Physical and mental preparation for the extreme cold

Expedition: Vinson

Rolfe Oostra

There are many practical ways to prepare for brutally cold conditions. Correct clothing, hydration, nutrition, survival equipment, continuous weather up-dates, tested survival training all help you survive Antarctic extremes. But how can you prepare your body and mind before heading south? How do you cope when there? How can you best acclimatise to the established truth that down south you can get used to the cold but never feel comfortable with it?


Surviving in a place for which the naked ape is so inadequately prepared is not only down to equipment and savvy. Surviving in minus ridiculous temperatures is also about the robustness of the human body and mind. Obviously if you are an Inuit rather than a Massai you will have physical and genetic attributes to withstand the cold and by permanently living in a cold environment will have mentally hardened yourself against it. But one glance at me and you might wonder how this skinny rake is going to fare down south! This dude lives in the South of France for Pete’s sake! Despite the permanent bases being heated and comfortable the cold is always lurking at the door. And it is outside that door where I am contracted to climb, ski and support expeditions of various kinds.

So how do I prepare myself for being continuously cold?

For expedition outfitters the number one criteria when employing guides is previous experience. Previous and related experience helps build up cold tolerance more rapidly. You know what worked the last time and can apply the lessons again.

Experience has taught me that I can get cold acclimated quite rapidly through being continuously active. Even if this means doing things that are not a whole load of fun. Putting up countless tents on Aconcagua and climbing through stormy nights above 8000 meters have become routine. The idea is to keep both your body and mind active at all times. To get into the routine of moving even when standing still. Wind-milling your arms, stomping your feet, whatever it takes to keep the circulation moving.

You also need to be that particular type of person to have the will power to do this, to go through with the daily battle with the cold and remain positive. To find ways to find some pleasure in being there. You might find yourself in a situation where the cold becomes unbearable. Yet at the back of your mind must be the notion that you chose to be here, that you are extremely fortunate to work in this incredible place and that only a few people will ever experience what you are doing. It might seem tough to remain positive at times but you must continuously look for the beauty in things.

And in a place like Antarctica this should at least be an easy task.

Follow Rolfe’s Facebook and Instagram for updates and news from the coldest place on Earth!

You might also like