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On freezing to death.
December 31, 2012 3:40 AM   Subscribe

The cold hard facts of freezing to death. "The cold remains a mystery, more prone to fell men than women, more lethal to the thin and well muscled than to those with avoirdupois, and least forgiving to the arrogant and the unaware"
posted by zoo (86 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
What better motivation could there be to read (or re-read) Jack London's classic short story To Build A Fire?
posted by fairmettle at 4:06 AM on December 31, 2012 [26 favorites]


I'd never heard of the hunter's response before. And while I'm no Norwegian fisherman or Inuit hunter I've definitely experienced this phenomenon.
posted by zinon at 4:10 AM on December 31, 2012


I'm a new fan of Peter Stark, this is a good read. Thanks, zoo.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:15 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


By now you've left the road and decided to shortcut up the forested mountainside to the road's next switchback.

This story is tripping all of my "THAT IS A BAD IDEA" warnings. The disaster chain strikes again.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:50 AM on December 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is also motivation to listen to Johnny Cash recite the Cremation of Sam McGee.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 4:56 AM on December 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


I came across this yesterday and couldn't help but think of James Kim. Also, a post on how to avoid this fate.
posted by TedW at 5:14 AM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest recorded core temperature in a surviving adult is 60.8 degrees

No they didn't, they would have used Celsius.
posted by the noob at 5:18 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I admit this confused me:

Australian aborigines, who once slept on the ground, unclothed, on near-freezing nights, would slip into a light hypothermic state, suppressing shivering until the rising sun rewarmed them.

How would suppressing shivering help? I thought that was how your body tried to keep you warm.
posted by katyggls at 5:18 AM on December 31, 2012


That was an engaging but stressful read!
posted by greenhornet at 5:20 AM on December 31, 2012


Australian aborigines, who once slept on the ground, unclothed, on near-freezing nights, would slip into a light hypothermic state, suppressing shivering until the rising sun rewarmed them.


they also slept around a fire
posted by the noob at 5:23 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


>How would suppressing shivering help?

At a guess, it would allow them to continue sleeping.
posted by kcds at 5:24 AM on December 31, 2012


I came across this yesterday and couldn't help but think of James Kim. Also, a post on how to avoid this fate.

Weirdly enough, I was thinking of Mr. Kim last night right before bed. Living in Maine, it's always been the norm for me to keep a blanket or sleeping bag in the trunk of the car, but Mr. Kim's story persuaded us to upgrade the kit.
posted by anastasiav at 5:28 AM on December 31, 2012


A kilocalorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one liter of water one degree Celsius

man, can we please stay with either in the metric or imperial system.
posted by mattoxic at 5:34 AM on December 31, 2012


"You'll probably have amnesia," the voice says, "and you owe us eighty thousand dollars"
posted by mattoxic at 5:37 AM on December 31, 2012 [42 favorites]


Well, I walked across around 100 miles across Iceland at around -17c after my tent died and avoided hypothermia. This story is making me think 'build a snow shelter' again and again, even after the slightly incomprehensible idea to leave the car. Thing to remember: build a proper shelter and it is very rare that the inside of the shelter gets colder than -4c. Unpleasant for sure, but one can survive the night.
posted by jaduncan at 5:37 AM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


jaduncan: any other advice?
posted by leotrotsky at 5:45 AM on December 31, 2012


The survival rules of threes.

You can survive for about three...
...minutes without air.
...hours without shelter.
...days without water.
...weeks without food.

Shelter refers to some way of avoiding hypothermia.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 5:47 AM on December 31, 2012 [23 favorites]


Some also add...

...months without sex.
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 5:47 AM on December 31, 2012 [14 favorites]


A general rule has to be - don't leave the car, unless it's on fire or immersed.
posted by mattoxic at 5:49 AM on December 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


That rocked.

It was like fan fiction for warm people.
posted by colie at 5:49 AM on December 31, 2012 [32 favorites]


"...and least forgiving to the arrogant and the unaware"

This should be the biggest takeaway from this whole thing
posted by ShawnString at 5:50 AM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


leotrotsky: "jaduncan: any other advice?"

Stay home.
posted by Splunge at 5:53 AM on December 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


If there had been an Ikea nearby he would have been able to build a fire.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:56 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


No they didn't, they would have used Celsius.

If only there existed a bijection between different temperature scales...
posted by atrazine at 6:31 AM on December 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


man, can we please stay with either in the metric or imperial system.

Kilolol!
posted by srboisvert at 6:32 AM on December 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is a classic. Other GladItWasn'tMe / SurvivalPorn

We Die Alone
Touching the Void
posted by lalochezia at 6:33 AM on December 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


That how-it-feels-to-die thing is practically a genre. See Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm (the book) for how it feels to drown.
posted by scratch at 6:36 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't really get why it is mystery that people with higher body fat are more resistant to hypothermia. I lost 50lbs and I can tell you that body fat is the best winter gear you could dream of. It is almost like it evolved for it!
posted by srboisvert at 6:39 AM on December 31, 2012 [18 favorites]



How would suppressing shivering help? I thought that was how your body tried to keep you warm


Not sure how it helps (though 'to allow sleep' seems reasonable), but the stopping of shivering is a great way to tell you you're hypothermic - and when you're bloody cold, it's a bit of a relief. When you've been really cold for a while, hypothermia feels quite pleasant.

can we please stay with either in the metric or imperial system.

Yeah, because Imperial is a 'system'.

posted by pompomtom at 6:54 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


We read this in school. We were meant to be cross-country skiing on the bike path (as you do), but there was no snow. I was about 95% sure this was that article without clicking the link, but it was this sentence (and the next paragraph) that I remember: All you know is that you're burning. You claw off your shell and pile sweater and fling them away.
posted by hoyland at 7:01 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest recorded core temperature in a surviving adult is 60.8 degrees

No they didn't, they would have used Celsius.


Yeah! And they would have recorded it in German! So, obviously bogus.
posted by straight at 7:05 AM on December 31, 2012 [25 favorites]


"It's cold out there," she says. "Isn't it?"

I'm sorry, every time I reread that part I break out into giggles. It's so crass it's gut-bustingly hilarious. Like the hypothetical speaker wanted to defuse the tension with a joke and went with exactly the wrong one. Or maybe she was so relieved she said the first thing that came to her supposed head.

I don't care. Either way, it makes me break into another muffled, high-pitched fit of giggling every time I even think about it and I can't stop.
posted by KChasm at 7:10 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some also add...

...months without sex.


These tend to be the most complacent about its availability.

But it's a good way to avoid hypothermia.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:11 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


"It's cold out there," she says. "Isn't it?"

I'm sorry, every time I reread that part I break out into giggles.


Yeah, the last line left a sour taste in my mouth. Like I had just read a 7th grader's story about hypothermia, when really, it was more like an MD's account.
posted by 3FLryan at 7:22 AM on December 31, 2012


Three "hours without shelter"?


I've been to the beach for longer and lived
posted by mulligan at 7:28 AM on December 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


An attempt to study the physiological effects of Tummo has been made by Benson and colleagues (Benson et al., 1982; Cromie, 2002)[full citation needed] who studied Indo-Tibetan Yogis in the Himalayas and in India in the 1980s. In the first experiment, in Upper Dharamsala (India), Benson et al. (1982)[full citation needed] found that these subjects exhibited the capacity to increase the temperature of their fingers and toes by as much as 8.3°C.
posted by bukvich at 7:29 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


man, can we please stay with either in the metric or imperial system.

30kcal is about 119 BTUs. That better for you?
posted by Talez at 7:45 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm alternating between two main books right now: Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine (At Table) and The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.

Early Antarctic explorers died of scurvy and freezing to death. Early Amazon explorers died of starvation, suppurating, maggot-filled sores, and madness from unceasing insect assaults. What I'm learning is I would rather die in the Antarctic.
posted by rtha at 8:08 AM on December 31, 2012 [23 favorites]


The freakiest part is that mild hypothermia is a mere 95 degrees. That and the urge to take all your clothes off, which would be more embarrassing than being found feet away from my car.
posted by santaslittlehelper at 8:13 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


rtha,

I love The Lost City of Z (and everything by David Grann) so much.

Since you'd prefer to die in the Antarctica, what's the worst aspect of scurvy?
posted by lukemeister at 8:27 AM on December 31, 2012


There is no precise core temperature at which the human body perishes from cold. At Dachau's cold-water immersion baths, Nazi doctors calculated death to arrive at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

That actually gave me the physical shivers. Geeze.
posted by lstanley at 8:32 AM on December 31, 2012


What is it then that I will die from three years lack of?

and how would you rephrase this question without ending on a preposition?
posted by SollosQ at 8:36 AM on December 31, 2012


The FPP quote and the article are directly taken from Peter Stark's book - Last Breath: The Limits of Adventure. It's a great book, it basically catalogues all the different ways you can die while adventuring and goes through the processes at work in your body at each step. Hypothermia, drowning, heatstroke, falling, mountain sickness, avalanche, predators, etc. (Our version didn't have scurvy or the bends for some reason, I have to look into this now)

It's sort of a classic with me and my friends. We have the audiobook and listen to it whenever we are driving somewhere for an adventure and usually try to pick the most pertinent entry. Makes for good awareness prep.

The one on hypothermia is probably my favorite; he talks about extreme hypothermia survivors (did not see this in the article) and it's all generally completely fascinating.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 8:37 AM on December 31, 2012 [14 favorites]


> Early Amazon explorers died of starvation, suppurating, maggot-filled sores, and madness from unceasing insect assaults.

Yes, but at least they were warm. That's my number one criteria, botflies be damned.

I guess this means any chance of us dying of exposure together is out?
posted by Panjandrum at 8:37 AM on December 31, 2012


With scurvy, your gums turn black and your teeth fall out. Your limbs swell. You go kind of nuts. But it doesn't seem as bad to me as the suffering of the early Amazon explorers.
posted by rtha at 8:39 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is it then that I will die from three years lack of?

Favorites.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:43 AM on December 31, 2012 [18 favorites]


I'm sorry, every time I reread that part I break out into giggles. It's so crass it's gut-bustingly hilarious. Like the hypothetical speaker wanted to defuse the tension with a joke and went with exactly the wrong one. Or maybe she was so relieved she said the first thing that came to her supposed head.

He does this in a lot of the stories, really. Whether it's another character saying something like that or showing the person's internal thought processes. To be honest, in the story he does about what happens when the body sustains a major fall, he's made you dislike the character so much that it's kind of satisfying.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 8:44 AM on December 31, 2012



What is it then that I will die from three years lack of?


Wi-fi
posted by grateful at 8:44 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


On lack of preview: guess so, Panjandrum! Sorry.

I went to college in New Hampshire, and my sophomore year a bunch of us protesting apartheid and urging our school to divest built a small shanty town on the Green. We kept it staffed through the fall and early winter; we had a couple fire barrels, and people also volunteered to sleep overnight in one of the shanties (none of which were insulated).

I slept in two layers of clothes inside two sleeping bags. One night, it was harder than usual to sleep. I finally got up and headed to my dorm to shower and get ready for my shift at the campus cafe. I turned on the radio and the DJ was saying that it was 25 degrees below zero; the overnight low had been about 30 below.

Brrrr. Now I live in San Francisco and whine when it drops to 50.
posted by rtha at 8:46 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]



Ugh, great article but it made me shiver. (pun intended)


I once got caught in my car during a storm and it was freaking cold. It was one of those, the weather got way worse then it was supposed to things. I decided that the safest thing to do was just pull over and wait it out. It was scary, but I had my car emergency kit and knew what to do at least. Even though I knew I'd be fine you can't help but imagine bad scenarios playing out. The worst part was trying to figure out the best way to go to the bathroom because for all of the survival and emergency info I'd picked up over the years I couldn't recall this being covered. It might sound weird but I spent a good amount of time agonizing over it because I didn't want to do something wrong or stupid that would end up being a survival skill mistake.

Seems amusing now but at the time it wasn't.

I ended up not getting out of the car and peeing in a plastic container that I had some cookies in, after deciding that opening the door and letting the heat out was probably a bad idea. It was one of the only times I wished I was a guy. lol
posted by Jalliah at 9:09 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


On an outward bound style winter camping/hiking trip in upstate New York one member of my group fell into a stream we were crossing. She was, of course, the smallest person on the hike, no way she was over 95 pounds. Too far to go back, we hustled to our camp site, threw up the tents and started taking turns in the sleeping bag with her and feeding her hot jello (not set jello, like jello tea). I was probably 220 at the time, a lifelong cross country skier, half a swede and dry, layers of silk thermals, wool pants etc.

I was freezing once we stopped hiking, the cold just got in me. I can't imagine how scared this poor girl was... We'd had extensive talks about hypothermia in preparation for the trip... I was scared for her and not a little scared for myself... It was too wet to build a fire.


We were up all night, 20 minutes in the bag with her, get dressed, drink tea or hot jello, stamp around in the dark to get warm and then back in the bag. I was in the tent with her , but not in the bag when she stopped shivering. That was a hopeless feeling right there, we were all in this tiny shrinking circle of warmth and her body seemed like it would just pull what little warmth was left right out of me and every time it was harder to get out of the bag and dressed and outside to do it all over again.

We made it through the night and she was fine, in daylight we could move around faster and keep her surrounded by warm bodies, we hiked back and headed to the hospital.


The feeling of encroaching loss and hopelessness was pretty overwhelming, it was a slow emergency. I feel cold right now thinking about it.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:09 AM on December 31, 2012 [28 favorites]


I've had fairly bad hypothermia three times, all when I was a kid. Once from wandering around in freezing slush all day until I was soaked, once from falling through the ice on a frozen creek, and once from going camping with the Boy Scouts in -43 Celsius weather without being allowed to build a fire. Dying of cold is a very calm experience. This article brought back some pretty funny memories of all the weird stuff I've done while cold-drunk.

On the other hand, it's -2 out, and I've got two windows open, a fan going and I'm wandering around barefoot, so I may not have learnt my lesson.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 9:11 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I ended up not getting out of the car and peeing in a plastic container that I had some cookies in

Dear God tell me you saved the cookies.
posted by Lou Stuells at 9:17 AM on December 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


Dear God tell me you saved the cookies.


lol, yes of course. They were mom-made chocolate chip oatmeal. They were and still are like gold.
posted by Jalliah at 9:19 AM on December 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


They were and still are like gold.

So you didn't take the cookies out?
posted by Think_Long at 9:36 AM on December 31, 2012 [13 favorites]


As you sink back into the snow, shaken, your heat begins to drain away at an alarming rate, your head alone accounting for 50 percent of the loss.

FALSE

http://www.healthline.com/health-blogs/fitness-fixer/do-you-lose-most-your-heat-through-your-head
posted by carlodio at 10:10 AM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


You sweat, you die.
posted by zennie at 10:22 AM on December 31, 2012


Your second is that you've failed to bring a shovel.

No, I didn't. There's a perfectly serviceable license plate bolted to either end of the car. Hell, I've even used the owners manual in a pinch. You can do a lot with a tire iron and your hands, too.

First rule is never leave the car.
Second rule is never leave the road.

Break those two rules and you'll be lucky if some hunter finds you years later.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:25 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's 43 degrees in Texas and I'm never going outside again.
posted by cmoj at 10:35 AM on December 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


carlodio: "FALSE"

Wasn't it at that point where he lost his hat? Your link says 20-30% in normal conditions, 30-35% at 0ºC. I guess I don't have trouble believeing that you can lose >50% of your heat through your uncovered head if it's the only part of your body that is exposed. Especially since it was about -30ºC.

I'm not sure it deserves a "FALSE" in all caps...
posted by danny the boy at 10:44 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Heh - these are pretty much the same rules if you are in a car - or a plane accident in a cold-weather winter survival scenario:

- never leave the vehicle/crash-site.
- establish shelter. (if you live anywhere where it can be snowbound for months, you should have a survival kit in your car)
- secure a water supply.

If you have means to light a fire - you will find that fresh pine/coniferous boughs produce a lot of smoke (and if your vehicle is completely disabled and you have a knife/saw - rubber tire strips produce tons of smoke as well).

Why smoke? Not for cooking/warmth, but a fire outside your shelter to signal for help.
posted by jkaczor at 10:45 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


The steady onward progression towards disaster was horrible, seeing all the holes on the cheese line up.
posted by arcticseal at 11:00 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never leave the vehicle is a bit absolutist. Almost never, yes, but there comes a point where the odds of someone finding you has to be weighed against trying to walk out while you still have the strength to potentially do so. I can't blame James Kim, for example -- it doesn't take small children very long to die without food and warmth, and it had been a week without rescue.
posted by tavella at 11:02 AM on December 31, 2012


If you're interested in much more unpleasant ways to die, check out W. J. McGee’s "Desert Thirst as Disease," [pdf], a 1906 paper about a prospector who stumbled naked and blind out of the Sonoran Desert after six and a half days without water, his skin black and shriveled as beef jerky, covered with cuts that wouldn’t bleed.
posted by El Curioso at 11:10 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I generally take it on good authority when a Stark tells me winter is coming.

/ducks
posted by threeants at 11:40 AM on December 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


tavella: I can't blame James Kim, for example -- it doesn't take small children very long to die without food and warmth, and it had been a week without rescue.
In general, I'm betting the capacity to blame James Kim is inversely proportional to the amount of training and experience you have.

Never been in more danger than when plugging in your X-box with wet hands: "WHAT A FOOL!"

Fully-licensed EMT: "Yep, a lot of people would do the same..."
posted by IAmBroom at 11:44 AM on December 31, 2012


In retrospect, choosing to put my backpack in the pickup truck's bed was probably the worst decision, but it was winter so we figured it would be ok. The freezing rain started half way through the trip, and by the time we arrived it was all so soaked as to be useless, with a disturbing amount of snow on top of it. Compounding that problem was that we were staying on the runway of a air force base in upper Maine (a scout trip), the temp was -24F I believe, and the wind was strong enough to force the wind chill down to -50F or so. It was only one night, but the worst of my life. Afraid of running out of gas, we ran the engine and heat for 10 minutes every hour. The scariest part was realizing that frozen, sweat soaked skin peels with a shiver.

We lived, mostly unharmed, and faced similar conditions at other points in time (Boy Scouts in Maine means winter weather survival). If my legs get too cold and I get into bed, they burn. "Burning" hands under gloves in the winter are normal. But I'll never forget my skin splitting like that. Sweat is bad. If you are hot, take a layer off the second you notice being hot. I mean it. Put it back on when you are cold. And stay in the car for the first couple days at least. And seriously, crisis situations bring idiocy. The game is about making the least mistakes, not being perfect. You wouldn't be in the situation in the first place otherwise, but things break and mistakes happen. Above all else, live the will to survive. Live it.
posted by jwells at 11:47 AM on December 31, 2012


The coldest I've ever been was on a winter snow and ice climb in Washington's North Cascades. My friend and I planned to climb the 4,000 ft. face in a long day, but encountered deep snow and slow going. As the sun was going down I realized there was now way we were going to get off the face that day and we were both pretty beat from working all the previous day, driving to the trail head and starting to climb at two in the morning without any sleep. It was probably around 5 degrees and thinking we were going to finish in a day we had no sleeping bags or bivy gear. We spent the night on a small ledge underneath a rock overhang that was big enough for one of us to stand straight and the other to stand crouched down. We stood there for 16 hours stomping our feet and doing windmills with our arms until the sun came up. I was definitely hallucinating after a while and it's the only time I've ever fallen asleep standing up. It was also my first experience (of a few) with frostbite. I still don't have feeling in my big toes almost seven years later.
posted by alpinist at 12:03 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also remember that the best-dressed corpses are found wearing cotton. If you're going out in a wet and/or cold environment choose another fabric.
posted by Blue Meanie at 12:28 PM on December 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Backpacking years ago in the southern Rockies. We were well up towards the lake we planned to camp at when it started to rain and then changed to snow. We were dressed for the conditions but I still got a mild case of hypothermia. Was challenging to set up our tent in wet snow blowing sideways. Once in, we made hot food and drink (4 season tent designed to cook in) and both got in one sleeping bag. Spent a very chilly night. I've camped in colder conditions before and since but that night was hypothermic and just never felt warm despite doing all the right stuff.

Got up, broke camp and hiked back down the mountain. Found a fancy-pants resort and ate eggs Benedict and drank mimosas while watching hummingbirds fight over a feeder - the disconnect was amazing and the meal truly luxurious. It was a good learning experience - I know what hypothermia feels like now and am happy to never experience it again!
posted by leslies at 12:46 PM on December 31, 2012


All you know is that you're burning. You claw off your shell and pile sweater and fling them away.
And that's when the Wendigo makes you dance.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:24 PM on December 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


A general rule has to be - don't leave the car

That's a good general rule, though there are exceptions. In cases where you're unlikely to be found ... like the scoutmaster and three scouts whose car was buried on the outskirts of a city that was itself nearly buried by a blizzard ... and not found for days ... the rule didn't work.
posted by Twang at 1:40 PM on December 31, 2012


We had a new pool in our backyard & Dad had taken the cover off & gotten the water clean & clear. I was dying to jump in, even though it was only mid April. The water temp was low to mid 60's. I finally got up my nerve one afternoon and dove in off the board. It was such a temperature shock I couldn't breathe if I wanted to. Swam my ass down to the shallow end & got out as quickly as I could & never, ever asked Dad if I could do it again.

That was probably downright balmy compared to the cold in these articles.
posted by yoga at 1:48 PM on December 31, 2012


We had a new pool in our backyard & Dad had taken the cover off & gotten the water clean & clear. I was dying to jump in, even though it was only mid April. The water temp was low to mid 60's. I finally got up my nerve one afternoon and dove in off the board. It was such a temperature shock I couldn't breathe if I wanted to. Swam my ass down to the shallow end & got out as quickly as I could & never, ever asked Dad if I could do it again.

I was 13 or so when I took my first sauna. We were at my uncles cabin near International Falls in mid January. The first thing we had to do was build the fire. Once that was going, we would go out onto the lake a short distance, and drill some holes a few feet apart. That was slow going, since he didn't have a power auger, but once that was done, we used the chainsaw to cut blocks out and haul them up onto the ice. While we were doing this, we'd be stoking the fire in the sauna. After a while, we had opened up a hot tub sized hole in 3-4 foot deep water and now we would haul buckets of it up the hill to the sauna.

Then we'd strip naked, sit in the sauna till you couldn't stand it, run/roll down the hill and jump in the lake. Then we'd get out, and wash/rinse/repeat.

That shock - when the cold first hits and control over small things like breathing and thinking goes away - what a rush. I still really enjoy doing it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:39 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


okay so physics nitpick time

But in the hours since you last believed that, you've traveled to a place where there is no sun. You've seen that in the infinite reaches of the universe, heat is as glorious and ephemeral as the light of the stars. Heat exists only where matter exists, where particles can vibrate and jump. In the infinite winter of space, heat is tiny; it is the cold that is huge.

Heat only exists where matter does, but so does lack-of-heat. It's not a meaningful property either way in the absence of matter. What matter is in space is very cold on average, but you need to consider the heat capacity of what you're dealing with. Each molecule that hits you will heat up and move off with a very small amount of your surface heat. In the earth's atmosphere, this quickly becomes a problem because you're being hit with air molecules at a stupendous rate. In near vacuum, you only encounter the molecules slowly, you lose heat correspondingly slowly - the cold in space is as small as the heat, to use the language here. Since doing stuff like being a living organism makes heat, overheating is a bigger problem in space than is the cold.

You can still lose heat via radiation in vacuum, but that's also really slow.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:15 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


As you sink back into the snow, shaken, your heat begins to drain away at an alarming rate, your head alone accounting for 50 percent of the loss.

carlodio sez: FALSE

Well, it may be false, or it may not be. And as danny the boy notes, different conditions could affect the rate of heat loss.
To learn the facts, I'd want a bit more than a teacher's essay on a Web site that advertises fat-burning miracle pills. I'd want to hear from some doctors.
posted by LonnieK at 3:59 PM on December 31, 2012


Pogo_Fuzzybutt that sounds exhilaratingly great! Like an extreme version of standing in front of the fire until you thought your butt was burning & then going outside for another round in the snow.
posted by yoga at 4:12 PM on December 31, 2012


Slow. Clap.

Outside Magazine has been hitting it out of the park in 2012.
posted by jnnla at 5:54 PM on December 31, 2012


The book Deep Survival goes into this kind of catastrophe and some of why and how people make seemingly-dumb mistakes. Good read.

(the old link is dead, but a previous link to the article has been posted before, and there are a bunch more hypothermia-related links in both other posts.)
posted by rmd1023 at 7:07 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Its really really easy to get hypothermia even when its not that cold out. Even in the middle of summer.
I've gotten mild hypothermia several times sailing in lake ontario in july and august. Even if its 25+ degrees out, the water is still like 10-15. If you capsize the boat a bunch of times and then spend 10 or 15 minutes in the water every time trying to right it, the wind and energy expended will suck all the warmth from you.

It took me half a day to feel warm again, even sitting in the sun after drying up. It felt like i was drunk, I would just prattle on and refuse to shut up, slurring and not making sense. Eventually I learned to buy a wetsuit and wear wool sweaters, but at the time I was just a kid.

Every year people die in the great lakes in early spring because they go canoeing or whatever and its 26 degrees out and the water is still 5. They fall in, succumb to the cold and drown like 100 feet from shore.
posted by captaincrouton at 8:00 PM on December 31, 2012


jaduncan: any other advice?

I constantly did maths questions to monitor my mental state, as I knew that if I started to have issues with completing them it would indicate that I should take extra care and maybe stop and make a snow shelter to insulate. A lot of how people kill themselves with hypothermia is not knowing until too late that they have it. I also sang pop songs to check text recall.

Ice put in a bottle and kept at the midlayer will gently melt without killing your core body temp too much, although a stove is better (mine died with the tent).

Eat a shedload of calories. Like, as much as you're thinking now and then double it. The aim is to get to civilisation rather that to continue the hike (ignore my bad example here) so you can just burn through all of the rations. Boiled sweets are really nice when very cold, as they get really brittle and explode in your mouth when you bite them. It's an easy way to get though lots of calories without having to defecate. Butter is also good, but you can't just jump straight into that without puking it back up.

If you can't build a shelter due to lack of tools/skills but have a waterproof layer on it's a good idea to actually bury all but your head in the snow. Take a snow suit if you can, and you can use that as a sleeping bag in extremis. The snowsuit will also be windproof.

If you have a stove, fuel and matches, get some matches out of the box before you have hypothermia and can't open the box.

My advice is largely for hikers/bikers. If you don't have any of this stuff and you're in the situation of the article, stay in the car and wait. If you have sufficient fuel just leave the engine running for the night/storm as you'll avoid the engine seizing up and the waste heat is useful. The guy in the article is insane to leave the car; it just crashed and so is presumably next to a road. Get out for a second to check there's no smell of leaking fuel, get back in, leave the engine idling, turn on the heaters, turn on the hazard lights in case people drive past. Wait until there's sun or you've done some map planning whilst in the car. Suddenly the story is a lot more likely to be the guy bitching about losing his no-claims bonus. Oh, and check the external temp if you can and actually do the calculations about how long you can walk before leaving the car.

None of this is rocket science though, right?
posted by jaduncan at 5:34 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I did keep the fuel bottle and used it to burn the plastics that my rations were in for an extra bit of warmth in the snow shelter before I got in. I wouldn't normally do that as it's polluting, but I also didn't intend to die.
posted by jaduncan at 5:37 AM on January 1, 2013


Slightly related, on freezing to death and other themes: David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion. I was lucky enough to catch a live broadcast shortly before Christmas.

Do not read the libretto as you listen unless you want to bawl your eyes out, especially if it is New Year's Eve. I speak from experience.
posted by Currer Belfry at 2:59 PM on January 1, 2013


I slightly objected to the whole 'nazi doctors calculated' line. They watched and observed many people die terrible deaths and drew conclusions from that. It's not exactly maths at that point.
posted by Augenblick at 10:42 PM on January 1, 2013


Reminded me of a TV show I saw on this guy, though not 100% related since his was a combination of altitude and the cold:

Lincoln Hall was left for dead while descending from the summit of Mount Everest on 25 May 2006. He had fallen ill from a form of altitude sickness, probably cerebral edema, that caused him to hallucinate and become confused. According to reports, Hall's Sherpa guides attempted to rescue him for hours. However, as night began to fall, their oxygen supplies diminished and snow blindness set in. Expedition leader Alexander Abramov eventually ordered the guides to leave the apparently dead Hall on the mountain and return to camp. A statement was later released announcing his death to his friends and family.[8]
However, the next morning (12 hours later), Hall was found still alive at 8:53 a.m. by a team making a summit attempt. The team consisted of Daniel Mazur Team Leader (US), Andrew Brash (Canada), Myles Osborne (UK) and Jangbu Sherpa (Nepal). Osborne described the scene just below the Second Step:

"Sitting to our left, about two feet from a 10,000 foot drop, was a man. Not dead, not sleeping, but sitting cross legged, in the process of changing his shirt. He had his down suit unzipped to the waist, his arms out of the sleeves, was wearing no hat, no gloves, no sunglasses, had no oxygen mask, regulator, ice axe, oxygen, no sleeping bag, no mattress, no food nor water bottle. 'I imagine you're surprised to see me here', he said. Now, this was a moment of total disbelief to us all. Here was a gentleman, apparently lucid, who had spent the night without oxygen at 8600m, without proper equipment and barely clothed. And ALIVE."


More here.
posted by Admira at 12:33 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure why we thought it'd be a good idea to drive up Spruce Knob, the tallest mountain in West Virginia, so early in the year, or why we kept going after the snow started to multiply by feet rather than inches, but a guy friend and I did so with great cheerfulness and a sense of, "of course we're fine!" Later, people I talked to said he was looking for a little action alone on the mountain, but I can say I went into it with a sense of adventure even though I was wearing jeans, sneakers, a tshirt under a wool designer coat that cut off at the waist, and a moose hunter hat made of real leather and fur.

Of course we got stuck a few miles from the top. He suggested we stay there, on a mountain with no cell phone signal and when we hadn't told anyone where we were going. We were also in a soft-top Wrangler. So he lent me some gloves (again, poor planning) and pulled on shoe grips with small metal spikes over his shoes.

I asked, "aren't those for not slipping on ice?"
"No, these work for snow too," he replied, walking stick at the ready.
"Mhm," I commented doubtfully.

Well, I walk very fast and was aware that doing so consistently would keep me warm. I was soon several paces ahead of him and had to keep stopping at every bend. And, my god, the man could not stop falling. He tried walking on the packed snow, the loose snow between the tread depressions, adjusting his shoe situation, and finally taking off his grips. He finally encouraged me to continue on but we agreed that we'd yell back and forth and that I'd still wait once in a while.

First, fuck jeans in the winter.
Second, I loved every second of that hike. I think it's because I love being alive, and that was a not-so-subtly dangerous situation that made me incredibly aware of my body, the coldness of my extremities, the beat of the song I was keeping pace to (The Simpsons' "See My Vest!"), the cold biting at my legs, etc.

When we finally got to the bottom, I felt incredibly alive and cold. My leg skin under my jeans was alternately numb and "TV fuzzy". We'd hiked about 8 or 9 miles in what felt like 15 degree weather with a biting wind. We luckily got picked up by some locals before dark because it was another 5-ish or more miles to the only gas station in the area. I don't think he realized how bad the situation was because later I said, "we seriously should have died" and he replied with, "yeah...maybe so." I later learned that was his first time driving in deeper snow. We're no longer friends so much as FB acquaintances. 

TL:DR: 2 semi-hipster wannabe adventurers almost die on a mountain in West Virginia.
posted by DisreputableDog at 11:18 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


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