Dead of winters

Tonight is the coldest night of this winter. The meter reads at 19.8 degree Celsius in this room. I realize that some of you may not find that cold at all but for us here in Bhopal, this is pretty cold. We aren’t really used to temperatures this low. And I am not used to wearing a full sleeved sweater while sitting before my computer. It feels odd. But thankfully this weather does not last more than a week before it starts getting warmer again. I am getting on in my years since cold never used to affect me like this before.

The severest cold in my memory happened years ago when I was seventeen. It was the senior year of my high school and I had gone up in the Utah mountains with three friends for a weekend of skiing. It was a bright and crisp January morning when we left our homes. It had snowed for several nights before that and the weekend promised ideal powder snow for cross-country skiing. By early afternoon we had managed to reach a mountain top of perfect virgin snow. We had a light meal of Snickers and hot chocolate from the thermos we carried and posed for some photos. We actually managed to get in a few hours of divine skiing done before the weather suddenly turned.

Within fifteen minutes (I kid you not) the clear skies gave way to dark clouds and high winds all around us. The visibility went down to less than ten feet and if we separated more than a touching distance from each other, we had to shout to figure out where the others were. And we were alone, miles from the nearest shelter in the Rocky Mountains with the temperature dropping rapidly. We had lost all sense of direction and since we were cross-country skiing, there were no trails or guide-posts for us to follow to safety. We knew we had about two hours of daylight left and if we didn’t make it to civilization by then we would freeze to death at night.

We decided to go downhill in a single file, each holding on to the ski poles of the guy ahead of him. By then it was snowing full force reducing visibility even further. Plus there was the wind chill factor from the howling wind all around us. Going down was not as easy as we had hoped, we kept running into trees and rocks that suddenly jumped out at us from nowhere. But we were very young and therefore full of foolish bravado. So we managed to fearlessly sing our way down. Later on we came to know that the temperature in the area we were had dropped down to minus fifteen degrees with the wind chill factor dropping it another twenty degrees. About four miles down-hill at a snail’s pace we managed to find a marked trail and followed it another two to three miles to a ski lodge. It was night by the time we got there. That is the only time in my life I have ever got a serious frost bite. In my toes to be exact along with the rest of my friends but we made it.

We didn’t learn any lessons from that day since I remember going skiing again the next weekend. The only difference was that we each took some rope to tie to each other since hanging on to each other’s ski-poles slowed us down too much. But the next time the weather favored us all the way and the ropes stayed in our backpacks.

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