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Don't Get Hypothermia

Posted by Lace Thornberg at Nov 06, 2009 03:18 PM |

Ironically, the closest I've come to getting hypothermia was during a Wilderness First Aid course.

I was playing the "victim" in a simulated accident scenario, lying still on the cold, damp ground in a pile of wet salal in the Issaquah Alps. It was a cold day in late fall and a steady drizzle fell as I awaited my rescuers. Perfect conditions for hypothermia, I thought, reflecting on the lessons we had been taught earlier that day.

When my rescuers found me, the food coloring that was supposed to indicate my wounds was running down my face in red rivulets and my teeth were chattering. Our instructors wanted the situation to feel "realistic" for the rescuers. I thought it was a little too realistic for the victim.

Hypothermia is a medical condition in which the victim's core body temperature drops to significantly below normal. Normal metabolism begins to be impaired when the core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If body temperature falls into the 80s, the condition becomes critical and can even be fatal.

A bout of hypothermia will most certainly ruin any trip outdoors, but it's easy enough to avoid. As Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician Tom Milne writes in our recent issue of Washington Trails, "prevention is your first line of defense against hypothermia."

The avoid hypothermia, you need to pay attention to your body. Eat frequent snacks and stay hydrated. Wear a hat (remember that you lose most of your heat through your head) and layer your clothes so that you can adjust them as needed. Don't wear cotton or other fabrics that don't dry quickly. Instead, choose "wicking" layers.

You also need to remember to rest, but, instead of taking a lengthy nap like you might in summer, you should take frequent short breaks so your body doesn't cool down dramatically.

Winter is full of great recreation opportunities. Stay warm, stay dry and have fun out there!