Explorers Guide 2. How to travel safely in Ice and Snow

Nowadays remote destinations that just a few years ago were unobtainable are far more accessible to travellers, trips and expeditions in cold areas are fast becoming popular for sports, photography and adventure travel, by far the coldest place I have ever been to is Antarctica and I would have struggled had I not been well prepared for the trip with the correct clothing and kit, so it is essential to plan it out.

North wall of the Eiger

Below is a kit list and some travel tips which I hope will be a useful guide for you.

Kit List

If you are going to a very remote area and stepping on land, such as Antarctica, aim for new kit, this is so that you do not contaminate the area, before you are permitted to step on Antarctic land you will be instructed to have hoovered zips and pockets to ensure no seeds are stuck there and any boots are soaked in a special detergent to kill any potential germs off, then you step on land. Therefore, if you go for new clothes, you will not have to go through this procedure out there.

*In cold places you will wear the same layers daily, go for Merino for your inner layers every time, it will stay fresh without the need for washing the garments and it will keep you insulated.
Merino wool cleverly regulates your body temperature, so that you neither get too hot or too cold, it also wicks away any sweat from your body and has antibacterial properties allowing you to wear it long term, which is handy if camping or doing longer treks or climbs.

Wear your clothing loose and in layers.

Make sure that you have a decent, waterproof pair of gortex hiking boots that are comfortable and slip proof, you can get boots which have a thermal tread in to keep feet warm and some boots will protect feet in up to – 30 in extreme cold, handy if you will be standing still for long periods.

Rubber Wellington Boots
Good quality wellington boots are useful to have for short walks in icy conditions as they are rubber with a good tread, if you prefer walking boots, ensure that you have some protective spray to keep them sealed and waterproof throughout the trip.

These are waterproof leggings which are great for waterproof protection if you are wearing hiking boots in areas of deep snow or slush and strap on over your boots and can be pulled up to about calf height, light and easy to pack.

Merino wool Layers
You need to wear layers in cold weather as they insulate your body trapping heat, layering for a cold trip consists of base layers, mid layers and an outer waterproof shell.

I would recommend two pairs of each under layer as it is always good to have a spare in case you get wet in the snow, when I went to Antarctica I bought the Merino Icebreaker brand which was superb, I wore these layers for 6 weeks straight and they were still odour free at the end of the trip.

Leggings (legs 1st under layer)
For your legs under layer Merino Icebreaker is an excellent thermal brand and will keep you very warm for extreme cold temperatures

Fleece trousers
(legs 2nd under layer)
A Pair of loose fitting fleece trousers which will easily fit over the top of your thermal leggings for an extra layer of heat, you will be thankful for these if you are out for several hours standing still filming or photographing.

Waterproof down filled outer Trousers (legs outer shell layer)
Your outer layer must be waterproof, for very cold places go for goose feather downy filled trousers. North Face, Rab and Patagonia brands do some excellent downy filled trousers so that you stay warm and dry, remember that once you get wet in the cold it is very difficult to warm up again.

Avoid the cheaper waterproof trousers as they can cause a great deal of sweating and trapping water will make for an uncomfortable time as you will get hot and bothered.

Under Tops (upper body 1st under layer)
There are many under layer tops on the market these days but Merino Ice breaker are still the best in my opinion and you can get them vest style and long sleeved, I would get both.

Middle Top (upper body 2nd layer)
Go for a warm fleece that you can throw on over the top of your under layer, get a good one from a reliable company such as Rab, Northface or Patagonia, Helly Hanson has started to produce some better quality clothing too, but try it, see how it feels on you.

Outer Shell
A waterproof Parka is by the far the best thing you could get as an outer shell, if you go for anything else just ensure that it is both waterproof and a downy filled jacket, to keep out those biting cold wind chills.

You could take a lighter jacket as well just so that you have some freedom and are not reliant on the heavier coat all of the time.

*If you have a warm base such as a log cabin or boat, then take a ‘onesie’ or some fleece loose clothing for evening casual comfort, think carefully about footwear for casual times too, pack something easy and light to wear as an alternative to heavy boots.

Thermal Sleeping Bag
If you are camping you will need a proper thermal downy sleeping bag, get a hooded one that you can get maximum protection from.

Socks and liners
Firstly you will need silk sock liners, these are fantastic for keeping the cold out and feet are prone to the chill creeping in, these can be ordered off the internet for approx £12 a pair, worth every penny, a spare pair would be advisable if you are going for several weeks.

Your main socks need to be woollen, hard wearing and thermal, always carry extra pairs with you, there is nothing worse than wet feet and pulling on a pair of dry socks will help to warm them up as a temporary measure if you are out and about.

Gloves and liners
Hands are very prone to the cold and frostbite is always a possibility without gloves, never underestimate the dangers of not wearing gloves, as with the socks I would advise a pair of silk gloves underneath as a liner for extra comfort and warmth. Again, take two pairs of silk glove liners, just to be sure, it really is worth it.

For your outer gloves you will need super warm WATERPROOF gloves, snow gets everything wet and it is miserable having wet gloves on hands, there are tons of good gloves on the market, you will be spoilt for choice, always try them on to see how they feel before buying them.

One of these should go in your back pack, if you are out at night when the temperatures are really chilled or if you are travelling at speed, such as on a snow mobile, these are great to keep off the windchill.

Hats and Scarves
A must for the cold as we lose so much body heat from our heads, make sure the hat covers your ears as they are also at risk of frostbite, a woolly beanie hat is ideal, preferably with a fleece lining, this will keep you snug.

Scarves or Buffs are required to keep your neck extra warm, avoid bulky thick scarves, instead go for a thinner insulated one, nothing too long, the shorter the better so that it does not get in the way.

Sunglasses and Goggles
These are absolutely essential if you are around snow, when the sun hits the snow it reflects UV radiation dazzling brilliant white and without the aid of sunglasses you will not only struggle to see properly you run the risk of damaging your eye sight.

Snow blindness can occur over large reflected snow or ice areas without sunglasses causing a feeling of grit in the eyes, then red eyes which get increasingly painful on movement and intense headaches. This is followed by the risk of permanent sight damage, always ensure that your sunglasses and goggles have the maximum UV protection, the cheaper ones without UV are of no use.

If you lose your sunglasses and are in a remote area you will have to use your initiative and use a strip of material such as a bandana and cut slits for the eyes, if you are hit by snow blindness bandage your eyes and rest quietly until the symptoms ease up.

Goggles will be needed for activities such as Snow Mobiling, Skiing or Husky Dog Sledding, in fact anything at speed in outdoor icy weathers, go for tinted, good quality ones that do not fog up.

Sun cream
Its very important to have a high factor sun cream where there is snow as the sun can reflect up to 80% UV light from the sun rays causing sunburn, make sure you have plenty of sun cream, even if it is just your face that is exposed, go for a minimum of factor SPF 30.

Lip Salve
Take plenty of lip salve and keep it with you at all times, the wind chill will get any exposed areas within a few days, when I went to Patagonia and Antarctica, I had cuts under my nose and across my lips which remained as irritating bleeding open wounds for the entire trip.

Use your lip salve or some vaseline under the nose, under the eyes and on the lips, sun cream anywhere else, this will help those vulnerable areas splitting open from biting winds.

Male or female you will need some of this at the end of each day, if you are camping and cannot have a proper wash, clean and refresh your skin using a moisturiser with a flannel or wipe, a handful of snow can be used to clean away sweat and freshen up.

Travel First Aid Kit
Make sure you take a small First Aid Kit with you, these can be bought in Boots or any adventure store or you can make your own one up, but the kits are such good value nowadays that you may as well buy one readily made.

Always take plenty of water in remote areas

Tempting as they are, avoid alcohol and caffeine, instead drink water. Most people drink water in hot places but forget to keep hydrated in cold places believing that they do not need to drink as much, but we need to drink as much in the cold as in the heat.

Our bodies need to have a temperature of 98 degrees to remain healthy, the body uses water to regulate temperature, if we get dehydrated we risk getting headaches, dizziness, nausea and hypothermia.

The clothes layers that you wear will absorb or wick away any moisture that evaporates in the air so you must drink water to replace the loss of this, so keep water with you and drink it steadily throughout the day.

If you are on the go, climbing or hiking long distances a Camel Pack for water is really useful, this consists of a clear plastic holder similar in shape to a hot water bottle, except it is for drinking water, it has a handy tube coming out of it to drink from and can be strapped to your back.

Our bodies cleverly tell us when we are dehydrated by the colour of urine, if it is a dark yellow then your body is telling you to drink more, urine should always be light and clear for a healthy hydrated person, check its colour in the snow if unsure.

Check what the terrain will be like, will you be hiking over long distances? Will it be mountainous or flat? Research as much as you can and cater to the area making it a safe and successful trip.

If it is a remote area, with no shops or civilisation then there is no margin for error, you must ensure that you take the right kit, pack it by rolling garments up to save space, do not over pack, take just what you need, always have a back up plan, let people know exactly where you are going and when you expect to return.

On the Ice Trek, Patagonia 2010 A.K. Exhibition image

High Altitude
This is something that you must be very vigilant on, always check how high the altitude of the areas that you will be visiting, as altitude can catch you out and affect you extremely quickly.

I got caught with altitude as I tried to climb the Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador too quickly without testing my ability or tolerance to the high altitude, it is one of the highest volcanoes in the World and stupidly I went for it without the proper preparation, consequently I suffered from High Altitude Sickness.

I remember feeling violently sick, my mind did not seem to work properly and putting one foot in front of the other felt rather like trying to run in treacle, stumbling about up there I quickly became dizzy and disorientated with the addition of a bleeding nose.

I had a similar experience the following day and had to have oxygen, it took me 3 days to fully recover from the sickness, headaches and dizzy spells and Doctors suspect that I may have suffered some permanent damage to my health from this, so please do not underestimate how serious this can be.

*Slow and steady is the key and acclimatise as you go, if you are unsure of how high you can go, try it in stages and start walking up mountains to see how you get on, NEVER go alone, always take your phone, wear red or another bright colour to enable easy spotting for search parties, take at least one other person with you and let people know where you are going and approximately what time you are expecting to be back.

Acute Mountain Sickness and High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema

These are very serious conditions, if you are aware of your symptoms start heading back down straight away before it gets too bad. Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS as it is often referred to can occur through climbing or walking too fast without acclimatising first, (which was my mistake), if you are dehydrated or carrying super heavy equipment this can also be a factor for AMS.

The symptoms of AMS include headaches, breathlessness, dizziness, nausea and loss of balance therefore, the best way to stop it is to descend with oxygen to a sensible drop of 3000 feet which should make a great difference and allow for recovery.

If the individual does not recover though they can then develop further problems which are very serious and can be life threatening, symptoms to look out for are a dry cough and breathlessness even when laying down at rest. It is essential that you descend if you have these symptoms, as if left fluid can build up in the lungs leading to death.

Frostbite can quickly creep up on you if you are not careful, it is caused by frozen tissues which become sold and the main areas to be hit by this are the face hands and feet.

In the first stages make moving slow and painful, the skin will look a sickly dull white colour the second more serious stage of frostbite is where there is no movement at all and the skin turns black, limbs are usually amputated if it gets this far.

In order to prevent frostbite, in the first instance wrap up as we have discussed, keep hydrated and keep movement going, scrunch your face up and wiggle your fingers and toes within gloves and socks to keep your circulation going.

I had light frostbite when I was in Antarctica, as foolishly I would remove my gloves on one hand to take photographs, I found that hand became very stiff and really painful to move during the rest of the trip, it was white in colour from lack of circulation, it has been painful and stiff periodically ever since.

I keep my hands warm in winter and massage the bad one whenever I get pain, feet and hand warmers are great if you have room for them in your backpack, you can buy them in Boots or any adventure store, open the packet and put inside your gloves, they stay warm for about 6 hours.

Trench Foot
It is important to keep feet and hands dry in cold weather, if you get wet you need to dry off as soon as possible and put clean, dry clothing on.

The tell tale symptoms of trench foot are tingling, numbness and pain, the skin will look white, waxy and shrivelled, eventually as more nerve damage develops the skin will turn black, the same as with frost bite.

Gangrene can occur and again amputations would be the result of extreme trench foot, keep extra pairs of socks and gloves in waterproof sacks or bags and ensure you dry off in good time.

A plus about travelling to the colder climate for those who are prone to getting bitten is that you will not be bugged by mosquitoes or other biting insects, however there will be some wildlife to consider.

Always research the area you are exploring and be aware and respectful of the wildlife, remember it is their home, essentially you are in their territory. In Antarctica for example Fur Seals may look cuddly but if you get too close they will run at you and a bite will fast become infected as they carry some very nasty bacteria in their teeth. It is strongly advised that you give them space, there is a general ‘5 meter rule’ of not getting too close when photographing them.

Skuar birds will dive at you if you get too close to their nests, they can also spit a nasty acid which can cause blindness, do not look up at them and keep your head covered, retreat straight away and give them some space.

If you travel to the Arctic then you will have Polar Bears to contend with, again be very aware of your surroundings and what is around you at all times, do not wander off alone, stay alert and you should be fine.

Getting stuck in snow
There are a few techniques of getting out of deep snow, the bets one that I was taught is if you are walking along and suddenly find yourself waist deep, you need to act fast and kick steps into the snow so that you can get out before it compacts around you.

Use a stick
Long sticks or hiking poles are good for testing the ground ahead of you as you walk to see how deep the snow is, I have experienced small crevasses which cannot be seen under the snow, use caution, never trust what you see with the naked eye.

How to make a snow cave shelter

Snow can make a surprisingly warm place to sleep due to its insulating qualities, igloos have been used for thousands of years by Eskimos and others who live or work out in cold climates.

Put some thin waterproofs on for this task, and either look for a snow drift which is deep enough to form your shelter in, about 3 metres is the recommended depth or make yourself a snow mound.

You can dig a shelter out of a snow mound quite easily, just pile up as much snow as you will need, form an entrance and continue digging into it, patting the snow walls to compact it and use any melted ice water to seal the ceiling and walls so that they stay in the formation of your little shelter.

Build your sleeping platform higher than the cave entrance and always dig a small trench around it to keep it from touching the cave walls, this will prevent your body heat from melting the cave walls and protect the structure.

Make your walls at least 12″ inches thick and build in a small air vent, make sure you are happy it is secure before you get in, once you are sure it is stable, this igloo will make a great little shelter.

If you are intending to take images out there, take plenty of spare camera batteries, I have watched a fully charged battery drain within seconds out in the extreme cold, use your body heat to warm your camera and batteries if either stops working. It will happen so be patient and just work with it, take a waterproof carry bag you can seal for any spare lenses to keep them safe.

Inform people of your whereabouts
Always let people know where you are heading to and approximately how long for, this is essential if you are going to any remote or mountainous areas so that a rescue can be organised for that area, saving time saves lives.

Enjoy it!!!!

Last but not least, have fun, the planet has some truly amazing areas, some of the most beautiful places I have ever been to are in the cold with stunning ice and snow scenery and to be in the quiet wilderness without the noise and pollution of traffic is hard to beat.

Listen out for any wildlife and enjoy the stillness and peacefulness.

My view of Everest