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Close Encounters with Hypothermia
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Close Encounters with Hypothermia on 01/08/2013 17:37:16 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Close Encounters with Hypothermia

Kathy Hoffman

Locale: Foothills of San Gabriel Mtns.
Great story on 01/09/2013 10:27:49 MST Print View

This was a great read.....and a great warning. While I've never been in that particular situation, I have been caught mildly unprepared. Not life-threatening, but uncomfortable, and I remember it well!

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Close Encounters with Hypothermia on 01/09/2013 10:38:53 MST Print View

part of emergency first aid kit :

4-6 tbs brown sugar
2 oz olive oil

Bogs and Bergs
(Islandized) - F

Locale: Newfoundland
Hypothermia on 01/09/2013 11:43:11 MST Print View

I feel compelled to share the story of a much more advanced state of hypothermia than this article describes, because the experience of mental impairment is truly frightening and, I think, hard to imagine.

I was (of course) a teenager, but not reckless, and I'd dressed warmly for snowshoeing on a cold and sunny late winter day. When the temperature suddenly rose, the snow became grainy, icy and waterlogged. Puddles appeared. My clothing was not waterproof, which probably wouldn't have been a problem had the temps stayed below freezing. But several falls later, I was soaked through and far from home. Shivering and loss of function in hands happened quickly.

The next stage is deep core shivering, convulsive hard shudders in the gut that are indeed sickening, and very painful. More falls into wetness resulted.

The stage after that still scares me now. I stopped shivering. I wasn't cold at all. I was euphoric, warm, laughing at nothing as I stumbled in random directions through the woods. I didn't remember that I'd been cold, and I forgot where I was going or why. Too happy to care. Pure delirious joy. Also, getting very sleepy. I'd already unzipped the coat, now it was time to take it off and lie down in the snow. Coat for a pillow, I remember thinking.

Obviously, that's when rescue happened, or I wouldn't be telling this story.

Watch out for the first stages, and do something right away. Later, you not only won't be able to, you probably won't even want to.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: PNW Hypothermia on 01/09/2013 12:00:21 MST Print View

I was raised in this stuff, even walking to school. Heavy rain is rare, but it can drizzle for weeks in Winter and long hours or days even in the summer. I've been in 45f weather at moderate altitude on the 4th of July. As in the author's account, you get no respite from the rain and when it stops, no sunshine to dry your gear (Seattle has precip on an average of 150 days and 226 with overcast).

For day hikes or an overnight you can usually rely on the weather forecast, but conditions can change quickly with shifts in the Jet Stream. My solution is to always have rain gear and extra layers. My typical day hike CYA has a poncho, a synthetic mid layer, windshirt, fleece beanie, light gloves and an AMK space blanket bivy. That is along with the classic essentials including fire making items and extra food. That makes sure I can stay dry on the trail along with some emergency shelter if I get caught out overnight.

My mid layers vary from Power Stretch vest or hoodie, on up to a Primaloft puffy vest or hoodie. Along with my usual polyester base layers, this gives a wicking, breathable layering system with good performance in wet weather. I typically don't use down. Vests and hoodies allow all kinds of combinations and layer well with my rain gear.

If I know I'm going to be out in the rain all day, I'll start with something like a Cap2 long sleeve top and rain jacket, or Cap2, windshirt and poncho/cape, with silk weight long johns and rain pants. I prefer a wide brimmed hat, but a hood is better when the wind comes up. I can add the mid layer top for breaks or camp. I like shelled gloves with a light wicking liner--- just like my base layer/rain shell combo.

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Close Encounters with Hypothermia on 01/09/2013 14:54:32 MST Print View

Excellent article "Disco". I look forward to reading the book. Umbrellas are a great multi-tool option for rain, wind and sun. My son got Hypothermia last summer from cold creek water. All was good after a change of clothes and a session in a sleeping bag.

Lawton Grinter

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Close Encounters with Hypothermia on 01/09/2013 21:24:15 MST Print View

Thanks for the great feedback on the article and for sharing your own personal stories. I have never since been that unprepared.

I like Art's additional items for his emergency first aid kit. Bogs N. Bergs ... your story scares the bejesus out of me. That is as sketch as it gets. Jay, I pretty much carry an umbrella with me now on every hike (day hikes included) that I go on. It's 8 ozs of safe bet that I'm unwilling to leave behind.

steven franchuk
Re: Close Encounters with Hypothermia on 01/09/2013 21:35:24 MST Print View

"Imagine the sound of an afternoon thunderstorm or the repetitious clamor of pouring rain on a metal-roofed house. Typically heavy rains don’t last long - maybe thirty minutes or an hour, two hours at the most. Downpours are short-lived events: saturated clouds release a build-up of moisture and then it’s over. At least that’s how it is supposed to happen."

I have visited the east cost enough to know that short storms are common there. However you should never assume that short storms are the norm at other locations. In the PNW long storms lasting days are common. thunderstorms however are not that common. In the San Francisco bay we get maybe 2 or 3 thunderstorms a year. When I was growing up north of Seattle we got 1 or 2 a thunderstorms a year and they typically didn't last long.

In my opinion you should always cary a waterproof layer. Water resistant windshirts and pants have there place but they won't protect you when you really need it. umbrellas are nice but they may not keep you dry in constant rain and wind.

For me hypothermia seams to starts affect my thinking before it affects my hands.

Edited by Surf on 01/09/2013 21:46:30 MST.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Close Encounters with Hypothermia on 01/09/2013 21:57:58 MST Print View

Mild hypothermia (32-35°C)
Between 34°C and 35°C, most people shiver vigorously, usually in all extremities. As the temperature drops below 34°C, a patient may develop altered judgment, amnesia, and dysarthria. Respiratory rate may increase. At approximately 33°C, ataxia and apathy may be seen. Patients generally are stable hemodynamically and able to compensate for the symptoms. In this temperature range, the following may also be observed: hyperventilation, tachypnea, tachycardia, and cold diuresis as renal concentrating ability is compromised.

Moderate hypothermia (28-32°C)
Oxygen consumption decreases, and the CNS depresses further; hypoventilation, hyporeflexia, decreased renal flow, and paradoxical undressing may be noted. Most patients with temperatures of 32°C or lower present in stupor. As the core reaches temperatures of 31°C or below, the body loses its ability to generate heat by shivering. At 30°C, patients develop a higher risk for arrhythmias. Atrial fibrillation and other atrial and ventricular rhythms become more likely. The pulse continues to slow progressively, and cardiac output is reduced. J wave may be seen on ECG in moderate hypothermia. Between 28°C and 30°C, pupils may become markedly dilated and minimally responsive to light, a condition that can mimic brain death.

Severe hypothermia (< 28°C)
At 28°C, the body becomes markedly susceptible to ventricular fibrillation and further depression of myocardial contractility. Below 27°C, 83% of patients are comatose. Pulmonary edema, oliguria, coma, hypotension, rigidity, apnea, pulselessness, areflexia, unresponsiveness, fixed pupils, and decreased or absent activity on EEG are all seen.

Edited by jshann on 01/09/2013 21:58:59 MST.

Johan Engberg

Locale: Wrong place at the right rime
Eat your meals.. on 01/10/2013 03:33:24 MST Print View

My encounter with hypothermia happened during a basic ranger winter excersize some 12 years ago. We were about 15 guys that had to break camp very quickly. One of the patrols overslept and had to skip breakfast to make it. The following ski-march was forced and furious in tempo. The weather were quite nice though, sunny and about -10 degrees C (14 F).
After a "enemy contact" the group of 15 split up but we continued to the rendevouz. When we arrived we realized we missed a guy... backtracked and found him lying in the snow barely concious, he didn't answer nor moved. This guy was in the group that skipped breakfast and he was also pretty low on bodyfat.
We called for a pickup on the radio while doing our best to warm the guy with our own bodies and tried to give him hot water which was hard due to his state.
When he arrived in the main camp after being cuddled up in the sled behind the snowmobile for some 30 min his coretemp was 32 C.

To be able to produce heat one needs energy to burn. Without that it's hard even with appropriate equipment.

Lesson learned but it was close. Too close.
I think the most scary part is when the thoughts "just going to rest here for a while" and the will to survive diminishes.

Harrison Carpenter
(carpenh) - M

Locale: St. Vrain River Valley
+1 on 01/10/2013 07:42:29 MST Print View

Indeed, a good read. Back in my days as a Boy Scout in Northern Michigan, my troop would go out to camp in the Winter. The Scoutmaster (who had a military background) used our meals as places to teach us about hypothermia, its symptoms, and how to avoid it. He would give all of us scouts a bag of chocolate bars at the start of our expedition, and we were told to eat a bar with every meal, as well as for our snacks. Our meals always seemed to include hot rolls with lots and lots of butter. Again, we were told to eat all we could, and then some. We kids loved those camping trips, because it felt like the holidays!

Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
great read... on 01/11/2013 15:15:11 MST Print View

This was a great story.

I think one of the reasons why I love my hammock so much is that I don't have to worry as much about being flooded out in the middle of the night.

In my mind during the whole story I was just thinking that if I were in your shoes I would just stay in my hammock until the storm passed.

One can go without food for 30 days. Sure it's not fun but you can do it...

Even over a two day snow storm it's not THAT bad.

b hitchcock
(slowoldandcold) - F
HYPOTHERMIA on 01/11/2013 16:56:43 MST Print View

hi lawton----good story---thanks---with hindsight would you now sit it out?---what about food did you try and eat yourself some heat----a friend of mine went shopping in winter in the russian countryside---broke down in the middle of nowhere and started walking ----after a mile the russian he was with said its too cold our only hope is to get back to the lorry----back in the lorry----he dived into the shopping ---pulled out a packet of now frozen butter and convinced my friend to eat the lot---my friend who is farm boy said he had never been so cold ----after 1/2 hour he started warming up and is convinced the butter saved his life----regards from U K

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Thank you on 01/13/2013 20:43:17 MST Print View


Thanks for the excellent article. Your insight and honesty are invaluable to myself and this community. Your book is now on my wish list. I really look forward to reading it.

Lawton Grinter

Locale: Rocky Mountains
HYPOTHERMIA on 01/18/2013 16:49:40 MST Print View

Thanks again everyone for the great stories, comments & feedback on "Close Encounters with Hypothermia."

b hitchcock posed the question: "In hindsight, would you now sit it out?"

As obvious as this question is, I've never seriously given it much thought and I definitely didn't consider it at the time.

I'd like to think that I've developed somewhat better judgement in the 8 years since my brush with hypothermia and that I would not find myself that unprepared ever again. I did have enough food to stay put for a day and that is what I probably should have done. But I was green and underestimated what I was walking out into when I packed up my tent at Rockpile Lake that fateful morning. I guess if I found myself that unprepared gearwise in the exact same circumstances, I'd sit it out. I just honestly don't see myself being that unprepared again knowing what I know now.

Great question.

Thanks, Disco

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Deep Frreze
Re: HYPOTHERMIA on 01/18/2013 19:18:31 MST Print View

Hi Disco,

I just read your book a few weeks ago on PMags suggestion and this particular chapter sounded like a right meat grinder.