It took just a spark of an idea to start planning for an overnighter in the coldest night of the year. Like in elsewhere in Europe last week was pretty damn cold. How cold it actually is I discovered this week when I shaved off my 3-months-in-growing beard. Now it really was cold and I’ll never do that again in the middle of the winter. So for the weekend of 03-05.02 the night temperatures were supposed to fall under -30C. I whimped out on Friday night, but was out there on Saturday. Skis were the obvious choice of transportation and location was again Ohepalu. It was conveniently close to evacuate when something went AWOL, but still with enough untouched places and frozen bogs to explore. The weather during the day was OK for touring despite the constant -25C, but you don’t want to take off your mittens for any period of time. Moving keeps the core warm, but fingers and toes are in danger.
Into the Pinnacle I stuffed my two army issue sleeping bags, designed to be used as a double bag. The bags are made by Carinthia and models are Defence1 for the summer bag and Defence4 for winter. As the latter had a extreme temperature of -38C then I considered myself good. For ground insulation I took the 8mm thick Multimat Adventure and Thermarest Z-lite to be put inside BPL Vapr Bivy. That didn’t left much room for anything else in my bag. As the main effort was getting through the night, I didn’t push very hard on the skiing part and therefore too only one extra fleece for the evening.
I arrived at the parking spot at about 4pm was soon off to the bog. It took time for my fingers and toes to become warm, but otherways it was good. Frost started to form quickly at my beard too. Didn’t need a ski mask at all. The sun was already setting, but as I had only 5km to go before the camping place I was in no hurry. The snow carried very well and as the threes are scarce and small then the skiing was very easy. I crossed occasional moose, boar and maybe fox tracks, but didn’t see any movement.
In two hours of skiing I arrived to the Ohepalu lake and started preparing for the night. As the mittens are quite clumsy then I had to work in liner-gloves. Not very easy as I had to warm hand after every 5 minutes. To trap some radiating heat I also set up the trap. After that it was time to fire up the stove. As I had kept the fuel-bottle in my pocket I had no trouble getting the fire going and soon the pasta was cooking. It really isn’t a good idea just to sit there and watch the fire boiling as it get’s really cold. So I experimented a little with long exposures and ran around to keep warm. I don’t have a little thermometer so I can’t tell the exact temperatures, but it was cold.
At about 8pm I climbed into the bag, closed up and tucked in. I really can’t fall asleep that early and when I’m not properly tired so I just was there, with my headlamp on a low beam watching my vaporizing breath, listening the occasional loud crack when trees gave up in the cold. No animals moving, no wind. Really absolute silence. So my mind just wondered for a while. It was warm inside, though I needed to change socks. Turning the smaller bag so that the zipper of the two bags are in different locations helps to avoid the weak-spot in insulation. The zipper has a flap covering it, but I can feel that it’s colder there. I have closed up the bag as much as possible, but that seems to drop the oxygen level in the air and it feels hard to breathe. So I open it up more, but cover the hole with the inner bag so I can easily ventilate. There isn’t really much space to wiggle around, but I manage to switch sides nevertheless. So hours pass as I doze off, but I can’t remember it. I seem to be awake all the time, but there are longer gaps when checking the watch. Come the morning I even remember dreaming.
The moon that has so brightly illuminated the surroundings for most of the night is now hidden behind the trees, but at some point there is new light appearing from the east. I had chosen the spot for that very reason – to see the sunrise. But it gets light long before the burning hot red disc appears over the horizon. I remember seeing in some calendar that the sun should be up about 0830, but there is enough light for anything an hour earlier. So I still lay there, peeking out the hole occasionally, waiting for the sun.
An afterthought is that I should have started moving in the first light, because it get really-really cold for a while when the sun is coming up. At some point I came to the conclusion that I can watch the sunrise whilst skiing also so I hurry to get dressed, stuff some cereal bars into my body and drink tea. I had made a liter of it when still in home and in the morning I can give the designers in Primus credit for an excellent job. I took the thermos into the sleeping bag in the middle of the night and in the morning there is tea is still warm enough. Let me buy you a round when we meet.
And it really is cold. Toes and fingers are numbing quickly and when I start skiing I’m a bit worried. When I reach the lake itself I follow the shore I try to get warm, but it doesn’t work. So it’s body over mind. And I turn back to ski around the lake another time. IT takes about an hour to reach the car. On the way I encounter a feeding area for wild animals. Tracks are everywhere and I find a homemade pair of skis. After that it’s a small clearing to cover and some willow to push through, but it’s good because it helps to warm up my toes and fingers. When I reach the car and turn on the ignition the displays tell me that it -29,5C outside. With the sun already warming it doesn’t feel that bad. What is bad is that the car won’t start. It’s promising for the first few times, but then I leave it to be. Fortunately there is a village nearby and I ski there looking for a help. That leads me into a guesthouse and a friendly owner whose son eventually helps me out. While waiting for him we chat with the owner and the three guests about different stuff. They seem to be interested how I managed to get through the night as it was -33C during the night. Hearing that digit brings a smile to my face as there hasn’t been much colder during this winter and later I found out that it was maybe 2 degrees colder at most in Estonia that night. After spending about 1,5 hours at the guesthouse I head home.
Again some experience gained, gear tested and places visited.