As we enter the season in which mega-storms dump biblical quantities of snow on the Northeast, often bringing normal life and public transportation to a halt and leaving residents helpless to do much other than day drink and eat frozen pizza, or maybe not helpless but with a good excuse to day drink and eat frozen pizza, we turn our thoughts to the human relationship with cold.
When it comes to cold history, there are many great moments, including a seemingly excessive number that have occurred during Green Bay Packers home games. But those are less relevant to the world of adventure than, say, the invention of snowmaking, or the beginning of ice farming in Ouray, Colorado. Today, we honor a few subjective moments in the history of cold.
1. Huronian Ice Age, 2.4 billion years ago
It was the first ice age, and one of the longest – about 300 million years. There wasn’t a hell of a lot going on at the time, as far as outdoor recreation was concerned, especially because the only life on earth during that time was unicellular.
2. The crew of The Endurance survives two Antarctic winters, 1915
Fast-forward a bit to more relevant times, to one of the greatest survival stories ever: In October 1914, Ernest Shackleton and crew sail to Antarctica intending to complete the first land crossing of the continent. On January 18, 1915, the ship was stopped by sea ice, and by January 24, it was completely icebound. For more than nine months, the men stayed with the ship, finally abandoning it when the sea ice squeezed the ship until it splintered and began to take on water. Fifteen months after the shipwreck, Shackleton and five other men sailed a 22-foot lifeboat for 16 days across 800 miles of the Southern Ocean to South Georgia Island, where the only population lived in whaling camps on the opposite side. Shackleton and two men crossed the then-unexplored, unmapped island for two days, finally walking into Stromness, their first human contact in more than a year and a half. It took just over two months to organize and complete the rescue of the remaining crew, who had by then been stranded for more than 19 months since the ship first became stuck in the ice. No one died.
3. Mount Washington labeled “Worst Weather in the World,” 1940
In 1940, meteorologist Charles Brooks penned an article in Appalachia magazine titled “The Worst Weather in the World,” in which he explains that Mount Washington actually does not have the worst weather in the world-but somehow, in the past 75 years, we’ve gone ahead and said so (maybe because the weather up there is really cold and windy sometimes). Brooks’ article concluded: “Thus it appears that while we cannot claim that Mount Washington is at times colder than anywhere else on earth, the severy of its climate at the worst seems to be equalled or slightly exceeded only on the very highest mountains of middle or high latitudes and in Antarctica’s ‘Home of the Blizzard.'”
4. Snowmaking invented, 1950
Wayne Pierce and his partners Art Hunt and Dave Richey started building and selling skis in Connecticut in 1947, and did well but saw their sales slump during the winter of 1949, when no snow meant no skiing. Pierce came to work one day with a solution: making snow with a 10-horsepower paint-spray compressor, spray gun nozzle, and some garden hose. The men made about 20 inches of snow one day in March 1950 in Milford, Connecticut, and patented their design, selling the patent and the company.
5. First winter ascent of Mt. McKinley, 1967
On February 28, 1967, Dave Johnston, Art Davidson, and Ray Genet became the first climbers to stand on top of Mt. McKinley-and they almost didn’t live to tell about it. A storm covered Denali as they descended, and at 18,000 feet, they dug a snow cave and waited it out, unable to even sit up for six days. Davidson’s book about the climb, borrowing its title from the lowest temperature the men estimated on their descent, Minus 148 Degrees, became a mountaineering classic.
6. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield invent Ben and Jerry’s, 1978
In May 1978, college dropout Ben Cohen and rejected med school applicant Jerry Greenfield opened an ice cream parlor in an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont. Then they took over the world with their high-particulate ice cream flavors like Phish Food, Chubby Hubby, and New York Super Fudge Chunk.
Luke Skywalker Han Solo cuts open his Taun Taun and shoves Luke inside so he can survive, 1980
Although this event actually took place A Long Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away, most of the world first heard of it in 1980, in the film The Empire Strikes Back. For a certain generation, the documentation of this event is the first awareness of cold-weather survival tactics.
8. First winter ascent of Everest, 1980
The Polish missed out on the first ascents of most of the high-altitude peaks due to the rules against their participation in international expeditions in post-WWII communist Poland. No one was badass enough to climb, or even think about climbing 8000-meter peaks in winter until Polish climbers said it could be done. On February 17, 1980, Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy summited Everest, and in the years following, Polish climbers claimed the first ascents of six other 8000-meter peaks.
9. Man’s head freezes to ground during Breckenridge’s Ullr Fest, 1984
Ullr Fest is moderately famous for many reasons, one of those being the partying. Sometimes people get really drunk at the enormous Ullr Fest bonfire and crazy things happen. In 1984, a guy passed out in a nearby parking lot, and by the time he woke up, the temperature had dropped to -15 Fahrenheit. The man discovered his head was frozen to the ground. He screamed until the fire department arrived and freed his head with warm water and a chisel.
10. Coldest temperature ever recorded, 1987
On July 21, 1987, the coldest ground temperature in the history of Earth, -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit, was recorded at the USSR’s Vostok Station in Antarctica.
11. Two guys lay the foundation of what will become the Ouray Ice Park, 1991
After two decades as an ice-climbing destination, folks in Ouray, Colorado, noticed that the Uncompaghre Gorge on the north end of town had some pretty great potential for single-pitch ice climbs-in addition to what naturally formed every year. Climbers Gary Wild and Bill Whitt put together some PVC pipe, garden hoses, and showerheads, and began “farming” ice in the gorge. Eventually, their vision would become the Ouray Ice Park, with more than 200 ice and mixed routes.
12. Beck Weathers comes back from the dead on Everest, 1996
In 1996, guide Rob Hall’s client Beck Weathers found he was blinded at high altitude, an effect of radial keratotomy surgery. Hall told Weathers to wait at about 27,000 feet while Hall continued to the summit. Hall never came back, and eventually another guide short-roped him down. Unable to find Camp IV, Weathers and a handful of other climbers were left so others could summon help, and a disoriented Weathers wandered off into the night. He survived an open bivy while everyone assumed he was dead, then stumbled into Camp IV the next day, where other climbers thought for sure he would die, and tried to just make him comfortable. Unable to eat, drink, or cover himself in sleeping bags in his tent, Weathers survived another freezing night, and was eventually able to walk back down to Camp II, where he was rescued by helicopter in one of the highest-altitude medical evacuations ever.
13. Cory Richards survives an avalanche on Gasherbrum II, makes great movie, 2011
On February 2, 2011, Cory Richards, Simone Moro, and Denis Urubko pulled off the first ascent of 26,362-foot Gasherbrum II, without supplemental oxygen or porters. On the way down, the three were buried in an avalanche. They all survived, and Richards’ unflinching camera work later became the movie Cold, which won the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.
14. Let It Go from Frozen, 2014
This was probably a great moment for your kids in 2014. A moment that seemed to last months, or as long as the first ice age.
Top photo: Mt. Washington Observatory