Prevention is the key to avoiding frostbite. Here are some important
- Stay well hydrated and well fed to enable your body to generate heat!
- Avoid alcohol, which can impair your sensation (and judgment!)
- Avoid smoking, which will constrict your blood flow
- Don’t climb/trek under extreme weather conditions (wind, very cold)
- Avoid tight fitted clothing, no wrinkles in the socks
- If your clothing/socks/gloves get wet from snow/rain or perspiration,
DRY them quickly – including boot insoles
- Wear mittens rather than gloves in extreme cold and a liner glove
underneath if you need quick temporary access to fingers (e.g.
- Never ignore numbness – as an old professor once told me – “if you
feel your fingers and toes getting numb and you ignore it, that numbness
might be the last thing you ever feel!” Numbness is a sign that you may
be getting into trouble. If it doesn’t resolve by increasing activity,
you need to get somewhere to take off your gloves/boots and rewarm
- Avoid rubbing frostbitten areas – beating on them only increases the
chance of injury and doesn’t help them rewarm faster.
- IF you or your buddy has frostbite, get somewhere warm, but only
rewarm the injured area if there is no chance it will refreeze
– keep the area padded and protected against further heat loss. The
quickest way to rewarm is to submerge in warm water (~104F, or the
warmth of a hot tub, test the water first with a thermometer or an
uninjured body part – a frozen hand can’t determine if the water is too
Hypothermia can kill in mere minutes. Cold temperature, but also strong
wind causes the body to rapidly lose heat. You start to shiver in order
to maintain body heat from the rapid muscular shaking. If your body
temperature drops to 35C/95F, you may get dizzy and disoriented, then
the shivering stops. The body now maintains temperature only around the
important organs; heart, brain and lungs and shuts down blood
circulation to the arms and legs. Your pulse becomes weak and slow. Your
blood vessels widen. Now, you feel hot and want to remove your clothes,
finally slipping into unconsciousness. Eventually, your heartbeat stops.
Full blown Hypothermia will not be improved by additional clothing since
clothing doesn’t generate heat. In difficult climbing situations, you
need to put hot water bottles in your armpits, to your crotch and/or
stomach – or you can strip and get into a sleeping bag - together with
another undressed person, to warm up by the others body heat (yeah, yeah
- keep your dirty imagination to yourself!).
Otherwise - keep moving until at safety. In 1998, a climber died of
hypothermia on the North Side. All that was found left of him was his
clothing neatly folded below the summit. This is quite typical of the
condition. Confused, the brain tries to bring some order in the
situation, thus folding the clothes.
Again, prevention is key! Here are some tips:
- Stay well nourished to help your body produce heat and shiver
effectively when needed.
- Stay well hydrated and well rested.
- Change wet inner garments promptly
- INSULATE! (head and neck are key!) – great materials include Gore-Tex,
- Follow the C-O-L-D clothing principle:
- Open – when exercising to reduce sweating/wetness
- Loose/Layers – to retain heat
- Dry – to limit conductive heat loss