Trail Dispatch – Sunburns


Coordinates: 69.44.011 N, 80.47.748 W
Distance Traveled: 33.81 mi / 54.41 km
Weather: Temp 12°F / -11°C, Wind 5 MPH / 3 KPH
Barometric Pressure: 1049 hPa
Cloud cover: Clear
Sunrise: 3:17 a.m.
Sunset: 11:28 p.m.

There can be no fashion consciousness when your skin is burning. Ever since we left Clyde River, the sun has been relentless. It rises well before we wake and doesn’t set until we are fast asleep. It reflects off all the white snow and ice and burns even the undersides of our noses and under our chins.

Each one of us has his or her own methods for trying to protect our skin. Stetson, Abby and I slather on the zinc oxide sunblock and don baseball caps and bandanas. We joke that with the thick white paste on our faces we look a bit like geishas or clowns. One day when my zinc layer was especially thick, Stetson asked if I was trying to scare away the polar bears.

Will covers up with his hood and a leather “beak” that attaches to the bridge of his sunglasses and covers his nose and cheeks. The famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner gave the beak to Will when they were both preparing for expeditions in Antarctica in 1990.

sunburn_02.jpg Ed Viesturs’ preferred method for beating the sun is to wear a baseball cap, glacier glasses and a hood. It’s difficult to stay cool enough with a hood up, however, when the sun is warm and you’re exercising.
Even with our vigilance against the UV rays, our skin is taking a beating. The other day when I finally crawled inside the shelter of my tent, I looked at my face in the mirror on my compass and saw, much to my horror, that the skin was flaking off in sheets.

It’s not just our skin that is taking a beating. Otto, one of the cameramen, left his sunglasses off for too long the other day and went snow-blind, a painful but temporary condition. He had to spend the next day inside his tent with his eyes closed, waiting for his eyes to repair themselves.

Our red sled bag is bleaching out to a yellowish-orange and our ball caps are fading.

It’s not just the snow and the 24-hour daylight that makes us vulnerable here in the Arctic. The ozone layer is thinner here in the Arctic than it is at lower latitudes. The thinned ozone layer lets through more UV radiation than you would get further south.

Although many people confuse the two issues, global warming and the ozone hole are separate issues. Stratospheric ozone thinning was caused by chlorofluorocarbons that are now banned. The ozone layer is beginning to repair itself. Here in the Arctic, however, the ozone layer is slower to recover. This is due in part to the effect of global warming on stratospheric temperatures.

During the spring the ozone layer is at its thinnest so we, along with the other living things in the Arctic, are exposed to the greatest amount of UV radiation. For plants and animals, the spring is also the time in their life cycles where they are the most vulnerable to damage from UV radiation.

So, although we may look ridiculous, we will keep covering ourselves up with sunblock, hats, beaks and hoods.



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