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    Default Hypothermia - my experiences

    In another thread there was some short discussion of hypthermia and I thought it might be helplful to some if I shared a couple "near misses" I have had. Let me preface this with the fact that both of these showed glaring error judgments on my part, but I survived. Also both occurred during my AT thru hike. At the time of the first instance, I had already hiked over 600 miles and in the second instance over 1600. Prior to starting my thru hike, I had done over 800 miles of backpacking in the southeast. So, I thought I knew what I was doing.

    In Central VA, the weather warmed up in mid April and I swapped out my rain suit for a poncho. Within two days, I found myself on a 3800 ft ridge in a driving, windy rainstorm, with temps that had dropped into the mid-40's. Ponchos usually only cover the tops of your forearms so any long sleeve top must be pulled up or it will get wet and soaked. I hiked in the cold rain for about 3 hours. I had tentatively planned to get a shuttle at VA 623 to a nearby hostel for the night. I could feel my body getting very cold and losing all dexterity in my fingers. I knew if I stopped, I would get cold very quickly, so I kept moving as fast as I could to keep my body temp as high as possible. I did have all my gear, so stopping to pitch a tent and get in my bag was an option, even though the terrain did not afford me any open spots. I recall waiting on the shuttle by pacing around on the edge of the road and shivering. When I got in the pickup truck, I begged the driver to turn the heat up to "high".

    Bad move to go for the poncho that early. Within two days, I bought a Frog Togs set at Trents Grocery. I ended up sending my rain pants home within a month, but kept the rain jacket and poncho the rest of the way. Ponchos are for warm weather.

    My second bout with Hypothermia occurred outside Bennington, VT in early June. I was hiking with another guy and it rained constantly for about 20 hours going into town and our first night staying there. We decided to slack pack a 21 mile section north of Bennington, and end up back at the trailhead outside of town for another night in a motel. We got dropped off and the rain started again. It rained constantly all day. As we were slack packing we only had rain jackets, baseball hats, snacks, maps and trekking poles. Our usual slack pack gear. The temps never got out of the mid-40's and we stayed on a ridge around 3000 ft.

    Within 45 minutes we knew it was a bad idea, but there was not a single road crossing or bail out point. There was no cell service back at the remote trailhead where we had been dropped off. We didn't have much choice. We kept moving. Both of us lost manual dexterity off and on throughout the day. My hiking partner actually urinated on himself as he walked because he knew he couldn't get his zipper down with his fingers. We spent over 7 hours out there. We never stopped, because we couldn't. We saw several AT and Long Trail thrus, who shut it down in shelters along that stretch and later told us it was the worst day of the entire hike for them. We did not have that luxury. Around the 15 mile mark we had to ford a swollen brook. It typically would have been a breeze, but with over 24 hours of constant rain, it was rocking and rolling. We went up and down the bank for about 25 minutes and finally just crossed at the AT. It was sketchy, but we made it.

    By the time we got down to the trail head, I didn't have enough manual dexterity to use my phone. Once again, we shivered in the lot waiting for our ride. That night we both talked about lessons learned.

    Two long stories, but a couple thoughts. Be careful out there. You may have some experience, but you can easily get yourself in a dicey situation. Be especially careful of getting cold and wet at the same time. Make sure you keep your sleeping bag dry and good to have a dry change of clothes. As I like to say, Mother Nature is indifferent about outcomes.

  2. #2

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    I don't know about Mother Nature being indifferent to outcomes, but She's there with us every step of the way and invites us to her party. Sometimes though what she finds comical and fun ends up killing us but that's the price we pay to sleep with her.

    You have some good stories. As I often say, my rain jacket has literally kept me alive---alluding to your poncho story. It's a valuable piece of gear.

    And in terrible winter weather there's ABSOLUTELY NOTHING keeping you from setting up a tent and hunkering in until the worst of it passes---even pulling a zero day in the tent. Hunkering is how backpackers stay outdoors in the worst conditions and then move when conditions improve.

    But the coldest I ever got on a winter trip, ironically, was when I hitched 20 miles to a town in the back of a pickup truck on the last day---Hellishly cold. On that trip I got thru 0F temps and snow and cold rains at 35F but it was the truck ride out which kicked my sac. No room for me in the cab etc.

    Speaking of a frozen zipper, one time me and a friend had to cross a shallow creek by wading in our boots at 10F and my friend's bootlaces froze solid and we had to cut them apart to get his boots off later in camp.

    Many times I have ended a tough winter day of Backpackaging in a cold rain when my hands were blocks of numb wood without the ability to unclip my hipbelt or unzip my gear---and standing exposed to a killer wind in first stage hypothermia. The ONLY thing that can be done is setting up the tent at all costs---I call it the 8 Second Rodeo Ride. Do it or Die.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Emerson Bigills View Post
    Within 45 minutes we knew it was a bad idea, but ...
    That's a problem. I tell people all the time, "KNOW WHEN TO TURN BACK".

  4. #4

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    Someone (me) could learn from this thread. Thank you, gentlemen!

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    Thanks to Emerson Bigills for sharing your experiences with us.Cold is a killer and even the most experienced hikers are not immune.

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    Having a partner can help. On a winter trip a few years ago with my son, in the teens F , we were hanging around outside the tent. I started getting shivery and probably a bit stupid. My son put me in the tent, thoroughly wrapped in my bag, with a down parka on top. He made a hot meal and I warmed up before too long. If I had been alone, it could have been another story altogether.
    Last edited by Feral Bill; 10-09-2018 at 19:35.
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    The closest I came was on a 90 degree day in NY when a thunderstorm popped up and I got soaked by an ice cold rain for 15 minutes. About the time my teeth started chattering was when the storm and lightning had move far enough away to make it safe to continue on again. Should have known to bring a real rain jacket, even in July.
    The AT - It has it's ups and downs...

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    The GSMNP website recommends rain gear for any hike in the back country.
    https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/hikingsafety.htm

    Once was camped at Icewater Spring shelter on the 4th of July. Noticed the weather was unseasonably cold, and learned the next day that LeConte Lodge had recorded an overnight low of 38F.
    With rain gear, sleeping bags, and emergency shelter (in case anything kept us from getting to the campsite) meant that I was prepared and not in danger of hypothermia. But it points out that hypothermia in the south can still be a concern in the middle of summer. Something many day hikers to the area don't consider.

    On the subject, again things turned out fine but I had a relative vacationing in the Rockies. Their hotel was at a low elevation and they drove up into the mountains for the day. Reached a location with snow on the ground and they got out of their car wearing shorts to check it out. The car wasn't in park and started to roll away. Fortunately jumped in the car and stopped it in time, at which point they realize just how screwed they could have been if they hadn't been able to stop the car.

  9. #9

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    I had two close calls, one at 14K feet in Colorado in July, another on the AT near Roan Mountain in April. The first was a really close call, I was pretty severely hypothermic and basically if I had sat down I would have probably died (and boy, did I want to just sit down). It was early in my climbing career and I just didn't know what I was doing. The second was not nearly as close of a call, but still a wake up call. Both incidents were a result mostly of inadequate gear, plain and simple. Funny, both happened when the temperature was in the high 30's, but dumping wet snow or raining buckets. I've hiked and climbed extensively in way below zero temperatures (down to about -25F, blowing like heck) without any issues.

    If I get motivated, I'll share details later.

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    In my younger years, I've got shivering cold with "frozen" hands so many times it was finally a normal state in winter. We didn't know the word Hypothermia at all.

    Two years back in December I had a really close call when hypothermia hit me unexpectedly.
    I was training for a 24hrs-hike challenge, and was towards the end of a 100km test hike, about 20hrs in, 4:00am.
    It had started to rain and slush a few hrs before, and while my body was well protected by warm clothes, poncho and chaps, my hands grew colder by the minute. The gloves were totally soaked.
    Usually, I would just hike faster to get me warm from inside, but after 20+hrs of constant hiking I was spent. I simply couldn't go any faster, but rather was on the limit of being able to hike at all.
    Just 10km from my house, hiking along a local road with zero traffic, I searched shelter in a busstop hut, and tried to help myself, which I found impossible due to my "frozen" hands. Couldn't open the pack, nor any zipper, nor handle anything at all.
    I was so spent that I was very tempted to take a nap in this busstop.
    A single car raced by, which woke me (not sure if I really had dozed off) and shivering like hell I realized that I had to move for pure survivals sake.
    I finally managed to stumble on for another 2.5hrs, and after entering the house my wife had to peel me out of my clothes and I dunked into a hot thub.
    Which was another bad idea: After having hot-soaked for some time, I got out an passed out on the spot, collapsing on the floor.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Leo L. View Post
    In my younger years, I've got shivering cold with "frozen" hands so many times it was finally a normal state in winter. We didn't know the word Hypothermia at all.
    Ditto
    Grew up duck hunting
    Cold,wet, nonfunctional fingers was way of life
    Never saw it as big deal

    Its not a problem
    If you got options
    Ie....bail, leave
    Warm truck 1 hr away, etc

    Even hiking ive gone to bed without dinner a few times
    Just setting up shelter had me shivering uncontrollably
    No way to cook , cant work lighter anyway
    Good feeling to get in the goose cocoon and warm up
    Even though it takes 1-2 hours sometimes

    The trick is always, stop and get warm , while you are still able
    Dont get in position where you cant.
    And realize you are 1 mistake from dieing. Ie.get your down wet ..your go from frying pan to fire.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 10-10-2018 at 06:21.
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    Thanks for sharing your experiences.I am wondering if anyone has ever used one of those emergency mylar blankets or shelters before and how it performed.I have one,weighs under 4 oz,and I have always wondered about how effective it would be when the chips are down.

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    Just about exactly a year ago I was hiking a section south from Harper's Ferry to Waynesboro. The first couple of days had been extraordinarily hot & humid, and I was completely soaked just from sweating. The 3rd or 4th day a minor front came through, and while the rain was refreshing, the temps dropped from high 80's down to the mid 60's. The fog was really neat, and it felt great -- right up until it didn't. I suddenly realized that I was getting chilled, but I wasn't able to hike with enough speed to keep myself warm. I only had a few miles to a shelter, but I really believed that once I got there I could be too chilled to warm up. I was at Sky Meadows State Park, and decided to bail off the trail then and there, thinking I could find a campsite there.*

    Long story short, I ended up at the park office and called for a shuttle in order to get somewhere inside dry & warm for the night. I felt a little foolish, because it wasn't "cold"...but I knew I sure was. I was shivering like crazy, and my shuttle driver was great -- had that heat cranked up!

    It doesn't take cold temps at all. Self awareness is important.
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    I carry them(mylar blankets) for both hiking and biking and while I've not used one, I've read most of what is on this site on the subject. My take is they work as advertised in terms of wind protection and providing warmth...BUT with no way for moisture to escape you can quickly end up soaking wet inside it. So for me its a short term solution to getting warm whose main value is to give you a little bit of time to think and figure how to deal with your situation

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    Quote Originally Posted by Five Tango View Post
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.I am wondering if anyone has ever used one of those emergency mylar blankets or shelters before and how it performed.I have one,weighs under 4 oz,and I have always wondered about how effective it would be when the chips are down.
    They do work reasonably well for a one-use warmup, but not so much as an actual shelter. And really, to get or keep warm, it's usually better to just keep going, making sure to eat calories. Calories = heat! (quite literally)

    There are some slightly heavier options that are quite a bit more effective, one can actually sleep (or rest, at least) in something like this (5.5 oz, but expensive!):

    https://www.redcross.org/store/survi...FRVLAQodz-MEgA

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    my wife and I had a brush with the shivers hiking out of Big South Fork one morning. it started raining as we were taking down camp and didn't stop until long after we got back to our car. We both had on decent rain jackets and toboggans, but after a while it just doesn't shed so easily.

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    I have seen people in the early stages of hypothermia. One factor that appears is that they're "not hungry." A very important step to take is EAT. Hot, or even warm food is nice, but any food will do. The body burning the calories, especially fat calories, along with getting out of the wind, bundling up, and getting dry (if possible) will save your life.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Five Tango View Post
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.I am wondering if anyone has ever used one of those emergency mylar blankets or shelters before and how it performed.I have one,weighs under 4 oz,and I have always wondered about how effective it would be when the chips are down.
    I always carry one or two, and used one occassionally, but with very mixed results.

    First off, they age. If you carry one in your pack for several years it might break or delaminate if you are in need to use it. Replace it after some years even if its still unused.
    Second, they hardly work in high wind. You can't unfold it, then can't wrap it around yourself propely, and it will tear all too easy.
    Third, its a one-use only (at least the cheap ones). So if you unwrap yourself after hours to go to the bathroom, maybe you can't wrap yourself again.

    I still carry one all the time, but for real emergency only.
    It might help to bridge the tiny gap when things come down extremely narrow.

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    Quote Originally Posted by colorado_rob View Post
    They do work reasonably well for a one-use warmup, but not so much as an actual shelter. And really, to get or keep warm, it's usually better to just keep going, making sure to eat calories. Calories = heat! (quite literally)

    I

    There are some slightly heavier options that are quite a bit more effective, one can actually sleep (or rest, at least) in something like this (5.5 oz, but expensive!):

    https://www.redcross.org/store/survi...FRVLAQodz-MEgA
    I have the heavier version that I use to boost my 20 down quilt in the hammock but have never used it alone.Might do a yard test some time just to see what it can do but I suspect the user would survive uncomfortably.The SOL Escape bivvy does not condensate but the survival is said to make the user wet as others have stated.

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by AllDownhillFromHere View Post
    That's a problem. I tell people all the time, "KNOW WHEN TO TURN BACK".
    I tell backpackers I see, "KNOW WHEN TO SET UP CAMP AND HUNKER IN." As often turning back is not an option.

    Quote Originally Posted by Feral Bill View Post
    Having a partner can help. On a winter trip a few years ago with my son, in the teens F , we were hanging around outside the tent. I started getting shivery and probably a bit stupid. My son put me in the tent, thoroughly wrapped in my bag, with a down parka on top. He made a hot meal and I warmed up before too long. If I had been alone, it could have been another story altogether.
    If solo, could you have not gone inside the tent yourself and wrapped up in the bag and boiled up some hot tea??

    Quote Originally Posted by Leo L. View Post
    Usually, I would just hike faster to get me warm from inside, but after 20+hrs of constant hiking I was spent.
    You bring up the important point of how EXHAUSTION accents HYPOTHERMIA. I see it all the time in myself.

    Quote Originally Posted by MuddyWaters View Post
    Ditto
    Grew up duck hunting
    Cold,wet, nonfunctional fingers was way of life
    Never saw it as big deal

    Its not a problem
    If you got options
    Ie....bail, leave
    Warm truck 1 hr away, etc

    Even hiking ive gone to bed without dinner a few times
    Just setting up shelter had me shivering uncontrollably
    No way to cook , cant work lighter anyway
    Good feeling to get in the goose cocoon and warm up
    Even though it takes 1-2 hours sometimes

    The trick is always, stop and get warm , while you are still able
    Dont get in position where you cant.
    And realize you are 1 mistake from dieing. Ie.get your down wet ..your go from frying pan to fire.
    Pretty much reflects on everything I said. Set up camp and hunker in. "The trick is to always stop and get warm" Translation: Set Up Camp. Backpackers have gear and have good options to deal with hypothermia. We carry tents and bags and sleeping pads and stoves (most of us) and extra clothing and rain gear and even some Hot Hands pouches if needed.

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