Play it safe during the Adirondack deep freeze

Up until this week, extremely cold temperatures have persisted throughout the winter. (Provided photo — Joe Hackett

Although the winter season officially arrived back in December, the new season wasn’t confirmed until a recent cold snap, packing gale force winds and sub-zero temperatures settled over the region for a few days.

The deep freeze could be heard from deep in the woods, where the crack, boom and pop of frozen sap echoed through the vast stands of hardwoods. The steady popping of trees combined with the rumbling of ice on the lakes to create an all-natural “storming of the palace” that could be heard echoing from deep within the surrounding hardwood forests.

Recent weather conditions have been dangerously cold, reminding us of what an authentic Adirondack winter can be like.

I recognized the severity of the winter weather as I stepped off the back porch of my house last week. The fresh snow squeaked under foot with each step I took, and my breath turned into a fog of pixie dust that hung in the still morning air. It settled under my nose in small clouds of fog that escaped with my every breath. It frosted my mustache and froze my eyelids shut before my very eyes.

Although I made every effort to cover even the smallest patch of exposed skin, my lungs were simply not prepared for the first blast of cold air that I sucked in. I shuttered and sputtered as I gasped for air. It was an involuntary reaction, and it took several moments before I was comfortable enough to breathe normally. The entire episode was over in less time than it began, but my tonsils felt like they had been flash frozen.

It was a bracing experience. As the cold air hit my warm lungs, they instantly constricted, which brought on a coughing fit. It is easy to protect your nose, fingers and toes, but when the temperature drops down into the double-digit, minus range, you are in the danger zone. In such a circumstance, the addition of wind and or water can compound outdoor travel significantly.

While it is easy to warm up by drinking hot fluids such as hot chocolate or coffee, the consumption of alcohol has the opposite effect. While your stomach my burn after a slugging down a stiff shot of whiskey, alcohol serves to constrict the flow of blood. It may feel warm as you slug a stiff drink down, but it may affect your ability to feel the pain of frostbite, which generally occurs in the following manner, “finger, toes, ears and nose.”

The extremities are usually the first to “frost up.” If your fingers or toes are cold, put on a warmer hat and wrap a scarf around your neck. Conserve heat by covering any exposed skin, and keep moving.

On particularly cold mornings, I often stuff a couple of pocket warmers in my chest pockets, to keep the my core warm. The best way to stay warm and comfortable in sub-zero conditions is to protect the core, and keep moving. If the core stays warm, the rest of the body will as well.

If you plan to be outside for any extended period, be certain to bring along high-calorie snacks and drink plenty of fluids. It is very easy to become dehydrated in sever winter weather.

It is also wise to keep an eye on your companions, as the damage caused by severe frostbite can be extremely painful.

Our internal heating system is similar to a furnace. It will cut off the flow of blood to the extremities, in order to keep the core warm, just as a household heating system will shut down zones to warm up select rooms such as a bathroom or bedroom.

Both systems require energy, whether the source is fuel oil, wood pellets, electrical or just a good old fashion, hardy breakfast of bacon, eggs and pancakes slathered with maple syrup.

Stay warm, and travel safely. Travelers should be aware of the potential for weak and unsafe ice conditions which can compromise the thickness of the ice. Pay close attention to ice conditions, especially around docks, inlets and and boathouses with active bubblers, which can compromise the strength of natural ice cover for nearly 50 yards in all directions.

Whenever I plan to travel on ice, I wear an inflatable PFD under my under my jacket. I also carry a hockey stick and throw rope. As always, leave plans of your route and expected time of return with a responsible adult.

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