The most unpleasant and dangerous type of cold is that special blend of Pacific Northwest/Patagonian misery where your clothes are damp on the inside from sweat, soaked through from the outside by moist snow, temperatures are just below freezing and there’s some wind chill. This is a classic recipe for hypothermia and deserves extra caution. Envision a wood stove being sprayed with cold water; once the fire goes out, the core temp immediately plummets and it can be hard if not impossible to get it going again. The same thing happens with your body temperature-you can keep toughing it out for a while, but once you go down, you go down very fast and may not recover. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrolled shivering, loss of dexterity, slurred speech and sluggish behavior.
The solution here is to nip it in the bud early on as the situation doesn’t improve. Stop what you are doing and put on a second shell and/or pants and do everything possible to seal up your clothes against the elements. Once you are battened down, control your sweating by regulating your pace. This can be counter-intuitive at times as if you are sweating, you are probably working too hard and need to slow down, which is the last thing you want to do when it’s this miserable. Even the most tricked out techie miracle breathable fabric can’t keep up with an overheating torso in marginally freezing temperatures when the outer surface is plastered with rain or slush.
Having endured many soggy diaper rash days in the Cascade Mountains, the winning combination is a medium next-to-skin fleece layer covered with two outer layers of shell garments. In other words, save your old pants and shells and then wear new ones on top of those. Rubber fishing gloves work well as your hands don’t sweat and a hat with a wide brim keeps the rain from channeling down your neck.
If you are caught out on an extended tour during conditions like these, set up your tent, find some shelter or shorten the tour while you still have plenty of time and energy.
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Category: 08 Adversity