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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Red Parka

Several people have been asking how we can survive one hour out in 10 F (-15 C) temperature, sitting on the beach and reading a book.  The answer is simple: the red parka.  It is part of the Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear that we were issued in ChristChurch before flying to Antarctica.  The ECW for us winterovers consists of three large bags full of socks, longjohns, heavy top and bottom fleeces, gloves, mittens, hats, windpants, boots, etc.  of which the red parka is by far the warmest.  The coldest temperature I have experienced so far has been -10 F (-23 C) this morning, and I felt warm with just two layers of clothing and my red parka on top ... we'll see how it does when the temperature drops to -100 F (-75 C) at the Pole in the winter.  The biggest challenge about reading a book in ECW gear is turning the pages with thick leather gloves.
Wearing my red parka near the top of Ob Hill in McMurdo

The National Science Foundation/USAP logo on the red parka

Now, going for a run is a different story, because it would be cumbersome to run in the red parka, and probably way too warm, even in subzero temperatures.  So I brought my own running clothes and have been experimenting to find the right balance of warmth and agility.  I was out running for 1 hr yesterday in -2 F (-19 C) temperature, and felt comfortable with just a single layer on my legs, just a pair of socks, and a long sleeve undershirt under my regular running T-shirt.  The only necessary addition is the balaclava. a combination head, neck, mouth and nose cover (part of the ECW gear) to prevent freezing the chin, nose, cheeks, and ears.  There is a breathing mesh in the balaclava, and it is important to breath through the mesh, otherwise the exhalation condenses and freezes on the goggles instantly, rendering the goggles useless.  Another challenge is keeping my watch running (the battery runs out of steam at cold temperatures and the watch stops running).  My MP3 player has been working well down to these temperatures, although the earphone wire becomes so rigid that it feels like it should snap any time.

Running outfit tested at -2 F (-19 C)

Our flight to the South Pole has been delayed again.  Now we are scheduled to leave on Saturday, so I will enjoy one more day of warm temperatures and outdoor activities here in McMurdo before plunging in the -40 F (-40 C) temperatures at pole.

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