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Avoiding Hypothermia

Simply put, hypothermia means the body loses heat faster than it can produce it.

Hypothermia happens when a person is exposed to moisture (rain, sweat), wind and cold without adequate clothing and shelter. Your most important task if you are lost is to guard against the effects of hypothermia.

Many people believe that they can only get hypothermia if they are in water during cold seasons, however anyone can get hypothermia in any season, in water and on dry land.

When planning an outdoor excursion such as camping or cross country skiing, there are several ways to prepare yourself in order to avoid hypothermia:

Wear lots of layers of clothing and keep extra clothing in a backpack. If your clothing gets wet, you can take out your extra clothing from your pack and replace the wet clothing.

Do not wear jeans, as they get wet (from snow and rain) easily. Instead, wear insulating materials such as wool, a wind-proof jacket, and rain gear.

Bring high energy food with you and keep snacking. Food provides heat and replaces energy that you've lost while walking or skiing.

Dieting has no place in winter camping or cross country skiing. You need the extra calories to keep your energy up and keep warm.

Drink lots of warm fluids such as soup to avoid dehydration.

Do not drink alcohol! It clouds the mind and actually speeds heat loss.

Insulate yourself from the snow- Do not sit on the snow when resting, instead, place a pack between you and the snow to insulate yourself so you do not become wet.

If you do sit on the snow, this will take away your body heat rapidly and contribute to hypothermia.

When the Risk is too High

Wind and wet

Extreme cold, wet clothes — especially in the presence of wind — and being in cold water can all play a part in increasing your chances of hypothermia. People who are elderly, very young or have certain health issues are especially vulnerable.

Risks to older adults

People age 65 and older are especially vulnerable because they may have other illnesses or take medications that can interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature.

Risks to the very young.

child
Children are extremely vulnerable to hypothermia during any season.

Children can lose heat faster than adults do.

Children have a larger head-to-body ratio than adults do, making them more prone to heat loss through the head.

Children may also ignore the cold because they're having too much fun to think about it.

And they may not have the judgment to dress properly in cold weather or to get out of the cold when they feel cold.

Infants may have a special problem with the cold because they have less efficient mechanisms for generating heat.

 

Other factors that may place you at risk:

Psychiatric disorders.

Individuals who have Alzheimer's disease or another illness that causes mental impairment may not be aware of the risks of being out in the cold.

Wandering away from home is not uncommon among people with Alzheimer's, and many are unable to find their way back on their own, leaving them stranded and vulnerable to the weather.

Alcohol consumption.

alcohol
Alcohol greatly increases the chance of hypothermia.

Alcohol may make your body feel warm inside, but it lowers your body's ability to retain heat.

Don't drink alcohol and operate a boat or other watercraft.

Alcohol can impair your ability to navigate the waters, increasing your risk of an accident and of falling into cold water.

Medical conditions.

Some health disorders affect the body's ability to respond to cold or to produce heat.

Examples include untreated underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), stroke, severe arthritis, Parkinson's disease, trauma, spinal cord injuries, burns, blood vessel or nerve disorders that affect sensation in your extremities (for example, peripheral neuropathy in people with diabetes), dehydration and any condition that limits activity or restrains the normal flow of blood.

Older adults are more likely to have one or more of these risk factors.

Water temperature.

Another factor contributing to your risk of hypothermia is the length of time you're in cold water. Rescue time is crucial when a person accidentally falls into cold water.

Chances of survival are affected by how cold the water is. The colder the water, the less the chance of survival.

A Summer Hiking Trip Turns Deadly

Even as they lay huddled, tucked together in a fetal position under a thatch of scrub brush in a raging blizzard at 11,000 feet, brothers Bob Paré and Greg Davison thought they would survive.

But in the morning, Paré, 20, realized his 16-year-old brother was dead, or close to it, and that he might not make it either.

He waited another hour for daybreak, clutching his brother's motionless body, before he could go for help.

Paré's harrowing trek down St. Mary's Glacier through arctic conditions in light clothing started as a half-day outing with his brother Saturday morning.

Native Coloradans, the young men knew conditions in the mountains can change quickly, but they expected no worse than a rain shower.

"Three days to June, we really didn't expect a blizzard," Paré said Thursday.

The two left the trailhead for St. Mary's Glacier on a loop that would lead them around the top of the mountain and then straight down the glacier, he said.

They each were wearing an undershirt, T-shirt and jeans. They brought along windbreakers and sweat shirts. Their dog Nikki, a red, brindle boxer, joined them.

About an hour into the trip, an arctic storm slammed into the mountain, battering the brothers with 60 mph winds and plunging them into whiteout conditions. Visibility dropped to about 20 feet.

"We thought it was fairly temporary," Paré said. "We were already on our way down, so we thought we would keep going down."

But they quickly became disoriented.

About 5 p.m. the brothers decided to build a makeshift shelter on the side of a curved rock wall.

Paré broke down nearby shrubs and tiny trees, piling them up to form two walls. He lay his younger brother down against the wall and partially covered him with his body to shield him from the brunt of the storm.

Then Nikki lay on top of the two brothers and Paré pulled the makeshift walls down on top of them, he said.

The two brothers lay like that in 13-degree temperatures for about 12 hours, shivering, talking and trying to stay awake.

Neither brother ever thought that death was a possibility.

"We weren't really thinking something like that was going to happen. There were no negative thoughts," Paré said. "We talked all night and there never was any sort of tone like that."

But as morning came, Paré realized his brother wasn't doing well.

"Around 5 in the morning or so he started mumbling like he was dreaming and I tried waking him up and stuff, but he wouldn't wake up," Paré said. "I realized he was getting severe hypothermia."

But it was still dark, so Paré was forced to wait another hour or so before leaving for help.

Paré checked on his brother a final time before leaving at 6:20 a.m.

"I couldn't find a pulse, his eyes were dilated and there was no response at all out of him," he said. "He was gone or damn close."

Paré tried to get Nikki to lead him to safety, but the dog ignored him and crawled back on top of Davison, refusing to leave.

Although the weather was still pretty bad, Paré thought his trip down the mountain would be easy. It wasn't.

Suffering from hypothermia and with his clothes frozen to his body, Paré stumbled down the mountain as if he were drunk.

"I was walking all over the place and the wind kept pushing me over," he said. "I would just sort of sit down for a minute and then get up and start down again."

 

After a Night in the Thicket

On Friday August 9th, 2002, searchers ended a 15-hour hunt for a five-year-old boy when he emerged clutching a blue stuffed monkey after a night lost in a dense thicket outside Fredericton, N.B.

Brandon Dunfield said he chased his cat, Sadie, into the woods and became disoriented. At dusk, he crawled under a tree with branches bent to the ground and spent the night hugging his cat, using his toy as a pillow.

The RCMP, several search and rescue teams, the Red Cross and the family's neighbours scoured the area through the night. A nearby store stayed open for volunteers.

A helicopter from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown joined the effort in the morning; workers also drained a nearby pond.

"It was the worst feeling in my life," Mindy Harnish, Brandon's mother, said of the ordeal.

"Kids are quick and sly so you have to keep an eye on them at all times."

The boy answered a search party's call around 10:45 a.m. Following his mother's advice, he asked the strangers to identify themselves before he emerged. He was just 500 metres from home.

The temperature dipped to 7C while the boy was lost. RCMP officers feared he might develop hypothermia, but the boy suffered only bug bites and a few scrapes.

He told the two men who rescued him that he had to fight off a bear during the night and told it to find its own place to sleep.

The cat was also returned unharmed.

Land Hypothermia is often accompanied with moments of disorientation and hallucinations. It is important to be aware how to spot the initial signs of hypothermia
hikers
Hikers during any season are particularly vulnerable to hypothermia. Be sure to pack an extra set of clothing!
Spotting the problem..
A drop in your body's normal core temperature to 35C or below is a key sign of hypothermia. The condition usually comes on gradually. Often, people aren't aware that they need medical attention.

Common signs to look for are shivering, which is your body's attempt to generate heat through muscle activity, and the "umbles" — stumbles, mumbles, fumbles and grumbles. These behaviors may be a result of changes in motor coordination and levels of consciousness caused by hypothermia.

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Slurred speech

  • Abnormally slow rate of breathing

  • Cold, pale skin

  • Fatigue, lethargy or apathy

The severity of hypothermia can vary, depending on how low your core body temperature goes. Severe hypothermia will eventually lead to cardiac and respiratory failure, then death
Looking For The Fix.

Seek immediate medical attention for anyone who appears to be suffering from hypothermia. Until medical help is available, follow these guidelines for caring for someone with hypothermia.

What to do

Move the person out of the cold. Preventing additional heat loss is crucial. If you're unable to move the person out of the cold, shield the person from the cold and wind as best as you can.

hikers
Wet clothing is largely responsible for robbing the body of its natural heat. Get dry as soon as possible!

Remove wet clothing. If the person is wearing wet clothing, remove it and replace it with dry clothing. Cover the person's head. Try not to move the person too much. Cut away clothing if you need to.

Insulate the person's body from the cold ground. Lay the person faceup on a blanket or other warm surface.

Monitor breathing. A person with severe hypothermia may appear unconscious, with no apparent signs of a pulse or breathing. If the person's breathing has stopped or appears dangerously low or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately if you're trained.

Share body heat. To warm the person's body, remove your clothing and lie next to the person skin-to-skin. Then cover both bodies with a blanket.

Provide warm beverages. If the affected person is alert and is able to swallow, have the person drink a warm, nonalcoholic beverage to help warm the body.

What not to do

Don't apply direct heat. Don't use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the victim. Instead, apply warm compresses to the neck, chest wall and groin.

Don't attempt to warm the arms and legs. Heat applied to the arms and legs forces cold blood back toward the heart, lungs and brain causing the core body temperature to drop. This can be fatal.

Don't massage or rub the person. Handle people with hypothermia gently because they're at risk of cardiac arrest.

Don't provide alcohol beverages. Alcohol lowers the body's ability to retain heat.
mountain pond
A mountain hike turns deadly. One boy remains, mourning the loss of his younger brother, and best friend.
A Summer Hiking Trip Turns Deadly (Continued)

After about a mile, Paré fell down one last time.

"I was done, that was it," he said. "I have never ever been so spent, exhausted in my life."

A rescuer, searching for the brothers with the Alpine Rescue Team, heard Paré's shouts for help and found him.

The team rushed Paré back to the parking lot, two miles away, where medical personnel had to cut the frozen jeans from his legs and shoes from his feet to get to his severely frostbitten toes.

It took rescuers using directions from Paré another two hours to find Davison's body.

They were able to find it only because Nikki, who was wearing a bright yellow slicker, was still lying on top of him.

Davison was pronounced dead at the base of the mountain.

Paré suffered frostbite on his arms, legs and feet. He says all but his feet have already healed. He doesn't think he will lose any toes.

Nikki, the dog, survived the ordeal with no injuries.