Saturday, October 16, 2004

Hypothermia and Nude Activities Outdoors . . . Duh!

Well . . . maybe a bit obvious, but how obvious?

I love this time of year in the forest and mountains. The falling leaves, the changing colors, the serene quiet that seems to descend on the wilderness with the winding down of summer in preparation for a long winter cloaking of virgin snow. I take every chance I can get to wander through the dew-cloaked broad-leaf's in the valleys and the stubborn evergreens further up.

Few people care to enjoy this spectacular change in person and so the trails are mainly mine. I shed my clothes at the first chance I get and stroll out into marvelous oneness with nature . . . for I know that soon, this will not be possible for more than a few moments of snow angel production. The snow level is already down to five thousand feet and dropping lower as winter approaches.

I'm pretty thick skinned . . . or at least I am metabolically efficient and active. Autumn weather rarely affects me even when friends are bundled up and chattering their teeth. As long as I am moving and keeping dry I can generate enough heat to make up for the heat loss from all my bare, exposed skin (and there's lots of bare skin when I hike). Only socks and shoes, a thin pair of hiking gloves, the daypack on my back and a woolen cap stop the most egregious heat loss. I can pretty much go for hours before I feel the need to 'textile' and conserve heat until my 'internal furnace catches up. Well, I'm stubborn and maybe a little stupid but that au' natural enjoyment of nature more than makes up for my shortcomings.

However, stupidity and overconfidence eventually catch up with you as it did with me Friday. I was out hiking a steep mountainside. No trails, no idea where I was going. Just another one of those 'let's see what's up there' hikes. No danger of becoming lost. Pretty much head back downhill and I couldn't miss the Forest Service road where I'd parked. It was slightly windy and blustery . . . the sort of day in the Cascades that promises showers sooner or later. But under that thick canopy hugging the sixty degree slopes little rain would make it's way down on me. So I stripped off right at my car . . . rainsuit and dry, warm clothing in the daypack along with a thermos of hot coffee and some energy snacks.

A little trick I learned for cool-weather nude hiking is to salve your body down with suntan oil leftover from summer. Makes dew drops shed from your bare skin like water on a duck. Seems to keep you warmer, too, by taking the chill off of those autumn breezes. Up into the tree line and I was feeling good. It's a scrabble but I have my hiking stick and the rock pick to gain purchase of the really steep 'hands and knees' slopes.

Like I said, few people ever go off trail but I do and the beauty is virgin. I climbed from a base of 2,200 ft to 5,300 in a few hours and had the solitary peak to myself . . . a few tuffs of alpine grass . . . and a rock tailor made to sit down on and take it all in. Coffee it was, and then a snack bar while I stood up there and lorded over the misty valleys below. Up there, exposed, the chill began to set in. Tired. A warning sign? Perhaps but I paid little heed. Move about a bit and the slight shiver went away. Fifteen minutes later and I was on my way back down, now generating enough internal heat to make up for the loss on the peak.

Fingers a little stiff in my soaked hiking gloves, dew and mist now sheening with what little sweat I was putting out because of my exertions. I was tiring pretty fast and making stupid mistakes in route planning, ending up 'crabbing' down particularly nasty slopes and ignoring obvious patches of Devil's Club. The sane answer would have been to stop, pull out the towel in my day pack, dry off and get myself into some protective clothing now. Every time I stopped to figure an alternative way down a slope, I started shivering bad. And that made it hard to think cohesively.

But I'm stubborn. My target was the last remaining pool at Scenic and I wanted to make it as far as I could nude. I reasoned that why should I dress up since I'm just going to have to undress as so as I get there. So I bull-headedly stumbled and slid my way down . . . angling at where the springs were. It was a long trek and if I'd thought about it, I would have looked pretty stupid emerging unexpectedly from the forests above the spring . . . naked, wild-eyed and panting, and scratched up from the patches of Devil's Club that even a fully protected hiker would avoid going through.

Just a short detour. This is Devil's Club. Everyone has seen it 'cause it grows all over the place in the Cascades. You ever see a patch of this stuff, avoid it like the plague. Every surface of the plant is covered with razor-sharp thorns that will pierce the thickest clothing. Think of what that stuff will do to a nude hiker!

Now back to my story. Arrive I did and thankfully no one was using the springs which saved me from much embarrassment. I doused a jug of those healing waters over me as soon as I could get my shoes and the rest of it off. Then into the tub where 100 degree waters soon returned me to clarity.

Well, the question is: hypothermia? The classic symptoms I had. Shivering, confusion, poor judgement. But was it hypothermia?

A few thoughts from the Canadian Canoe Routes site:

Very simply, hypothermia is the condition where the body is losing heat faster than its "internal furnace" can regenerate it. This loss of body heat causes impaired motor skills and judgment, and if untreated can be fatal.

The main problem with hypothermia diagnosis is that we tend to think of it as a winter problem ... we think of people "dying of exposure" after being lost in sub-zero temperatures. A cool, rainy day with a bit of wind during the summer can cause hypothermia also - it is important to be able to recognize the condition.

Hypothermia is classed in two separate categories; mild and severe.

Mild Hypothermia

- Lack of sleep, lack of food (calories generate internal heat), wet clothing, cool temperatures, rain or mist
What Is It?
- A body core temperature between 90° F and 95° F
- Shivering and cold, tiredness, personality changes, irritability, sluggishness, poor coordination. lethargy
- Stop any further heat loss - get the person out of the wind and rain and get the person into dry clothes
- Get the "internal furnace working again - feed the person hot drinks and high-calorie foods
- Try to get the person to move around to generate heat
- Add external sources of heat. Do not just place the person in a sleeping bag, since that person is not generating enough heat to re-warm himself. Add warmth in the form of warm water in Nalgene bottles; or by putting the person between two warm bodies.

Severe Hypothermia

- Severe heat loss from very cool temperatures or immersion in cold water
What Is It?
- A body core temperature below 90° F
- Shivering ends, pulse and respiration slow, coordination becomes very poor, speech becomes slurred and unconsciousness can result. Immediate treatment required to prevent fatality
- Stop any further heat loss - get the person out of the wind and rain
- Wrap the person in sleeping bags to help prevent any further loss
- No food or drink - vomiting can occur
- Add warmth in the form of warm water in Nalgene® bottles in the groin and armpits
- Handle the person very gently - when a person is in this condition, rough or aggressive movements can cause their heart to go into ventricular fibrillation
- Think about a plan to get the person to medical facilities as soon as possible

Important Things to Know

Mild Hypothermia can turn into Severe Hypothermia
- Unless you add external sources of heat to replenish the missing internal heat source of a mildly hypothermic person, they will eventually slide into a state of severe hypothermia. Even mild hypothermia is a serious conditions which requires immediate treatment.

The Best Treatment for Hypothermia is Avoidance
- If conditions are conducive to hypothermia (cool, windy, damp) it is a good idea to watch all group members carefully. A mildly hypothermic person may seem quiet or sullen when in fact they are losing dangerous levels of body heat. If weather conditions are bad, talk to people to check on their condition. Be sure everyone is dressed appropriately (no cotton, layers of fleece or polypro, good rain suits). Stop often to rest or to have a hot drink

And there we have it. Shivering and cold, tiredness, personality changes, irritability, sluggishness, poor coordination, lethargy. By the time I reached the hot springs I was showing every one of these symptoms and in hindsight, I'm not at all sure that I would have lost that stubbornness and would have continued on hiking nude in the rain for hours had I missed the springs. Eventually, I would have stumbled bruised, scratched and shaking cold all the way down to the forest road and safety, or I would have sat down and slipped into a more severe hypothermia. In which case I wouldn't be writing this account.

Just one additional thought . . . there is one part of me that is still rather cold and protectively hugging close to my groin for warmth. I read somewhere once that there are specially knitted gloves for the die-'soft' cold weather nude hiker. Maybe I should invest in one . . . LOL

Rick (warming up by a big roaring fire, a glass of brandy in hand and a good book. Warm, fleecy bathrobe, of course).

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