1. pamedria
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    pamedria Member

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    Help describing the cold mountains...

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by pamedria, Dec 11, 2016.

    By cold, I mean freezing snowy mountains where you can die. The coldest I've ever experienced on a mountain was just the top of Ben Nevis, which was pretty cold - but nowhere near what I need to explain, so I want to read something that does so on a grand scale. I need the surrounding views, feel of the climb, and the deathly temperature, so I cannot really write based on experience for this scene. Only my imagination, which I want to do alongside research. So I mean COLD, COLD. Like Mount Everest.

    Has anyone here experienced such a climb, or such coldness? A comment describing the experience in an artistic way is what I would love, or could anyone refer me to a scene in a book, poem or anything (preferably to find online) where someone describes such surroundings, feelings and sensation? So if you know any piece of creative writing that has such a scene, please comment the name (or link, c/p) so I can look it up.

    I just need more ideas and inspiration because soon I will be writing a difficult chapter which will end in an avalanche. Any help would be really appreciated.
     
  2. OJB
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    OJB Senior Member

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    Here is an example of how I'd free write a cold mountain scene. Since you wanted COLD, I thought about frostbite and cold-induced asthma as I wrote this.

    Made of rigid rock and snow, the mountain spears the clouds above it. The cold wind comes down from the mountaintop and wraps around me; my lungs close shut and I gasp for air. Sweat and tears freeze, and my skin blackens. I hope they don't amputate my fingers and toes after this.

    If you want cold, research what happens to the human body when exposed to sub-zero temperatures. This will give you the ideas for the details you might want to add.
     
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  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've never been super-cold on a mountain, but I've gotten to the cold-enough-to-stop-shivering stage a couple times just in general Canadian pursuits when I wasn't properly dressed for the weather.

    I think the most interesting thing is how non-panicked I felt. It's apparently fairly common to find people killed by cold with their clothes pulled off, because in the later stages your nervous system goes totally out of wack and you start feeling warm and comfy. I've never gone that far but I've definitely had the "I'm just going to lie down in this snowbank for a wee nap" impulse when too cold.

    In terms of the extreme cold itself - it hurts to breathe when it's too cold out. You have to figure out a way to warm the air a little before it goes into your mouth (god forbid your nose, it'll be frozen in a second) so you can rig up scarves, etc, but then with every exhalation you leave moisture on the scarves and it eventually condenses and freezes. Wind makes a huge difference - if it's calm enough it can be quite pleasant even when the air is truly cold, but even a slight breeze makes things miserable. Any exposed skin feels tough and almost hard, even pre-frostbite.

    Hmmm... I'm not sure what else...
     
  4. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Contributor

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    I'll drop you a PM.
     
  5. antlad
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    antlad Banned

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    I think that guy that wrote Into Thin Air also wrote a book about hikers that froze to death. Try to find that.
    Writing about the extremes of temperatures is difficult. When you experience them yourself you are left with impressions, since there is not much to compare it to. You also have odd thoughts/fears that don't follow much logic; like worrying that you throat or lungs will freeze.
     
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  6. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    When it's really cold, like -30C and below, the air is very very dry. Any moisture in the air crystallises into microscopic needle-like crystals which glint prettily in the sun.

    I was taught not to breath in through my mouth as fillings contract (you can hear it happening); the nerves in your teeth die and you will end up with abscesses (don't ask me how I know :(); and you will get cold burns in your airway. Breathing through your nose allows your sinuses to warm the air before it reaches your lungs.

    Exerting yourself results in two bad things happening to you. 1) Your respiration rate goes up, increasing the probability you'll breath through your mouth. 2) you sweat, destroying the insulating properties of your clothing. The motto is: when cold, go slow.

    If, like me, you have a moustache, you end up with a HUGE moustache made of condensed, frozen moisture from your exhaled breath. Gets messy when you go back indoors.

    The lowest temperatures seem to occur when the sky is clear and the air is still. When it's cloudy it's usually warmer. Windchill is the killer though, -15C in a blizzard is infinitely worse than -30C on a still day. Caught out in a blizzard? Dig a hole in a snowbank and get out of the wind, you might survive.

    Frostnip occurs when the capillaries in your extremities, like noses, ears, fingers and toes shut down. Painless. A vigorous rub and warming them up means no harm done, but then it hurts like f%&*!

    Frostbite comes next. That's when your extremities end up like those sausages lurking at the back of your freezer, frozen solid. You will need medical attention to figure out what can be saved and what needs to be cut off. Left alone the frozen flesh will thaw and probably turn gangrenous.

    Hypothermia is a pleasant way to die. You stop shivering, you stop caring, you stop looking out for yourself and others, you become a liability to your party and you are blissfully unaware of all this. You feel tired, and in your confused mental state you might just lie down for a wee nap, from which you will never wake up.
     
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  7. pamedria
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    pamedria Member

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    Thanks to all who replied so far. All were very helpful. @Scot sorry to hear you experienced such cold before! Never heard that about the teeth. Do you literally mean the fillings in the back of your mouth could be heard?

    If that is what you mean, does anyone know when people started to wear fillings? Medieval times is very much unlikely, even among royals, so I doubt I could use that example within the novel, but it would be great if I could. Perhaps if a characters had a chipped tooth, I would imagine it would then be so painful with the nerve endings... Or by die do you mean you no longer feel anything? Were there abscesses in the actual mouth during, or after the experience?

    Have you (or anyone else) experienced a snow storm brewing and starting?
     
  8. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/mar/30/everest.features

    Ant Lad is referring to Jon Krakauer the above Death on the mountain by David Breashears also covers the expedition into thin air is about and includes so pretty descriptive stuff about being really really cold

    ETA it also covers the arival of the storm

    I can't think of another Krakauer book specifically about freezing to death - into the wild was about Christoper McCandless and his death in alaska but that wasnt hypothermia related. You might find Eiger dreams , a collectionof mountain stories by him useful
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2016
  9. big soft moose
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  10. pamedria
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    pamedria Member

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    Thank you @big soft moose ... I'll give them a read. As for the fillings, I think I'll give one of my princes a nice golden filling, to really ruin his snowy journey!
     
  11. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    I experienced three winters in Kazakhstan where the temperature could, and did, fall to -40 (C or F, it's the same). Yes, I could hear my fillings contracting in my molars. Not via my ears, but by bone conduction; sort of a strange squeaking/clicking sound. The cold kills the tooth nerve (painless) and the abscesses came later (excruciating), apparently I'm susceptible to them. Oh the joys of root canal work :(.
     
  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Reminds me of when my friends told me they had almost died on their trip when they were caught in the snowy mountains after sunset, with all the wrong clothes, and emergency rescue refused to come in due to the fog and darkness. Three out of four torches had died because the batteries had frozen, they were climbing on the edge of a cliff on a narrow ledge, and the last remaining torch kept flashing on and off. One of the girls really did want to lie down and sleep and her husband kept yelling at her to keep moving, keep moving. They were a pair of newly weds and another couple, and thankfully they made it to the top where there was a hut. In the guest book apparently they left the message, "Thank you for saving our lives."

    *shudders*
     
  13. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    "To Build a Fire" by Jack London describes a man freezing to death in Alaska, and seems to be out of copyright (or the State Dept is ignoring those sorts of things these days). Take a look:

    To Build a Fire
     
  14. matwoolf
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    White Spider:

    Tony Kurtz, 1936, lies frozen prone to the vertical ice shelf, his left arm is an icicle, the fingers of his right hand unravel a knot that shall save his life. Surely, he requires rope long enough to reach rescuers waiting 100 feet below. Over twelve hours he unstitches hemp with thumb and forefinger, but exertion is too much..

    <Ich bin tote> he says, German and untranslatable. Incident known as 'The Death Of Tony Kurtz.'
     
  15. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    Thanks. I remember reading that years ago, but couldn't remember the title or author.
     
  16. Iain Sparrow
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    Iain Sparrow Active Member

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    There's a book I listened to on audio last year, Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. It's the story of nine Soviet students, all accomplished mountaineers, and an expedition that ended in the most bizarre way imaginable. The book will introduce you to the technical aspects of climbing in below zero conditions, and more importantly, to the mindset of experienced climbers who know they have little room for bad judgment. I've read other books on mountain climbing adventures, but Dead Mountain is the best, even better than the ones that take place on Mount Everest.
    From my own experiences hiking alone in the wilds of Northern California... it never dipped below freezing so the worst I suffered was a case of goosebumps.

    http://deadmountainbook.com/pre-order
    http://deadmountainbook.com/hikers
     
  17. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    My wife and I summited Japan's Mt. Tenpo a few years ago. The weather shifted on us suddenly, but we were able to make it to the mountaineer's hut and get some coffee to warm up.
     
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  18. antlad
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    Getting killed by special forces isn't too bizarre. Military records tell the other side (twilight zone music...flight mh370...)
     
  19. Quanta
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    Quanta Member

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    Temperature on Mount Everest Wed. 4am: -27 Celsius.
    Temperature on my thermometer this morning: -27 Celsius.
    When I step out into such windless, dry cold without my gloves on, it takes a minute for my hands to feel the cold. Sinuses feel it instantly, though.
    Coldest I have experienced is -38 and I felt like a hero going about my outdoors chores.
    Someone I know who went out in extreme cold in jeans said her tights felt like frozen hams.
     
  20. pamedria
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    pamedria Member

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    Thanks for all the suggestions so far. Started reading and got great notes and quotes, but a lot to go through still! Want to make sure I have a lot of material to work with for when I start it.

    @Quanta May I ask where you're from? That's pretty damn cold. Have you been out long enough for your hairs to get iced up frosty?
     
  21. Quanta
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    Quanta Member

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    Canada, 53rd parallel. It won't be that cold all winter long, but I'm not complaining.
    It doesn't take long for hairs to get frosty from condensation of the breath, perhaps 10 minutes. A co-worker of my husband went out in this kind of cold with wet hair. When he ran a hand through it, it broke like icicles.
     
  22. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    I'm sure the wind chill is fun when its that cold - I remember one winter working as a chainsaw contractor in the UK , it was only about 5 below but working in a 30mph wind driving freezing slush in our faces was no kind of fun at all ( minus 1 deg C for every mph makes that effectively -35C) My visor kept icing over and having to be knocked off against a tree, and my protective over trousers developed a frozen layer on the outside. I couldn't feel my fingers or my toes, and my beard filled up with ice

    after four hours we said the hell with it and went to the pub to warm up
     
  23. Quanta
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    Quanta Member

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    pamedria,
    I might add that I live near the city of Prince George, thought no prince of that name ever visited.

    I sacrificed myself (with great pleasure;)) this afternoon and went on a snowshoe trek to make first hand observations about the cold. By the same occasion, I went to find a Christmas tree that I dragged with a rope all the way home. On the way in, going at a normal steady pace, I felt warm and comfortable in my four layers of clothing. On my way back and pulling the tree, I got sweaty very fast. When I stopped to catch my breath, it only took seconds to become chilled.

    It seems to me that when it is this cold, the coniferous trees are of a darker, duller green than when it gets near the freezing mark. (your characters may go through a forest on their way up the mountains.)
    This isn't so much about the cold but, on a sunny day, the snow is of a blueish-grey in the shade and of a very pale gold in sunshine and everywhere, diamonds in the snow. It looks especially magical in the moonlight. It makes me feel so fortunate, thought if I was a prince stuck in the mountains, I might wish to trade my fortune for a pub with a roaring fireplace.

    My husband works in the mountains near the Alaska border at 1371m/4498ft altitude. Up there, it is always windy, and foggy on most days. Snow started falling by the end of October and through most of November, it snowed at least 30cm every day and every night.

    Good luck with writing your scene:)
     
  24. pamedria
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    @Quanta

    Aww thank you so much for that comment! :) Very helpful indeed! It's first-hand experience too so you know it's genuine and raw. I especially like the comment about trading fortunate for the pub! Think my prince will have those thoughts. Pretty much the whole book is set in winter time, so thanks for making you comment wider about the forest as well! I remember when I was climbing a mountain in the snow around -10, I wanted to cry and was questioned every life decision I had ever made to that moment haha! I wanted to be in bed with a movie.
     
  25. Googoo300
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    Googoo300 New Member

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    Hello! As an avid hiker, Alaskan native, and hater of snow, I may be able to help! Below is a semi artistic look at what I've personally experienced. In one sentence form
    Just one tip, when hiking extreme peaks in extreme cold you want to make oxygen choices. My father always slapped me for talking, explaining that I was waisting oxygen.
    White circles around my dizzy head.
    Lungs burning every step I took.
    Kneeling was the biggest mistake I made, my knees, improberly covered, had been soaked.
    Numb toes glided across rocks
    I'm going to do a poor job describing this feeling, and it probably won't be artistic at all. Anyway, whenever I'm just walking from the house to the barn to feed the dogs I never pull on my warm socks. I ALWAYS assume that I'll be quick and won't need to. But I'm ALWAYS wrong and my feet become bricks about halfway to the barn door. I literally feels like thousands of needles digging into my skin every step. In very cliche words, every time my foot hits the ground I can feel my bones breaking and I get hot tingles.
     
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