Add Venture #6

For Explorers, Adventurers and Visual Storytellers

Sat Mar 20th, 2021

The High that Came In From the Cold

What can send you into intense giggles but scare the wits out of you? What can boost your immune system and strengthen your mind? Cold, is the word you're looking for!

They call him Ice Man. Submitted to intense cold for lengthy periods that should send body temperatures spiraling down to lethal levels, he maintains his at a cozy point through breathing and concentration. He has held world records for swimming under ice and for running long distances bare-footed over it and for sitting immersed in it for longer than bad rosé at a Provence pool party. His method has a documented track record of easing inflammation, and is claimed to boost the immune system and to be an effective tool to battle symptoms of various autoimmune diseases. It is used by explorers to accelerate acclimatisation to high altitudes. He controls his heart rate. Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof has many claims to fame, mostly related to meditation, breathing and ...

The Cold

However impressive his various feats and medical breakthroughs, however, one might ask whether the remedy isn't worse than the disease ;) After all, who wants to spend their evenings in a barrel full of ice or breathe like an angry camel in good company? Who in their right mind would take off their jumper when feeling slightly chilly, rather than adding a layer of comfy warmth? Right? Right?

Predictably, with more curiosity than good sense, I had to try ... And the reality isn't that simple. After about three years of deliberate and repeated exposure to the cold, daily cold showers, swimming in the North Atlantic, bathing in glacial rivers and lakes, using the pool more often in winter than summer, exposure to cold doesn't really feel warmer. But it is deeply ...


And that's the point! There is real pleasure in overcoming what initially felt like a weakness (Nietzsche wrote "What is happiness? The feeling that power increases—that a resistance is overcome"), in being warm outdoors when everyone else is running for jumpers, in curling up under a super thick duvet in a really cold bedroom, and in the vivifying alertness that a cold shower provides, with no need for coffee or other stimulants. There are multiple facets to enjoying the cold. Let me attempt to explain and find supporting evidence from other cold nutters out there ;) ;)

My skinny dipping pond in the glacial Fairy Pools on Skye (my son and I were far from the only ones doing this, by the way).

Travel, Adventures & Exploring

We are both terrified of the cold and fascinated by it

The polar explorations of Cook, Peary, Scott and Admunsen are the stuff of legends. More recently, Mike Horn and Borge Ousland's grueling crossing of the pole captured the imagination of millions. And even less extreme scenarios draw the crowds. Meet Jonna Jinton. The beautiful, and slightly mystical, Sweedish singer/dancer/YouTuber regularly tops one million views with her stunning drone footage and ice song videos. But her highest score ever, 30 times greater than her average, is for an ice bath video. The blend of effort, calm and satisfaction on her face and body language offer a better description of what taming your reaction to the cold does to you than words could convey. Her video presents an adventure in her backyard (well, a stunningly beautiful lake close to her home, at least ;)

Adventure is a challenge, effort and the great - and lasting - satisfaction of overcoming fears and reticence. This can be, and often is, taken to extremes. 700 people have died trying what Horn and Ousland (barely) managed. It doesn't have to. Starting a regimen of cold showers brings durable satisfaction much closer to home and only requires a go ahead from your doctor (do check!). Use good sense, breathe well and start with hot water if that's your preference. Alertness, good mood, great recovery after small sports injuries and, possibly, a stronger immune system are some of the main benefits you can expect.

Feeling warm in cold weather also provides great pleasure. My guess is that we are programmed to thrive when in phase with nature. Going on a hike one blistery and frigid day not only ensures the crowds are away, but also brings a high level of satisfaction when your clothing is properly thought out and you feel completely at ease. Of course, we're not talking extreme arctic blizzards that take you deep into survival territory here. But you can feel really great at -20°C with the right gear. The key is layering, and keeping your core warm at all times ("When the core cools, the body sacrifices the fingers and toes first by constricting blood supply in the extremities") while avoiding sweating ("By staying at a "comfortable cold" you will not sweat and if you do it is minimal."). You do not need to face a life-or-death situation to appreciate the joy of dressing properly for the cold, or suffer from ignoring those fundamental rules.

If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you're entering autumn, heading for winter. But, even in the Northern half of our blue globe, there's still plenty of opportunity to get out there and practise ere the sun starts to bake us. Get out there and have fun, like those lucky people Winter Fatbiking in Saariselkä, Finland :)  

Documenting the melting of the ice cap while attempting an unsupported crossing of the North Pole took two hardened explorers to the very limit of their physical and mental abilities.

The Nordic Morning Routine - Ice bath

by Jonna Jinton (YouTube)

A slightly romanticized but nonetheless beautiful video about bathing in a hole cut out of the ice on a gorgeous lake in Northern Sweden.

A thorough examination of how the body reacts to the cold and how to prevent ill effects through the layering of appropriate clothes.

Are there any health benefits to a cold shower?

by Alana Biggers, M.D. (medicalnewstoday)

Scientific evidence supporting the benefits of cold showers for a variety of physical and mental benefits, and tips of how to get started.

“I did a picture in England one winter and it was so cold I almost got married.”
Shelley Winters

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.”
Emily Dickinson

Photo Video & Storytelling

Unavoidably, given the strong feelings human entertain about the cold, storytelling will abound. I have included Glósóli, an Icelandic song which is a homage to the energy of the Sun, and "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow", a lovely novel that traces the female hero through the cold (and is also the last book my grand mother bought for me before passing away, so holds a special place in my heart). But more famous movies such as Into the Wild and, of course uber-famous novel The spy who came in from the cold, from which this issue's title is pulled, also come to mind. 

And, if you're going to venture out in the cold yourself, maybe photo & video will be part of the trip as well :) So here are two sides to doing this well : creating a cold ambiance in your images, or 'winterizing' them, and using your gear properly in the cold.

A guide to filming in freezing temperatures
by Andy Fry (The Knowledge Online)

Adequate clothing is covered above, but this article extends to food intake, equipment errors, use of tripods lenses and accessories in the cold, plus other elements of safety. 

Fake snow (using the befunky editor) is just one of those effects. The other 3 relate to tone and colour and can be applied to all your images in any editor.

Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow
by Peter Høeg (Harvill Press)

Grumpy 37-year-old Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jasperson uses her expertise of 

snow and ice to investigate what she feels is the murder of a child and unearths something much deeper and bigger. 

Glósóli (Music Video)

by Sigur Rós / Geffen Records (YouTube)

Glósóli, the glow of the sun (Sol). The astounding crescendo this song ends with gives you a sense of how the sun and its warmth are valued in Iceland :) (thumbnail from the video)

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People, Ideas & Gear

One other aspect of exposure to true cold has proven important to me. Much like martial arts or any potentially threatening situation, it focuses your mind completely. There's no escaping it and no room for work ruminations, social media drivel, or meaningless distractions. A few minutes of bonding with the cold also seem to reset your mind, not just your body. For busy-me, this is one more reason to love the cold. But Dana McMahan provides many other ways to at least be on good terms, even if you do not actively seek it out ;)

After a couple of years of training in the cold, I vividly remember climbing a 6,000 m peak in winter wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. Don't believe me? You're quite right ;) And neither should you believe all the claims of some other adventurers of the cold. Controversy over some bold claims has led veterans of the field to create "a system called the Polar Expedition Classification Scheme, which looks to bring a measure of clarity to an otherwise chaotic arena."

Returning to Wim Hof and his method, as a conclusion to this issue, it's important to point out the major role that breathing plays in combating not just cold but any kind of shock to our system. Radiohead sing Breathe, Keep breathing, and Emma Seppälä explains to us the profound benefits of proper breathing against anxiety. We will return to breathing in a dedicated issue. Ancient Yogis and modern medicine agree on its correlation to our well being, but it is something we neglect in our education. So, here's looking forward to that discussion.

If you've gotten this far, please leave a comment. Tell me what you think, what you agree with and what you don't. What you'd like to see covered in future issues. Let's get talking!

Instead of looking at winter as something to be endured, (...), Norwegians really lean into it. Embracing winter, preparing for it, living cozy and other tips turn haters into lovers.

In order to bring some clarity to the claims of "enthusiastic" explorers, guidelines for defining polar travel have been put in place by veterans of the field to avoid controversy.

Northern Lights Sound (Video)

by TLS (YouTube)

Fake, but so beautiful. This short video by moving image agency TLS offers its take on what the sound reported by some in auroral storms might be like.

It's really a case of body over mind here! Reverse the effects of your anxiety on your breathing and that will instantly begin to ease your worried. Scientific magic!

Images (c) myself, Benjamin Suter, Daniel Thomas, Motoki Tonn, Aaron Burden and Jan Kopriva.

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