Perils of Winter

6:14 p.m. on January 12, 2008 (EST)
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From National Weather Service site:

"In 2006, hypothermia claimed only 2 lives, dramatically down from 24 in 2005 and 27 in 2004. This total is well below the 10-year average for cold-related fatalities of 18."

If you cut out psychotic homeless people, drunks, and destitute elderly, these figures suggest that outdoor recreation presents nearly no risk of hypothermia.

Common sense is perhaps remarkably pervasive.

Either that, or, the preachers of outdoor safety are remarkably effective in educating the miserably ignorant masses.

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11:20 a.m. on January 17, 2008 (EST)
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We have deaths from hypothermia nearly every year here in the mountains surrounding Vancouver, BC, even in July. We have had six killed in avalanches so far this winter, three within the past couple of weeks.

Having worked out of Jasper, AB. with the Canadian Forces Survival Training School, many of the instructors being very experienced in Arctic survival-warfare, I ahve helped with searches, rescues and recovery; I did this while in forestry in BC, as well.

My opinion is that outdoor pursuits CAN be dangerous, but, that proper education-training, gear selection and, especially, attitude, can and will alleviate most risks. However, many do not grasp this and hikers, esepcially tourists, die frequently, within sight of Vancouver's lights, lost in the North Shore Mountains, which are un-tracked wilderness that stretch for miles in protected parks.

Seems that learning from experienced people and being cautious and honest with oneself about one's skills and knowledge is the best option. Carrying a proper survival kit is mandatory, as well, IMO, and a "cocoon" of tarp, bivy, bag and pad is absolutely essential.

11:46 a.m. on January 17, 2008 (EST)
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It doesn't take dire conditions ....

I've come across hypothermic hikers along the AT in rather mild weather - they were ill prepared, didn't anticipate rain (!).
The ambient air temp was in the low 60's, they were sitting in a trail shelter, soaked to the skin, the guy was on the verge of being non-responsive, the woman was frantic. They had no matches, no rain gear, were disoriented and seemed to have given up. Oh, they were less than two miles from a state park office. Neither could be convinced to strip off the wet clothes in exchange for dry ones. They were also darned lucky that some of us enjoy hiking in the rain. I did what I could, the guy got my fleece top (from my pack), the woman got a plastic trash bag with arm and head holes cut out, I gave them my thermos of coffee and hustled 'em down to the park office - they were in pretty good shape when I left. The guy never gave me back my old fleece, but I did go out and complete my day hike.

1:09 p.m. on January 17, 2008 (EST)
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Ever shiver after getting out of a lake on an 80 degree day?
That is the begining stages of Hypothermia as well.

1:51 p.m. on January 17, 2008 (EST)
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Statistics are always suspect, at best.

For example, a December 2005 article at USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/weather/news/2005-12-18-nd-freezing-cold_x.htm, reports that between 1999 and 2005, 32 people died of "exposure" in North Dakota alone, with 112 deaths in Minnesota during the same period. Nationwide, from 1979 through 2002, 689 people died from exposure each year.

While "exposure" could include hyperthermia as well as hypothermia, I suspect that the reality is far above the number reported in your post.

Moreover, as f klock and Fred point out, you don't have to die to be considered hypothermic. Thus, while the chances of death may be slight, to state that there is "nearly no risk of hypothermia" is simply untrue.

2:31 p.m. on January 17, 2008 (EST)
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One major problem with hypothermia is that it can sneak up on you. Obviously if you fall through the ice crossing a lake or something, you're going to be wet and cold, but for most people the cold creeps in, it's a gradual process. The down side is that, if you don't recognize the onset you can deteriorate really fast and get to the point where there's no way you can warm yourself. You start to lose fine motor control, you can't get your lighter to work, you can't start your stove or build a fire,your arms and legs go numb as your body tries to keep your vital organs warm, your thinking goes south. Eventually the shivering stops and typically you go to sleep. You might even imagine a feeling of warmth coming over you (which would explain why, in some cases, people are found, quite dead and frozen, with their clothing removed and folded next to them, in their last moments their mind tried to make sense of something, tried to impart order upon a situation it could not comprehend. This phenomena has been seen on numerous high mountains). If you're by yourself or if others in your party are in a similar state and no one else comes about to help you, I assure you, there's little chance that you'll wake up.
Call it exposure, call it hypothermia, ignore drunks and old people if you like, but it's a very serious topic which is foolish, at best, to ignore.
And, as stated before, it doesn't take much. You've got about an 8.6F degree differential between normal body temp (98.6F) and a point where, for all intent and purpose, you can no longer rescue yourself (90F).

4:42 p.m. on January 17, 2008 (EST)
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There is a good book on hypothermia called Hypothermia -Death By Exposure by Dr. Willam Forgey. It is a bit dated (1985)but the basic information seems very comprehensive. He points out that it doesn't take much to cause hypothermia and that it can happen even in what we would consider mild temperatures.

11:11 a.m. on January 22, 2008 (EST)
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Kutenay wrote:

My opinion is that outdoor pursuits CAN be dangerous, but, that proper education-training, gear selection and, especially, attitude, can and will alleviate most risks.

 

 

I couldnt agree with this more. Most people that perish from the perils of winter does so from the lack of training or being prepared. We just did a SCUBA dive last week in -5 degrees. My son dove in a wet suit and did two dives, one being at 60 feet. Nobody was hypothermic and we all came home having fun.

11:15 a.m. on January 22, 2008 (EST)
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Arent we allowed to post pictures anymore?......

9:09 p.m. on January 22, 2008 (EST)
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The average person's common sense, rather than warnings from persons with vast experience wearing mittens, actually accounts for this remarkable record.

Two out of three hundred million people suggests rather inconceivable odds. The NWS is EXTREMELY responsible in their compilation of data and to attack them is a non-starter.

11:38 p.m. on January 22, 2008 (EST)
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Calamity,

Who's attacking the NWS?

If you read the link I supplied, you might notice that the numbers I cited also came from the NWS, as well as the National Centers for Disease Control and various state agencies.

Thus, it's not the source but your use of the numbers I question. The stats you supplied did not mention drunks, or psychotic homeless people, or even outdoor recreation, yet you jumpstart argument by excluding drunks and psychotics and the destitute elderly and then stating that outdoor recreation presents no risk of hypothermia.

If you have so much respect for the NWS, note this quote:

"You don't have to have a blizzard or big winter storm or high winds to have exposure effects," said Nancy Godon, a senior meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks. "When you get out and start walking, it's a disaster waiting to happen because you lose orientation and visibility."

How do you square "disaster waiting to happen" with "no risk of hypothermia?" And who should we believe, Calamity or a senior meteorologist for the NWS?

I think you're both wrong.

Quite simply, while there may be little risk of death from hypothermia in the ordinary course of outdoor recreation, there is a definite risk of hypothermia every time you venture outdoors for any length of time in the winter. That's why people wear base layers and insulating layers and all the other layers they wear: to prevent hypothermia. If there were no risk of hypothermia, we would not need to spend all this money on warm clothing.

Finally, where did this common sense come from? Probably from parents with vast experience wearing mittens telling their kids to wear their mittens.

Now, don't forget to wear your earmuffs....

2:00 a.m. on January 23, 2008 (EST)
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Rexim: We do in essence very much agree on the earmuffs.

The suggestion that hikers who lack unattainable experience, will face serious odds of death from hypothermia, do seem to melt away in the face of this remarkable NWS statistic

With ordinary common sense, the average hiker, in average circumstances, has a mile-wide margin of safety, and therefore, "pushing the envelope" is a good way to broaden one's experience.

In the Chicago region, lacking ordinary common sense, you could actually die walking the dog at this very moment.

Yet somehow, many millions do survive, thank you, year after year.

(Can anybody tell me what, if any, special equipment my girlfriend's samoyed dogs need for winter camping? They seemed unhappy, last year, in southern New York in December, at 32 stinking stupid degrees. But now it's like zero.)

10:35 a.m. on January 23, 2008 (EST)
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I agree that common-sense is very important in one's safety in all kinds of situations, outdoors and otherwise; however, it seems the problem is that a number of hikers in many places seem to lose theirs and act in ways that result in near-death or tragic endings.

So, while I also agree with "pushing the envelope" to broaden one's experience base and enjoy the greater appreciation of the natural world gained thereby; I do think that being cautious, always using appropriate gear and learning from those with genuine skills/knowledge is a demonstration of common sense and will keep one safe.

In December, I feed my pb Rottweilers sausage made from Moose, Deer and sometimes Bison meat; this seems to keep them VERY happy! Perhaps the lady's Samoyeds would respond to this?

12:32 p.m. on January 23, 2008 (EST)
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Calamity wrote:

With ordinary common sense, the average hiker, in average circumstances, has a mile-wide margin of safety, and therefore, "pushing the envelope" is a good way to broaden one's experience


Ordinary common sense, average hiker and pushing the envelope all seems to contradict each other. Here is where average ordinary people pushing the envolope get themselves into trouble in cold weather.

I would not recommend pushing the envolope UNTIL you have the experiance, training and proper gear. Then you can push the envolope to gain more experiance and you'll know when that envolope begins to exceed your training and comfort zone. But, if you havent experianced stress or panic in certain situations, panic can creep up on you and panic is what many of people perish from. Not the elements of winter.

Calamity, what may seem common sense to you may very well not be to a person that has never been in the outdoors. And surely, walking ones dog down the sidewalk that you walked many times is different from being out in the woods.

2:33 p.m. on January 23, 2008 (EST)
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Calamity,

You keep changing the parameters on us.

No one posting here ever suggested that "hikers who lack unattainable experience will face serious odds of death from hypothermia." But your first post said there is "nearly no risk of hypothermia," a far different proposition.

And what does "unattainable experience" mean, anyway?

4:00 p.m. on January 23, 2008 (EST)
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I've tried to be fairly clear. Pot needs no further stirring.

If you like, call the weatherman all wet. But the data I mentioned is found at the following Web address:

http://www.weather.gov/om/hazstats/sum06.pdf

8:00 p.m. on January 28, 2008 (EST)
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Data that are misinterpreted, misread, or taken out of context (or all three) provide misleading conclusions that can be dangerous or fatal (the word "data", by the way, is plural; the singular is "datum"). Statistics without the context, as provided in the tables referred to are just numbers; they mean nothing without understanding how they were gathered, the criteria for editing the tables, and how the criteria were developed. As an example, note that the tables are labeled as relating to "severe weather." The data are accurate, but the "interpretations" are taken out of context. You have to search a lot further to learn the full context for the NWS tables.

Most hypothermia victims and most deaths from hypothermia take place in what are generally considered quite benign conditions (note: "hypothermia" is a drop in body temperature, with "exposure" being an older term still used as a synonym for "hypothermia"). Most non-fatal cases of hypothermia are unreported, since they do not progress to the stage of unconsciousness and the victims consider themselves to be "a little cold" and shivering. Many fatal cases are classified with the death having another "primary contributor".

I would highly recommend ("urge" is a better word) that anyone spending much time in the outdoors take a Wilderness First Aid course at a minimum. Urban First Aid (the standard course taught by the American Red Cross) is not adequate for even a weekend backpack. WFA must be renewed every 2 years to stay current. It is a full weekend course, taught by certified groups such as the Wilderness Medicine Institute (look on the NOLS website for the nearest location and dates). If you are really serious about the outdoors, then the week-long Wilderness First Responder course is the appropriate one. In those courses, you will learn the real information about things like hypothermia, not misinformation from someone who thinks numbers out of context tell what is going on.

11:30 p.m. on January 28, 2008 (EST)
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Well said, I totally agree. At present, we have a severe wind chill warning here in B.C. with temps. to -50. We are getting heavy snow in the Kootenay-Boundary region, where I am from and the Canadian Avalanche Center is strongly advising backcountry trekkers to stay home; it has been an ugly winter with seven deaths from slides in BC, so far.

Since most of these were highly experienced mountaineers, often born here with 30-40 years local experience and one was a backcountry instructor of my age, known for his skills, I consider the warning a very sound one and am going to winter camp elsewhere for this coming month, at least.

Every serious mountaineer I know or have known is frightened by avalanches and extremely cautious in dealing with them; only novices and poseurs risk death by ignorant behaviour.

3:24 p.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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The operative context for the data presented by NWS: 303.3 million people, including novices and poseurs.

Avalanches are, quite obviously, not part of the data.

5:36 p.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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NWS used the word poseurs?

6:00 p.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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They use too much jargon.

6:08 p.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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According to avalanche.org and numerous sources of data on avalanche deaths and injuries, approximately 70% of avalanche deaths are due to trauma, while the remainder are combined effects of hypothermia and suffocation (which is exacerbated by hypothermia, which is why the AvaLung is only partially effective). These are reported as avalanche deaths, despite the contribution of hypothermia.

According to the coroner's report, John Miksits' death in April 2000 was due to hypothermia (no trauma involved). John was a good friend and climbing partner, not only of mine, but many of the regulars on the original rec.climbing.useful when it was part of VFTT, before Dave and Alicia took it over to create Trailspace. This death is not included in the NWS data for year 2000, since it took place in a "normal" Mt Shasta winter storm (not considered in the NWS "severe weather" criteria), but was eliminated as a "mountaineering accident". Similarly the death of the one body recovered from the recent Mt Hood accident was classified as due to hypothermia by the coroner, but is considered by the NWS to be a "mountaineering accident", hence will not be included. The probable deaths of his two companions will be considered by NWS as a "mountaineering accident", although a major contributing factor is probably hypothermia and the resulting clouded judgment.

These are just a tiny sample of the deaths that are excluded from the NWS data by their selection criteria, despite being caused directly or indirectly by hypothermia. It is important in understanding the meaning of the numbers to fully understand the context of the data, including all selection criteria. Blithely claiming that the "context" is the entire population of the US is at best naive.

That being said, the principle of freedom of speech allows anyone to say almost anything they want on the internet, no matter how inaccurate or misleading. That caveat should prompt the reader to learn at the very least the basics of statistics and selection effects and the many pitfalls of incomplete sampling and reporting. Numbers without the full context and understanding of the selection criteria are nothing more than random numbers.

6:23 p.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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Another very sound comment from the guy who has far more actual mountaineering experience than anyone else here does. My point is simply that all too often, those with little or no experience in really cold weather and wilderness activities tend to dismiss the dangers of outdoor recreation and too many pay the final price for this attitude.

Far better, IMHO, to err by caution, carry appropriate gear, obtain REAL experience-based skills gradually and THEN enjoy nature without becoming another statistic. But, what the hay, some never get it, so, fatalities continue to happen.

9:25 p.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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Avalanches are very dangerous, as is driving to and from trailheads on icy roads.

Neither are relevant to my point and there are probably infinite realms of concern that, while of interest and legitimate areas for comment, are also not relevant.

9:53 p.m. on January 30, 2008 (EST)
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Now, that, my friend, at least the first sentence, I DO heartily agree with! The single-lane, graveled "highways" of my youth in BC were, in winter, truely terrifying to drive on and many people went over the edge down hundreds of feet into the icy, deep lakes below. NOT a fun driving experience, especially at night, in a blizzard.

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