Arctic winters not only bring indescribable cold but also 24-hours of perpetual darkness. Where I live the sun never rises from November until January. This is a time when we are beset by the polar winter. Infamous Greenland storms are like no other. They are brutal. They are also rarely written about because so few people experience them. There are even fewer accounts of Arctic winter gear tolerances. A handful of climbers make it here during the brief summer. What about in the depths of winter? Never.
With less than a week before winter solstice, headlamps seem an appropriate topic to start with. When it comes to headlamp technology and design, Petzl has raised the bar to incredible heights. Petzl has set the standard by which to judge what is the best available.
The cold is but one physical extreme for inanimate objects. For Man it is probably the most feared. Nobody likes being cold. This is what traveling at minus 50ºC looks like. Dress inappropriately and it feels what I imagine being burnt alive is like.
Arctic dark can be so black it's like being nailed inside a coffin. The picture is a video still shot over a decade ago. I was alone on the Mackenzie River in Arctic Canada's Northwest Territories. It was the middle of winter and bitterly cold. The headlamp was an old model from Petzl, a treasured and trusted belonging that helped me find my way and care for my dogs.
We had hurricanes last February and October (in Ittoqqortoormiit). In February my headlamp enabled me to rescue my own dogs and help other dog drivers in a dramatic dog rescue written about in the Sunday Times.
The depth of Petzl's headlamp range has enabled me to task orientate specific models to suit what it is I want from them depending on the time of year or my routine. The same could be said of a climber selecting rope or making a carabiner choice by what confronts him.
Weight isn't a consideration at this time of year for me but having a headlamp that will deliver the maximum amount of light for the longest time certainly is. This winter I have been conditioning my adult dogs and training youngsters on runs from home using the Petzl Ultra Accu 2 or the belt version, the Ultra Belt Accu 4. Converting the Ultra Accu 2 to the belt version is a cinch. Both battery packs are rechargeable and the energy gauge is a useful feature. The beam gives me the greatest range of peripheral vision but above all it produces the brightest and widest illuminated area of any headlamp I know of. It has to be the Rolls-Royce of headlamps.
|Harnessing Cracker in the black of the Arctic winter by the light of my Petzl Ultra Accu 2|
But it is the Petzl Myo 3 headlamp that has been a journey favourite of mine for seven years now.
|By the light of a Petzl Myo 3 wearing a Yogi coloured Rab Infinity jacket|
I have 18 dogs and that means 72 pads of hair to thin and 288 claws to trim. Why bother? Left unchecked, snow will ball up on pad fur between my dogs’ toes on runs causing a dog to eventually go lame. Consider it comparable to running with rocks in your trainers. Trimming pad fur is a tough job for bare hands and impossible in the middle of a polar winter without a headlamp.
|Trimming pad fur by the light of my Petzl Myo 3. The jacket is a Rab Neutrino Endurance|
Rotating the headlamp bezel is the only way the light can be turned on or off, a no hassle manoeuvre with hands bundled up inside mittens. There’s none of that switching itself on nonsense to blaze away unnoticed at the bottom of my sled bag draining away critical battery power. The Myo 3 floods a helpful wide beam. I watch river, lake and sea ice conditions. I always look out for polar bears.
With dustbin lid sized paws polar bears fear nothing and have a tendency to eat people. I look out for their kills and determine male footprints from protective sows with cubs. I also watch for stalking bears attacking from downwind. In poor light they appear yellow. In pitch black their eyes are a blue-ish green colour. In bright light they’re perfectly camouflaged. Lone male polar bears never hibernate. They kill year round. Seeing springtime cubs I make a wide detour. Coming between a sow and cubs always gets mum mad. Charging bears tend to spoil my day. At night it is my dogs that warn and pinpoint the approach of a polar bear into camp. Inside my tent and I hear my dogs’ low “gruff…gruff…gruff” means only one thing and it is never to be ignored. The best headlamp in the world is what you want and with it my dogs’ heads will all be pointing like arrowheads in the direction for me to take care of business.
A journey luxury I allow myself to pack is the little lightweight Petzl Tikka 2 CORE headlamp. I tend to use it inside my tent because the powerpack isn't at the back of the head like a rock when I lay stretched out on my sleeping bag system.
|The Petzl Tikka 2 CORE headlamp|
When I run and train myself in summer there is no need for running using a headlamp. But as September daylight swiftly diminishes and winter sets in I do some of those early winter runs wearing my Petzl Tikka.
I can do all of this because I never have a dud headlamp.
|Clockwise: The Petzl Ultra, the Tikka 2 CORE and the Myo 3|
For more information about Gary, his dogs and his Petzl headlamps go to www.garyrolfe.com