As temperatures in Scotland are set to return to full winter lows this weekend and into next week, safety experts have warned that even modern technical clothing is not proof against the dangers of hypothermia.
Hypothermia, when body temperature is lowered to dangerous levels, can occur all too easily in the mountains and it is essential that climbers and walkers know how to avoid it and recognise it when they see the signs.
Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Advisor with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “A common misconception amongst hill goers is that modern clothing is so good that hypothermia is not an issue.
“That is simply wrong. Within minutes of being stationary on the hill people will feel themselves start to cool down, and there are a number of other factors which people should be aware of and avoid.”
Risk factors for hypothermia include:
– Sweating while ascending a mountain, then cooling and not adding extra layers
– Remaining stationary on the hill without adequate clothing and protection
– Not fuelling the body sufficiently with enough calories and fluids
– Fighting off illness or lack of sleep/fatigue
– Low morale
– Wearing layers that don’t ‘wick away the moisture’, such as cotton-based base and mid-layer clothing which absorbs body sweat and moisture from the environment, leaving the wearer cold and damp.
– Insufficient layering and windproof outer clothing to combat the effects of wind chill.
By taking some simple steps the risk of hypothermia can be reduced. Heather says, “Always add an extra layer as you get higher up the mountain. Swap your gloves for a dry pair when you have finished your ascent. Always carry an additional large synthetic duvet jacket which will fit on over the top of everything you are wearing and put it on for lunch stops or any other time you’re at risk of cooling, such as in descent. Make sure you eat enough. Even the best clothing can only keep heat in, not generate it.”
Early signs of hypothermia can be feeling cold, shivery and damp, and the ‘can’t be bothered’ syndrome, where, for example, a person perhaps has a dry pair of gloves in their rucksack, but feels it’s just too much effort to get them out. If left unchecked, these mild symptoms can develop into irritability and irrational behaviour, poor decision making and, ultimately, collapse and even death. More information about safety on the mountains is available from the MCofS here.