drink. I didn’t notice it because early signs are just mild confusion and fortunately, guides noticed I was acting a little off and addressed it immediately. I was fine, but did you ever smell someone in the same sleeping bag who hasn’t showered for 4 days? The ammonia could clean your kitchen floor!
We also did a marathon – I did a ten-mile run along a tree-lined snowy trail. Since we did up to five-day trips, we would miss classes and the guides would marvel at our focus and sleepless dedication to type papers, study for exams, etc. No one’s grades suffered. Those memories are some of if not the best of my life and I wish I could re-live them – chopping firewood, being outside, and yes, believe it or not, winter is beautiful and yes, there is something to be said for cold weather. Seasons will and must change but it is not necessary to hate the cold. Go with it and find a reason to love it.