Bah! Winter! Crazy Things to Do When Not Huddled Up at Home by the Fire

Snowman designs cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

Well, winter has arrived. Years ago here in the Hamptons, this meant retreating to one’s home, building a fire and enjoying the days in splendid contemplation. Nobody worried about it.

For example, during a 30-year period there was a sign as you drove down the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike toward Sag Harbor that expressed this sentiment. It consisted of a wooden framework with a sign hanging below it. On the framework were the words SAG HARBOR. On the smaller sign hanging down were the words VISIT OUR WHALING MUSEUM. But that was in the summertime. In the fall, the smaller sign was taken down by those running the Whaling Museum. In its place they put up a sign reading CLOSED.

So from October to March as you drove along, you passed this sign reading SAG HARBOR CLOSED.

These days, the marketing people are out drumming up all sorts of things to do outdoors in the wintertime. There are tree lightings and Santa parades and four or five Polar Bear Plunges down on the ocean beaches in various towns. Throw off your coat and reveal your body in a bathing suit. Then, when the gun sounds, scoot that bod down into the surf and start splashing around with 50 others. Then run back out gasping for air, happy you did it.

And there they go! heading into the warmer-than-air Atlantic Ocean for this year's unseasonably warm December Southampton Polar Bear Plunge.
Southampton Polar Bear Plunge, Photo: Daniel Gonzalez

Sag Harbor hosts such a plunge in the bay as part of a very jittery cold day in February they call Harborfrost. They call the plunge the Frosty Plunge and it takes place at 2 p.m. Ice carving is demonstrated on Main Street, fire-baton juggling takes place on Long Wharf, fire dancers after the fire batons. As the sun sets, a fireworks show goes off up in the sky down by the water. The date this year is Saturday February 23. On the website, it reads “Something for everyone! Spend the day shopping and dining in Sag Harbor—we are OPEN.”

In honor of all the plunges and winter celebrations, I’d like to report on the tourist activities in another cold place, in fact the coldest place on the earth—Antarctica.

Rush down there for the big Ice Marathon on Thursday, December 13. It starts at Union Glacier, just a few hundred miles from the South Pole. There is a marked course there exactly 26.2 miles, and amidst winds that can howl at a steady 10 to 25 knots and temperatures that can drop as low as 40 below zero, you can win! There’s snowmobile support, aid stations and medical personnel everywhere. You could die, but you won’t. So don’t miss it. You needn’t worry about penguins. None live this far south. There is also a half-marathon—13.1 miles—at the same time at the same location. Good for the elderly, infirm and the kiddies. And there are trophies, medals, T-shirts and patches. Read all about it at

But that is not all that is going on in Antarctica this winter. There is, as this is written on December 7, a race underway where two competitors are vying to see who can walk without assistance from one end of Antarctica to the other by trudging from one shore, up the ice mountain to the South Pole, and then down to the far shore, a distance of 859 miles. It’s never been done before, though people have died trying.

For example, an Englishman named Worsley tried it, dragging along his pack of supplies on a sled in 2016. He was in daily communication with the outside world by the satellite phone he carried. The distance then was 950 miles (longer because of ice melt or a different route?) and he got to the 913-mile mark and gave up. An aircraft arrived to rescue him, but he died shortly after being picked up due to organ failure.

As this is written, the two competitors are already on their way. They left November 11 from shore locations about 10 miles from each other and expect to be still trudging along, dragging their 350-pound packs on their sleds, until mid-January, when one or both or neither of them will be the winner.

The competitors are Louis Rudd, a 49-year-old Englishman who has spent his life in the military (Iraq and Afghanistan), and Colin O’Brady, a 33-year-old American running and climbing powerhouse. Rudd has done the “Big Six,” which means he has climbed the tallest peaks on each of the six continents. O’Brady has won medals at triathlons and distance events and at one point was considering trying out for the Olympic team. O’Brady has a big presence on social media. Rudd, not so much. Both have families they are leaving to wait for their return.

In their packs are dried food, skis, sleeping bags, heavy clothing, tents, portable solar panels, satellite phones and GPS trackers to lead them on the way.

Rudd was in the lead early on, but on several foul-weather days he slowed down and now O’Brady is in the lead. (If you want to root for one or the other, you can do so. The New York Times has a link to a site that will give out a daily report.) I mean, wow, this is great!

There is also another interesting story in the news concerning a bitter cold climate. In Nepal, one of the biggest sources of income in the country is from those hundreds and thousands of people who want to climb Mount Everest every year. Sherpas accompany them. Hotels have been built to accommodate them.

But here is bad news that never really got pointed out until now. Over the years, lots of people have started out on the climb, but then couldn’t make it. Some turned back to base camp. But others froze to death along the way. There are established paths along the way. And above 8,000 meters, those who died are still there, frozen where they fell. Or sat. And the new climbers have to step around them or climb over them. Getting these bodies back down is too dangerous.

The word is spreading. I read an account about it in The Sun, the British daily. There are 300 frozen bodies up there beyond the retrieval line, all well preserved. Some of them have been identified, some not. Since most of the climbing has become all the rage only recently, most wear the colorful climbing gear now in vogue. There is one former climber, God rest his soul, for example, who is known as “Green Boots” because that is the color of the footwear he still has on.

He died alongside a cave that has since been named “Green Boots Cave,” and there he is, along with his oxygen bottles and other gear. Nobody is sure who he is, but the odds are he is an Indian climber named Tsewang Paljor, who died during a bad blizzard on Everest in 1996.

Well, that’s it for today’s interesting story. My advice is stay home, build a fire, read a book and enjoy the solitude of the season.

Of course, you really should go out to the plunges and certainly to Harborfrost when that happens. And Super Bowl Sunday is February 3. Mix things up a bit. Spring will happen eventually.

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