Arctic Survival

Written by Roger Perron and David R. Reed

This section is entitled "Arctic Survival," but one may need cold weather skills at very high altitudes everywhere. Near the Equator in the Andes for example, the snow line is not reached until an altitude of about 5,000 meters (18,000 ft), but the nearer the poles the lower the snow line will be.

At the southern tip of South America there is permanent snow at only a few hundred meters (1,000ft). Arctic conditions penetrate deep into the northern territories of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia & Russia. Antarctica is covered with a sheet of ice. In the arctic the Pole is capped by deep ice floating on the sea and all the land north of the timberline is frozen.

Note: When in the Arctic or Antarctic, there are only 2 seasons- long winter and short summer -- the day varying from complete darkness in midwinter to 24 hours daylight at midsummer.



Arctic summer temperature can rise to 18C (65F) except on glaciers and frozen seas, but fall in winter to as low as -56C (-81F) & are NEVER above freezing point. In the northern forests summer temperatures can reach 37C (100F) but altitude pushes winter temperatures even lower than in the Arctic. In Eastern Siberia -69C (-94F) has been recorded at Verkhotansk.



Temperatures in the Antarctic are even lower than in the Arctic. Antarctic winds of 177km (110mph) have been recorded and in the autumn, winter winds reach hurricane force and can whip snow 30m (100ft) into the air giving the impression of a blizzard even when it is not snowing.



South of the Polar Cap, the ground remains permanently frozen & vegetation is stunted. Snow melts in summer but roots cannot penetrate the hard earth. High altitudes give the same conditions.


Northern Coniferous Forest

Between the arctic tundra and the main temperate lands is a forest zone up to 1300 km. deep. In Russia where it is known as Taiga, the forest penetrates up to 1650km and north of the Arctic Circle along some Siberian rivers. For only 3-5 months of the year is the ground thawed sufficiently for water to reach the roots of the trees & plants that especially flourish along the great rivers that flow to the Arctic Ocean. There is a wealth of game; elk, bear, lynx, sable, squirrel, as well as smaller creatures and many birds.


Wind Chill

Accompanied by low temperatures, winds have a chilling effect much greater than the thermometer indicates. Very cold air brought too rapidly into the lungs will chill your whole body. Under extreme conditions it may even damage the lung tissue & cause Internal Hemorrhage. Exhale completely and slowly to build 50% more resistance to the cold. An attentive control on your respiration and especially of your timing contributes to your stress control in any moments of tension or stress. Most of us breathe only half way. A sigh is used by our body to exhale completely once we have neglected to do so under stress.

Once you have been thoroughly chilled (without any injury whatever) it takes "several hours" of warmth & rest to return your body to normal, regardless of superficial feelings of comfort. When recovering from an emergency cold situation, don't venture out into an extreme cold too soon.

A 32km per hour (20mph) wind will bring the temperature of -14C (5F) down to -34C (-30F) and one at 64kmph (40mph) would make it -42C or (-34F) with even greater drops at lower temperatures. Speeds over 64kmph (40mph) don't appear to make a great difference.

Back to Training