Even though I'm grouped with the teachers and researchers going to the arctic, I'm
technically going to the subarctic. Technicalities, I know. It has to do with a specific
latitude. If I were to be more specific, I'd tell you I'm going to the Boreal forests
of the subarctic. Even more specifically, the Kluane Lake region in Canada. There are
two research stations there, and they face each other directly across a small, remote
dirt landing strip. Pretty exotic, if you ask me.
I won't be traversing sheets of ice like my good friend and fellow PolarTREC educator,
Erin Towns, will be. I won't be on a ship out at sea, looking at icebergs and glaciers.
Nope, I'll be right at home in a northern forest, among the mountains and lakes in the
alpine region. If you know me, which some of you do, you know this is my jam. I love
the mountains, the deep wilderness. So, while someday I do want to see the glaciers-
particularly before they're gone- and while it would be fairly neat to spend months on a
research vessel, my researcher, Dr. Jennie McLaren and I, matched up for a reason or two.
One of those reasons is that I have fairly expansive experience in the woods.
Along with years of experience in the woods, I also have a decent gear closet. The gear
that I've amassed over the decade plus I've been hiking, mountaineering, rock climbing,
surfing, and ice climbing is all pretty technical. I've got the basic stuff for camping-
you know, tents, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cook stove, tarps, etc. When I started doing
more extreme adventuring, like trad and sport climbing and ice climbing, a whole new
closet of gear was needed: Harnesses, ropes, pro, screws, biners, slings, ice picks,
helmets, etc. Once I got into surfing, the gear closet actually turned into my garage
because no one wants to store smelly wetsuits inside a closet, and our surfboard quiver
was a bit too large for that, anyway.
On the flip side, I actually don't own that much for clothing. I mean, I have enough to
get me outside during the coldest of Maine and New Hampshire winters, which is saying
something, I guess, but it was all pretty old. I mean, as a broke college student I spent
all my money on gear and outdoor clothing, and gas to get me where I wanted to go. But,
as I grapple with getting older (I'm at the ripe old age of 31!) I realized that those
outdoor clothes were fine a decade or more ago, but they're pretty worn and could use some
Which is how I found myself at the North Face about a month ago during an enormous sale.
Now, my history as a traveling climber and dirtbag means that I love cheap stuff. I mean,
I would never skimp on climbing pro or anything like that- that stuff is expensive, and it
probably should be. But hundreds of bucks for pants? Seventy five bucks for gloves? Come
on, that's nonsense.
So, I got a notification in my email that North Face was having a blowout sale. I, ever
so full of hesitation and cynicism, hauled myself down to Freeport where the nearest store
was, and went absolutely ham at the store. I mean, someone handed me a giant mesh bag
and told me the whole store was 25%-75% off. I filled that bag and then some, and walked
out of North Face with a brand new, entirely full wardrobe of layers, gloves, hats, socks,
pants, jackets, a new sleeping bag (it was $19, you can't not do that!), a tent, and a
really cute knit hat with a pom pom on top... just because.
Usually when I spend my money, I spend it on our farm or travel. I'm going to lump this
expenditure under "travel." My researcher, Dr. McLaren sent me a list of things she
recommends that her research team travel with. Being from the northern part of the
country, I'm well-versed in negative twenty degree weather with serious windchill,
cold precipitation. And, being a farmer during those winters, I'm also well-versed in
the concept of layering your clothing. Because if you're moving around and working in the
cold, you're bound to warm up and even get sweaty- which of course, you want to avoid.
Especially if you're out in the wilderness; nothing spells hypothermia more quickly than
getting your skin damp or wet while in freezing temperatures. The list Dr. McLaren gave me
reiterated my prior knowledge: You must layer your clothing. One puffy jacket is not
suitable in these situations.
Whenever I'm adventuring outside in the cold, I personally wear a base layer that wicks
the sweat away from my body first, then a thin fleece layer, then a small puffy jacket or
jacket that insulates, and then a windbreaker that is waterproof. Usually my windbreaker
has zippers in the armpit so you can cool yourself off without taking that directly off,
so if you're ever in the market, I recommend buying your jackets with that feature.
It's important to wear warm and wicking socks, as well. I usually pack 1-2 extra pairs
with me. Also, my ears get particularly cold, so I have a fleece headband to go under a
hat for when I eventually get too hot for the hat. I also have a (very old) Carhartt
neckwarmer, which is probably my favorite article of clothing. Gloves and mittens, and
then boots of some sort. Depending on the terrain and time of year, I have several types
of shoes to choose from. When I hike in the summertime, I simply wear trail runners.
However, during the wintertime or spring, and depending on the nature of my hiking or
mountaineering, I would wear anything from just a sturdy pair of ankle-high boots,
leather waterproof boots (which I don't use as much as I used to), or double-plastic
boots if I'm getting really serious.
Boots also come with their own set of accessories: I have gaiters and crampons that I
use depending on where I am.
Anyway, my point is, I got some sweet layers to take with me to the Boreal forests of
the Yukon. Oh, you don't know much about the climate and ecosystems of the Boreal forests?
Excellent, because my next post is going to be all about that.