Luke Armstrong | Sep 6, 2017
"You don't know cold like I do," I said once in a raspy voice to a guy from Iceland. Being born in Montana and raised in North Dakota, I've experienced winters so cold that if you walk outside without a coat in the dead of winter, you'll be dead in winter
after a few minutes.
"No, it can't be that cold," the guy from Iceland rebuked me when I told him he could throw a cup of boiling water in the air in our winter and it would come down as ice pellets.
Oh yes it is that cold random Icelandic guy at a bar! So ever since I finished school, I've done what seemed the only sensible thing to do when you are from a climate suitable for Arctic penguins—spent the last decade living across the world in warmer, usually tropical climates.
Give it a shot, but you'll never be able to properly pronounce the Vatnajökull glacier (and this is one of the easier Icelandic words!). Just call it what the locals do, Vatna, and focus your energy on securing your crampons and the other important
details you'll need to survive this ice climb (Didn't you get the memo? We didn't just come to look at this glacier, we came to climb it!).
Clocking in at 8,100 km², Vatnajökull is the most voluminous ice cap in Europe by a third. Do you know how many ice cubes it would take to equal the amount of ice in Vatnajökull? I don't either, but my baseless estimate is more than exist on earth.
Underneath its thick sheets of ice are concealed volcanoes, volcanic lakes and the glacier, wanting even more gold medals in glacier-dom, feeds Dittifoss, Europe's most powerful waterfall.
Though it would have messed with his rhyme scheme, OutKast could have accurately answered his question, "What's colder than being cold?" with "Being in Antarctica!"
With summer temps ranging between 23 to 41 °F, my eccentric father would be in flip-flops and shorts were he to ever to visit then.
Before I visited Saint John's Canada, I thought Canada was filled with, you know, Canadians. What I mean, was that all the Canadians I'd previously met had a sorta Canadian-esque about them. Au contraire in Saint John's. Half of the Canadians I met there had Irish-ish accents. And boy did they drink like the Irish too! It's a tough place to stay sober (everyone's just so cold that they have to drink!)
On the eastern shores of the island of Newfoundland, Saint John's is one of the oldest surviving English settlements in North America. With epic historical hikes overlooking the North Atlantic like Beacon Hill, there's natural beauty here.
Saint John's isn't freezing, it's just pleasantly cool. During the warm season the highs average 61 °F. With brightly colored houses winding up and down hill, it's like a mini San Francisco. And the people are quirky, artistic, and know how to have a good time (alcohol and live music is usually involved). And you can officially become an official Newfoundlander by kissing a cod fish in a pub. I did and I got a certificate that declared me an official Newfoundlander (but when my ear became clogged and I went to the doctors, that did not qualify me for Canadian healthcare, so I was glad for my Seven Corners Travel Health Insurance).
If kissing codfish and drinking past the point of remembering that you made out with a fish isn't the "cool" Canadian experience you seek—maybe the Yukon has what you are looking for.
On the other end of the Canadian cultural spectrum is The Yukon, also known as Canada's Alaska. It borders Alaska and has many of the same outdoor offerings. In south-central Yukon, hike Mile Canyon Basalts, a gorgeous package of volcanic rocks cut by the Yukon river and carved from ice-age Glaciers. There's a bus tour in the Yukon Wildlife Preserve to view mountain goats, brown bears, moose, and other animals the summer never sees. Just be sure to visit before the temperature drops. From the preserve's website, "The Yukon Wildlife Preserve reserves the right to close to the public when temperatures drop below -40 degrees Celsius." That sounds reasonable.
If you're like me, you'll get cold and then you'll head to Whitehorse to visit the Takhini Hot Springs. There your beard will become full of little icicles while your body and spirit warms amid the scenic background of a mountain grown evergreen forest. You'll float on your back and realize that despite the fact that the cold makes you cold, it also makes for serene moments like this, which makes it all worthwhile.
Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.