Dec. 12, 2012 - Issue #895-Japandroids
You better check yo' self before you wreck yo' self
Whether you're heading out for your morning commute, spending a day on the ski hill or going on a multi-day ice climb, there's potential for frost nip, frostbite and hypothermia.
Max Darrah, visitor safety technician for Jasper National Park, knows all about the importance of winter safety and preparedness. Not only has he helped rewarm many an outdoor adventurer, he has suffered frostbite.
It was 2006 and he and two others were climbing the highest mountain in Canada, Yukon Territory's Mount Logan.
While descending the summit plateau, the group was pinned down by a large storm.
"For three days we were in our tent, just waiting out the storm and hoping that the tent would hold up."
When the group finally decided to move on and Darrah put his feet back into his cold, wet boots, he ran into trouble.
"By the time we got down to a lower camp, when I took my boots off ... I could tell right away I had done some damage to a couple of my toes.
"It was probably 10 days later when they really woke up–when the skin and the nail and everything came off. It was quite painful. But up until that point they were just woody and numb to the touch."
Darrah says his frostbite story "isn't that spectacular" considering he didn't lose any limbs or end up with any major defects, but his mangled toenail and callused middle toes will forever be a reminder of the pain he suffered following that climb.
The key to staying safe in freezing temperatures is awareness, preparation and equipment, says Darrah.
In his case, having a sturdy tent and the group's practice of using an ice pick as a tent peg were two things that kept his party sheltered, alive and relatively unscathed.
Although his frostbite took place on Mount Logan, Darrah says it's important to remember that "it's not just the really high remote mountains where [cold weather] injuries occur."
Even on the ski hill people can be exposed to extreme cold that can cause frost nip or bite.
Darrah advises being aware of the early warning signs as the first step to staying safe.
Frost nip: The first indication of frost nip is red skin that turns white when touched. Frost nip occurs when the skin is extremely cold, but not quite frozen. It commonly affects the ears, nose, cheeks, fingers and toes.
If frost nip is treated promptly with gentle rewarming, it will heal without complication. If not, it can turn into frostbite.
Frostbite: Skin affected by frostbite looks white and waxy and it feels hard to the touch. Frostbite occurs when the skin becomes so cold that it and the underlying tissue freeze completely.
Treatment of frostbite begins with removing the person from the cold and placing the affected area in warm water until it is rewarmed.
In extreme cases, limbs and appendages will be removed.
Hypothermia: A person suffering from hypothermia may act inappropriately with uncharacteristic stumbling, mumbling and fumbling. These actions are caused by an abnormally low body temperature (less than 34 C, compared to normal body temperature at about 37 C).
For minimal damage and survival, early recognition and prompt medical attention is crucial. If left untreated, hypothermia can result in a coma and death.
If you're out in the wilderness and a member of your party falls through the ice, Darrah says the first thing to do is remove the person from the cold environment and then remove their clothes.
"Water and wet clothes suck heat right out of you," he says. So, it's best to get the clothes off and replace them with whatever extra clothing the party has. If you have blankets and sleeping bags, cover the person with those, as well.
From there, the group needs to begin aggressive warming, which includes feeding the person warm fluids and using body heat to warm them up.
Darrah says the best way to stay safe is by preventing these situations from happening in the first place. To do that he suggests researching your trip, making a plan with your team, packing all necessary survival items, getting educated and dressing appropriately for the weather.
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