Tag Archives: snow

The Wild Frontier #5: A world of illusions

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My latest column for Prospect magazine deals with whiteouts, polar mirages and icy illusions. Find the full text on the Prospect site here, or after the fold.

Under normal conditions, human perception works so well as to render its workings invisible to us. But in certain circumstances—extreme weather conditions or extraordinary places—we push beyond its limits, sliding into a world of illusions as our brain struggles to make sense of its surroundings.

The photo above was taken by me somewhere near the summit of Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, which would normally look something like this.

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Tracking badgers with Nan Shepherd

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I wrote a short postcard from the snowy Cairngorms for The Guardian’s gorgeous country diary feature. It can be found on the Guardian site here, or after the fold.  Continue reading

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Me and my Suka

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Meet Suka, my favourite husky here. She’s so dainty and delicate she deserves a life of leisure as a house dog. Wish I could take her home

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Ten things I’ve learnt from life in sub-zero conditions

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  • Below -20°C, the insides of your nostrils will crackle with frost and any hair left uncovered will gain a grey sheen, as though you have aged fifty years in a few minutes.
  • Below -30°C, nipping out the house for only a few seconds without jacket, hat and gloves becomes extremely uncomfortable. Cold metal feels like burning on contact, even through magic gloves. Eyelashes will clump with icy droplets.
  • Bowls of water will freeze solid in minutes, so to encourage the dogs to drink quickly we must mix meat or dry food into a watery ‘soup’ and feed it to them throughout the day.
  • Fingers and toes may be cold to the touch and throb, but it’s not until you have difficulty in touching thumb to pinky finger that you have to worry. Continue reading
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A baptism of fire (and ice)

Dog sleds crossing sign, Hetta

I arrive after dark, dragging my suitcase through the thick snow. But I’m barely through the door when I’m handed a pair of work boots and dispatched down to the farm.

“Do you want to get thrown in the deep end?” asks Anna, my host, but it’s not really a question. “Get your jacket on, go down the hill and follow the snowmobile tracks to a gate.”

The instructions turn out to be unnecessary – I follow the sound of barking which starts off loud and grows to a wall of noise and fury by the time I reach the kennels.

Three figures are running back and forth up the lines of dogs, pulling more from cages and running circles and harnessing them to three sleds tied to posts along a track running up the centre of the yard. The noise is incredible; I can barely hear to introduce myself to the others, but they are too harried to talk much anyway. Not knowing how to help, I hover on the sidelines and rub the forehead of one of the quietest dogs.

Ice crystals are hanging in the air, glinting in the glare of the floodlights.  The dogs are mewling, almost hysterical in excitement, throwing themselves forward and straining against the holding ropes in their desperation to be off and running.

“Get in!” someone instructs me, and obediently I hop down onto a sled full of snow, immediately soaking the jeans I’ve been wearing since I got on the tube in Kentish Town the previous morning.

A command rings out and with a jerk we are off into the dark, through the snow-tipped pine, with only a head torch for light.

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