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Wind Chill Minus 70 Degrees? Hit the Summit!

UML Friends Spent Night, came back with memories (and a touch of frostbite)

Liam Henderson, 19, shows the layers he wore during his hike with Nick Cote, 18. Photo by Lowell Sun/Julia Malakie
UMass Lowell freshman Liam Henderson, 19, shows the layers he wore during his overnight hike to the summit of Wildcat Mountain last weekend with fellow student Nick Cote, 18. The Billerica Memorial High School graduates stayed at the Carter Notch Hut with eight other brave souls.

Lowell Sun
By Rick Sobey

LOWELL -- Friends and family kept warning Liam Henderson and Nick Cote about hiking in the White Mountains last weekend.

Staying overnight in an unheated cabin as the wind chill plummeted to minus 70 degrees?

"Everyone told us to cancel," recalled Henderson, 19. "But it was something we wanted to experience.

"With those conditions, you have the best, clearest views with no moisture in the air," he added. "It's amazing."

As residents in Greater Lowell shuddered at the thought of venturing to the grocery store with the wind chill around minus 20 degrees, and as meteorologists warned about dangerous conditions across the area, the UMass Lowell freshmen journeyed north to New Hampshire's Wildcat Mountain.

Their sleeping bags were covered in frost when they woke up.

Their noses were numb.

And Cote got stage-one frostbite on his fingers after only 30 seconds of exposure to wind chill of minus 71 degrees.

Even so, it was an incredible experience -- showing that people can enjoy extreme weather if they're prepared. 

"You can do whatever you want outside as long as you respect Mother Nature because you never know what could happen," said Cote, 18, a mechanical engineering student. "You can't underestimate and play around with it."

Henderson, a civil engineering student, has always enjoyed hiking. During finals week last month, he felt like he needed to escape the city for a bit, so he hiked up Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire.

Ice crystals were forming on the trees. There was a brief storm at the summit.

"I really loved the hike," Henderson said.

He returned to Monadnock a few other times during the start of his winter break, one time with it being minus 17 degrees without wind chill at the summit.

Henderson decided it was time to try an overnight on a mountain. He and Cote, both who graduated from Billerica Memorial High School, went up last Saturday to Wildcat, staying at the Carter Notch Hut at an elevation of 3,288 feet.

In the cabin with eight people, they cooked dinner together and played some music before heading to bed. Outside, the wind chill approached minus 70.

They ended up sleeping in the same bed to help with heat; it was freezing inside the cabin without any heat. They had different sleeping bags, but slept on the same mattress.

Waking up, their sleeping bags were covered in frost.

"It was the craziest thing," Henderson said.

While sleeping, they wore several layers and multiple jackets. It was hard to sleep because it was just so cold.

"Our goal was actually to sleep as little as possible because it's better to be moving around and keep your body temperature up instead of sitting still and getting frozen," Cote said.

The wind chill was minus 71 degrees when they rose for a sunrise hike. In addition to several layers, they covered up their necks and faces with ski goggles and balaclava masks.

They added micro-spikes for their boots to help with grip.

Cote needed to take a photo at the summit, so he took off his glove for 30 seconds.

A poor choice, he learned.

"They stayed pale for quite some time," Cote said of his fingers, which got stage-one frostbite. "As it started warming up, it started to feel like I had needles going in my hand, an excruciating pain."

In the last few weeks, officials across the region have warned about the potential for frostbite when the wind chill plummets. The message from these adventurers: Just wrap up.

"People are afraid to go outside and get a little dirty," Cote said. "It's alright as long as you bundle up and are prepared.

"It's definitely a serious issue for homeless people, but for us who can come back to a warm fireplace -- just bundle up," he said.