Common mistakes that can result in hypothermia are; attempting to keep pace with a better-conditioned hiker or making a water crossing without a change of clothes in cool, windy conditions. If the fast pace requires the weaker person to over exert, their body will sweat and soak their clothing from the inside out. As soon as they stop to rest or catch their breath the moisture will cool and the body will rapidly chill. Once their clothing is wet the chilling affect is difficult if not impossible to reverse without shelter, warmth and a dry change of clothes. Of course, when hiking alone, panic or a perceived sense of urgency can have the same end result.
When hiking in cool, windy, conditions the pace should not require any rest stops or cause excessive sweating. When traveling on foot in the mountains, slow and steady wins the race. Anyone who pushes a weaker person to the point of over exertion is potentially putting his or her life at risk.
Taking off your dry cloths before attempting a water crossing could save your life or at least make the remainder of the journey much more comfortable. The few seconds of discomfort experienced from wading a water crossing naked does not compare to the continued suffering and danger associated with wet clothes in cold, windy conditions. Recovery from the numbing effects of cold water is quite rapid when dry clothes are available immediately upon reaching the opposite shore.
Shivering is the body's automatic defense against cold temperature as it attempts to warm itself. Constant shivering is often the first sign of hypothermia. Symptoms of hypothermia include:
Shivering, loss of coordination, slurred speech, confusion, inability to think clearly, loss of energy and a lack of concern over the situation. As the condition worsens the victim will begin to loose consciousness, their pulse will weaken and breathing will shallow.
Without shelter, a person can die of exposure within hours. This time is reduced to minutes if a person remains in icy water. Wind and water dramatically increase the effect that cold has on the human body. If the temperatures are cool, your clothes are wet and the wind is blowing, dancing around a fire even naked won’t raise the body’s core temperature. If the condition is already in its advanced stages, building a bigger fire may warm the victim to rapidly and unevenly. Rapid warming can have dire consequences when the freezing blood on the body’s surface suddenly rushes into the internal organs.
Stopping further heat loss is the first priority. Get out of the wind, wet and cold as quickly and in as many ways as are possible. Remove any wet clothing. Adding heat slowly back to the victim’s body is next. A dog pile of naked bodies is sometimes the only option. Providing mouth to mouth can help transfer heat and conserve the victims strained energy supply.
Pre heat anything you can find and attempt to warm the entire surface of the frigid body. Provide warm liquids like honey water, coco or coffee or just warm water if nothing else is available. Keep the victims head covered and their body off the cold ground. As they start to recover get some high-energy food in them to help speed the recovery process. Hopefully, it’s clear that wet, wind and cold can kill. Fast reactions and knowledge can prevent a dangerous situation from occurring or even save a life. As always, prevention is the best solution.