Hypothermia occurs when your body can no longer maintain a normal temperature. This can happen if you are wet, are exposed to heavy winds or, for example due to an injury, have to sit still or lie down for a long period of time. Hypothermia gradually leads to a loss of mental and physical ability and is one of the greatest dangers during a winter trek.
When resting, your normal body temperature is around 37.5°C. When your temperature falls below 35°C your body will start to shake and you will no longer have control of your muscles. Your ability to think rationally and concentrate will be affected. If this hypothermic state persists, the shaking will abate and then cease completely and you will then display signs of apathy and not be able to take care of yourself. Your ability to think clearly will disappear and you will not be able to answer simple questions.
It is important that you and the members of your group keep an eye on one another. The first signs of hypothermia are extreme shaking, deteriorating motor skills, poor judgement and apathy. If this happens you should:
• Find protection from the wind and rain.
• Change into dry clothes or add an insulating layer.
• Give the hypothermic person a warm, sweet drink if he/she can manage it. Remember to check the liquid’s temperature so it is not scalding hot – a person suffering from hypothermia can have difficulty feeling the heat.
• If the person suffering from hypothermia is “only” experiencing the sensation of being cold, make sure he/she moves around. In some cases you might need to help this person start moving, and you might need to be a bit curt in your tone of voice.
Advanced hypothermia is when the body temperature falls below 30°C. The person loses consciousness and it can be difficult to see if he/she is breathing or has a heartbeat. In this situation professional medical care is necessary and the person must be handled with extreme care. What you can do is place the person in a sleeping bag, preferably with a heated bottle. In a really bad scenario, crawl into the sleeping bag to share your body heat. Never place a person suffering from hypothermia in front of an extremely hot source of heat, such as a wood-burning stove or an open fire. The stress that this will place on the inner organs can be life-threatening.
What is most important is that you remember that you are responsible for the other people in your group. Strive to prevent hypothermia from occurring by making sure that everyone eats, drinks and constantly adapts their clothing to the weather.
Did you know that: One of the common reasons why people freeze to death is that they lose the use of their hands. Stay hydrated to avoid chapping, use lotion on your hands and apply the multi-layer principle even to gloves. Always wear a thin liner-glove when handling cold metal objects.