Cold Water Expeditioning

With winter here, we thought about looking at the parallels between winter paddling and cold zone expeditioning and get a few tips from the pros. Roger Chandler is an experienced paddler that regularly deals with strong winds and currents and runs courses throughout the year.  Hence deals with cold weather on Anglesey and most April he’s off up to Scotland.

Roger sea kayaking in Greenland.

Roger sea kayaking in Greenland.

He loves those remote places such as the Northern Isles, with Orkney  and Shetland. Roger has done several expeditions to the Chilean Patagonia - the roaring 40’s latitude - and the Arctic. With the Lofoten Islands and North West Greenland, above the Polar circle. We thought he might have some good tips and experiences to share with us.

Many paddlers enjoy cold water paddling. What is the appeal to you and what do you think it offers in terms of skills development?  

The remoteness and raw beauty. The colors, the silence and open spaces, wildlife on the land, sea and in the sky, the rock and ice structure’s – seeing an iceberg for the first time is breathtaking and the various colors are stunning. There is a great feeling of satisfaction of moving through, living and sharing this wild and raw environment.  Having the skills and ability to make effective decisions and hence being safe. Help can be very far away!

In the case of winter, many of us don’t easily find the motivation to paddle regularly over the coldest months which might mean some skills become rusty and our fitness declines. What do you recommend to keep us going over winter in terms of fitness and frame of mind?  

Having a clear goal helps massively with motivation but, at the same time create options for yourself. Getting out in your kayak can be the best form of training as long as there is a clear purpose to the paddle (time in the kayak, with no land break for lunch, paddling 30 or 40km, or time on the water 6-12 hours, loaded or an unloaded boat, assisted rescues and rough water handling), yet cross training allows some variety and a purpose when its too wet and windy.  One can still get out for a run, cycle, swim or be off to the gym for weights, yoga and/or circuits. Our mind and body are linked so work on your physical aspect will influence your psychology and put you in a stronger place.

Arch berg and kayaker!

Arch berg and kayaker!

You are going to Greenland in Summer 2019. What attracts you to this destination?

It’s an ‘Arctic Dream’ location and one where most paddlers hope to paddle one day.  The granite spires jutting out of the sea, the ‘poof’ and spout from a whale, the hope of seeing a unicorn of the sea (Narwhal), magnificent towering icebergs drifting on by and the privilege to being able to paddled in this magical environment.

Will your safety outlook be similar in Greenland to the one you take when you do other expeditions such as the Roof of Britain?  

Totally. This experience is only open to experienced paddlers who come with a recommendation. Then there is further information and a training weekend in March to ensure each person knows what they need to do in the final few months before this sea kayaking expedition to Greenland.  At the end of the day individual preparation is a key element - as a team we can only move as fast as the slowest paddler. Over the years and that's 27 years of working in the outdoors, one of the most useful models that I feel really works is Action Centered Leadership created by John Adair.  It focuses on three circles – Task, Team and Individual. A leader’s job is too balance the balance between them. If a leader is too Task focused, the team may get driven to hard and break. Too Team focused and we may not achieve the task, although this may mean we need to adjust and change the task if possible.

Do paddlers require special or additional training before participating in expeditions to remote and cold areas?  

Maybe and this would be available. Yet, this may be with another specialist provider. For example, a paddler may require strengthening their forward paddling, or my want navigation training that is more local to them and on land.  Sometimes it can be as simple as getting out more in your tent and really get familiar with keeping the sleeping area super dry. Ensure your sleeping bag is warm enough, your mat is thick enough and that you are happy cooking inside your tent or in a confined space.  It’s partly about being self-reflective and identifying concerns and addressing them.

Hiking inland.

Hiking inland.

What are your essential tips for being comfortable in terms of land kit?

  • A strong reliable, free standing and familiar tent, that is big enough to get you through storm bound days comfortably, plus a footprint to protect the ground sheet.  Granite is a tough material. We camped on a number of low lying granite platforms and used rocks for the guy points, plus a machinist had added valances to the bottom of the tents so we could add rocks for greater security.

  • For sleeping warmth and comfort, separate sleeping clothes, so you reduce the amount of salt that you might bring into the tent. I also like to have a hood on my merino top, so I can disappear if cold and I use alpaca sleeping socks.  And for this next year I’m trying out recycled cashmere base layers.

  • A good sleeping mat (a couple of companies make two baffle mats, so if one gets punctured, there is still another!). If you already have a good 3 season sleeping bag consider a 2-season sleeping bag as well.  This way they’re both easy to pack down into the kayak and you can vary temperature simply. I know a couple of people than have a down quilt that they can also bring into sleeping bag to add additional warmth.  

  • A silk liner is small, keeps the bag clean and adds more warmth.

  • Mini hot water bottles can help with muscles aches, are comforting and add additional warmth and heat quickly.

  • A chair – either one that takes you off the ground or one that is well insulated.  I like the simple ‘Thermarest’ system, which is a small set of light poles and then I bring a ¾ sleeping pad.  This way it’s super warm, comfy and if I puncture my main sleeping mat, I’ve got a back up sleeping pad.

  • A nice down jacket with a hood is hard to beat and is a real pleasure to look forward to. Ideally we would only wear it on dry days or once we are in the tent.

  • Suitable footwear for on-land and on-the-water.  I was surprised how cold my feet got while paddling and some days they never truly warmed up.  I used dry socks and a thin merino wool sock, inside. For the future I may pack welly boots too, which is what I originally used back in Chile and, overall, my feet were good.

Many campsites in Greenland offer magnificent views.

Many campsites in Greenland offer magnificent views.

What are your top tips for kayaking and paddler safety kit for these remote environments?  

Do a self-profile considering what information you have gained about the environment, address the gaps and prepare yourself well.  The rest you will find out on the March 2019 during the training weekend!

In remote areas and when expeditioning for many days, keeping clean and the rubbish we produce can become issues. What things have worked well for you in the past?

I used to use wet wipes and then burn them.  But because of the plastic issue, in the last couple of years I’ve started using a flannel, which I keep in a small dry bag.  This is for lower body washing. Were possible and if suitable, I walk a reasonable distance from the campsite (a different location from body washing) and I use the sea to dispose of human waste by doing what I have to do on a rock and throwing into the water. I use my kayak sponge for general body washing and even have been know to jump in and take a quick dip!

With food, remove as much packaging as possible before hand.  Burn additional packaging and cans on an open fire - can are coated inside with plastic and burning will remove this layer. I then drop the burnt cans into a deep section of the sea where they rust and break up quicker.

With mirror like seas which are not uncommon in Greenland.

With mirror like seas which are not uncommon in Greenland.

We have had some paddlers enquiring about our trips to Greenland, but they have Raynard’s syndrome so they suffer from cold hands and feet. What is your experience of dealing with Raynard’s?

I was diagnosed with Raynards Syndrome in 2004, so cold hands is something I’ve had to manage and work with.  Personally what works best for me is the following:

  • keeping my core well insulated - I tend to wear a gillet, on top of a couple of thin thermals (weather dependant) so that my arms are not restricted

  • wrist warmers under my paddle jacket - synthetic or merino wool adds additional warmth/insulation

  • on my legs.  Two layers of thermals or thermals and insulated trousers, with good socks - wool thin pair with a dry sock outer 

  • neck gaiter and warm hat, this way I can regulate body temperature well

  • try not to over exert and create sweat - the core gets cold and then draws heat away.   

  • eat little and often so your feeding the body

  • go for a pee when possible.  Your body needs to keep what you have in your bladder warm and at body temperature so if we are not going for a wee, we are using more energy

  • at the end of the day, wash hands with fresh/sweat water and add a moisture cream to keep the skin flexible

  • paddle poggies and for me nylon.  Neoprene collects the water and keeps a damp environment which tends to make the skin go soft

  • on really cold days I choose either paddle mitts (open palm) or gloves - both are neoprene and I use them with the paddle poggies.

  • at lunch time, a good pair of woolly mittens to help dry my hands off and warm them up

  • this year over an Anglesey Winter I’ve also started putting rice in a mini food vacuum flask with a cuppa soup, so I have a hot lunch 

Generally while on the water and on a trip or expedition my hands are good as I’m prepared and know what to expect.  It’s those moments when its warm and I’m wearing thinner clothes and pick up a cold pan of water that may trigger white fingers, that occasionally catch me out!

Finally, what do you think will be the biggest challenge you will face and how will you prepare for it?  

The sea is the boss and will dictate our plans each day and accepting that helps. Exploring the land can be just as exciting at times, if unable to paddle.  While having a kindle or a good book, with copious amounts of tea can allow the body to recover. It's a holiday after all!

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Roger loves to work and play around Anglesey and a few times each year in other exciting environments, such as the Orkney and Shetland Islands. In summer 2019, he is leading two expeditions to Disko Bay in Greenland which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There, the groups will kayak, hike, whale watch and enjoy the midnight sun in the spectacular wilderness of Western Greenland.

For more information on the 2019 Greenland Expedition, please contact adriana@exploraexpeditions.com or visit https://www.exploraexpeditions.com/greenland/

Trip 1: 22nd June to 6th July - Sold out

Trip 2: 6th to 20th of July - 3 places remaining.

For questions, tips and sharing experiences on Greenland kayaking & travel, join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/kayakingingreenland/