Outside Online Archives

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 2000
By Stephanie Gregory

Is it true that water freezes at higher temperatures at higher altitudes?

—Curtis Carlson, San Diego, California

SURE IS. On Mount Everest's 29,035-foot summit, for example, the freezing point of water is 32.008 degrees Fahrenheit, .008 degrees higher than at sea level. Hardly a spectacular difference, but the forces at work are the same ones Telluride chefs cooking at 8,750 feet reckon with daily. Whether water exists as a liquid (its most compact state), as ice (its bulkier, crystallized state), or as gas (its least compact state) is determined as much by the air pressure surrounding it as by its temperature. On Everest's summit, where the air pressure is five pounds per square inch (sea-level air pressure is 15 pounds), the lack of compression allows all sorts of expandable things to expand with less coercion. Reinhold Messner's beard is minutely bushier, his down-filled jacket is a tad fluffier, and the water he carries both boils (i.e., expands into gas) at a cooler temperature—162 degrees, 50 degrees cooler than at sea level—and freezes even when it's slightly above 32 degrees.

Can a body tell the difference between sugar in orange juice and sugar in Coke?

—Doug Johnson, Bangkok, Thailand

GOOD NEWS FOR sedentary Coke (or Pepsi) addicts. When at rest, our bodies can't distinguish between the sweet stuff in Coke and the sweet stuff in orange juice. That's because essentially there is no difference: Two natural sugars—sucrose and fructose—are found in both these drinks and in other nondiet soft drinks. While orange juice has a higher concentration of fructose than soda, which has a higher concentration of sucrose, both sugars are converted into glucose, the essential carbohydrate burned by our muscles and brain. But athletes, beware. Neither orange juice nor soft drinks will quickly come to your aid when, say, you're grinding up 3,000 feet of singletrack. Sucrose is broken down into glucose in the stomach before it enters the bloodstream, and fructose is converted by enzymes in the liver; both processes typically take at least 60 minutes. And because orange juice contains 13.3 percent sugar, and Coke 11.6 percent, it can actually take three hours before the last drop of fructose and sucrose in an eight-ounce glass of either has been converted into usable energy. Instead, opt for a drink with a mere 6 percent sugar (of any species), the formula most energy drinks offer. The diluted recipe fast-tracks fuel to your bloodstream and into your muscles for maximal energy in minimal time.

If September's full moon is the Harvest Moon, do other months' moons have their own special monikers?

—Laura Dineen, Saratoga Springs, New York

TRUE, THE MOST common name for the full moon falling closest to the autumnal equinox is the Harvest Moon (which usually, but not always, appears in September), but one could also win accuracy points by calling it the Time of Much Freshness (Mohawk) or When the Plums are Scarlet (Sioux). Regardless of its appellation, the autumnal equinox moon is the most celebrated because it illuminates the harvest-time fields at night, allowing farmers to work longer hours gathering their crops. But hundreds of moon names—most of them commemorating food, or the lack of it—have been passed down from ancient China, from Celtic tradition, and from Native American and other animist religions. The Eastern Cherokee called February's full moon the Bone Moon, after their meager winter diet of bone-marrow soup, and August for the Algonquins was the Sturgeon Moon, a reference to the plentiful run of freshwater fish in the tribe's northeastern waters. Think these names are no longer relevant? Dream up your own. "People, I suppose, are free to call the moon whatever they heck they want to," says Susan Peery, managing editor of the Old Farmer's Almanac.

What happens if a daddy longlegs loses one of its legs? Does it grow back?

—M. Donovan,, Miami, Florida

WHEN A DADDY longlegs (aka harvestman) gets a limb snapped off in a rumble with some ants, a bird, or another predator, the nerve endings in the severed appendage cause it to keep twitching, distracting the attacker long enough for the maimed arachnid to scamper to safety. But unlike tarantulas, brown recluses, and other spiders, who spawn new legs (which begin to grow as tiny coils before unfurling into finished legs), a daddy's lost limbs don't grow back. Just what hormone the hobbled harvestman lacks is still unknown. One missing leg, however, is no great tragedy—after all, the creature has seven gams left. But when it loses three or more, its chances of survival drop significantly, since the crucial organs that sense touch (and, some experts suspect, sound and chemicals) are found on tiny hairs located on its wispy-thin limbs. Not to mention that a getaway on half the leg-power is half as speedy. And should real disaster strike? "If all its legs come off," affirms Robert Holmberg of Canada's Athabasca University, who has studied arthropods for 35 years, "it will get eaten."   

Illustrations by: Jason Schneider

Send your questions for The Wild File to Outside, 400 Market St., Santa Fe, NM 87501, or submit them here.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web