M Hypothermia

by Darin Banner

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Article Summary:

Ten years ago, I was asked by some Boy Scout leaders to join them on a backpacking trip into the High Uinta Wilderness area of Utah. They were taking a group of fourteen- to sixteen-year-old boys into the Chain Lakes basin, a trip of nine miles with 3,400 feet in elevation gain. We left the trailhead on a warm sunny day with most of us wearing shorts. As it is apt to do in the Uintas, by mile five the weather turned cold and stormy. Many of us thought the rain would soon pass and decided not to put on our rain gear. However, when the rain turned to hail, everyone donned rain gear - with the exception of one headstrong young man who thought he was tough enough to hike through the rain and hail with just a t-shirt and shorts. He would not be coerced into covering up until he was already soaked and shivering.

The trail, covered with hail and runoff from the rain, became indistinguishable from the rest of the terrain, and we found ourselves searching for the right route as the cold sapped our energy.

Alarmed by the deteriorating physical and mental condition of the group, the leaders decided to stop and make camp near a small lake a mile and a half from our destination. As we set up our tents, filtered water, and started the stoves, I observed with fascination the effect the cold had on even the stronger members of our group.

One leader was confused about how to set up his tent; he could not figure out which poles went where. He asked for help from another leader who said he needed to focus on getting his own tent up and getting inside. The wet, headstrong teenager was unable to perform any meaningful tasks - in essence, he was unable to help himself. Another leader set up the young man's tent, got the him into dry clothes, put him inside his down bag, and began making him warm food and drinks. After a number of hours, the "tough guy" improved and warmed up, as had the rest of our group.

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