Northern Alaska winter trip

5:01 p.m. on January 27, 2008 (EST)
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I am heading off to Coldfoot Alaska (Arctic Circle) via Fairbanks from Feb 14th 08 for a few days and would like some advise on what i need to ensure that i have on my trip.
I am going to photograph the Northern Lights so i will be outdoors and not active for a while, and at nights.
While i am out there i wll also do a hike just outside Coldfoot.
I have never been anywhere close to this kind of temperatire so all help is appreciated.
To give you a start i have the foll:
Cap 2-4 baselayers (top and bottoms)
North Face Fleeces -TKA 100 & 200 -(top and bottom)
Patagonia Micro Puff jacket & Patagonia Down Parka (just got this one because i dont trust the micro puff)
Sorel Timberwolf
Insulateed pants
Gloves (Patagonia windproof)
Thanks for the advice.

8:42 p.m. on January 28, 2008 (EST)
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Well, that's a start. But unless you are moving all the time, that won't be adequate. Take a look at the Feathered Friends, Marmot, Western Mountaineering, Mountain Hardwear, North Face, and other similar catalogs at their expedition parkas, overpants, and full suits. You will be encountering temperatures in the -60F and below range, with windchills that go much below that. Since you will be doing a lot of standing around with the camera on a tripod, you won't generate a lot of heat as you would if moving and exercising.

For boots, you need to look at double boots. The Sorels might be adequate, though I found mine in similar conditions to what you will encounter to be slightly on the cool side (and that was with Patagonia expedition weight long johns, the Marmot stretch suit underwear, Marmot 8000 meter top and bottom, and a wind shell over top, and I have warm feet and hands compared to most people).

By the way, Coldfoot is a fair distance north of the Arctic Circle, so you will have about 8 and a half hours of daylight in mid-February. We were at Marion Creek, about 5 miles north of Coldfoot.

1:09 a.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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Besides the double boots. I would look at getting some wicking socks, then over the socks wear some thick wool socks. Same for gloves. Where some wool liner gloves under you really warm gloves.

I also suggest a very warm hat, and maybe one that has some face protecting as well... a good neck gator will do you some good as well.

1:01 p.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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1,902 forum posts

A friend of mine was in AK shooting a documentary on a glacier a few years ago. He bought a pair of what look like moon boots-not the trendy designer boots, but the thick insulated boots with the big soles. Can't remember the brand, but the soles on them are about 2 or 3 inches thick. They look like something a snowmobile rider would wear.

They might be these-

I would also take some insulated mitts like TNF makes and a pair of gloves with the fingertips cut off that look like cycling gloves. For liner gloves, I like OR PS150s or whatever their current model is.

Heat Factory also makes gloves and mitts that have zipper pockets for small chemical heat packs. They also make a boot insole that holds the same pack-those work for about 6 hours or so. I have those and only tried them once in a ski boot-they were way too warm for the weather I was in, so I know they work.

11:26 p.m. on January 31, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks a lot guys. Very helpful.
ONe question for Tom D. Why the gloves with the finger off?

12:59 p.m. on February 1, 2008 (EST)
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I sometimes use fingerless gloves and a mitten that the end flips up. This is to be able to manipulate camera gear in winter conditions mostly. However, for Coldfoot in February, I would rely on a thin silk or synthetic liner instead. Even though I have warm hands compared to most people, I have found that in sub-zero conditions, and especially handling metal (lens barrels or adjusting a ski binding, for example), the heat drains very rapidly. Closest I got to frostbite was on a backcountry ski tour at -40 (F or C, since both are the same at that point) and a wind of 20 knots (we measured both with a Kestrel 4000). I needed to make an adjustment to my ski binding (tele). In the 2 or 3 minutes I had the outer gloves off, my fingers became noticeably cold and numb. They were warm again in 5 minutes after putting the gloves back on, but it was scarey to have my fingers start losing feeling. I have seen too many people with frostbite, and it ain't pretty. The liner glove thing has worked for me in the Alaska Range and in Antarctica.

4:58 p.m. on February 2, 2008 (EST)
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What about using the camera. Is there anything i should be aware of with using the camera in those conditions?
like, will it work ok? is there any accessory i should pick up before i leave? different kind of batteries (AA) etc?

9:16 p.m. on February 3, 2008 (EST)
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That's much too long a subject for here, but a few hints. Check what your camera manufacturer says about extreme cold conditions. I use Nikon SLRs and DSLRs, and have had no problems in the Arctic Range (all the way to the top of Denali) and in Antarctica at temperatures in the -30 and below range (look at my article on Antarctica in the News section of Trailspace). On the other hand, I did have a problem in Antarctica with Barb's little Canon P&S due to the cold between Low Camp and High Camp headed down from Vinson. That camera takes AA batteries. Canon is very explicit to NOT use lithium AAs in their P&S cameras that accept AA batteries. Several people down there told me that they had problems with Canon DLSRs, particularly the zoom lenses. Keeping the camera warm seems to help - keep it inside your parka where possible, but shield it from moisture (for example your perspiration inside your parka can condense on and in the camera, then freeze quickly when you take the camera out). Chemical handwarmers in the camera case help a lot (I use Zing neoprene cases, and sometimes use the foot and toe warmers with adhesive to stick to the back of the camera close to the battery compartment, though I only used the warmers one day in Antarctica, and that was on the Canon P&S after the day it froze up). Most of my group in Antarctica had Nikon DSLRs, none of which had problems.

There are some tricks to imaging aurorae. I would suggest you get one of the very good books on shooting aurorae and in cold conditions. Your neighborhood Borders has a good selection of nature photography books these days, many digital, many including cold weather tips.

June 20, 2018
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