My experience with hypothermia

Akcabin

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Jul 11, 2021
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My beautiful wife n me were flying out to go moose hunting at our cabin. This was the first time we had flown out as I just got the windows n woodstove in the prior winter using snogos. I learned a lot on that shake down trip. I contacted a pilot that could get me in which during moose season in AK can get difficult. But he could fit me in just before dark. He had me send the coordinates so I Google mapped the numbers n a picture of the lake.
We head out on 6:30 flight, scattered squalls in the area. We get to the coordinates, they were wrong. The pilot Flys around a bit n lands on a lake he knows explaining he can't continue to fly in what is now rain n not known where were going. He takes off n not much after I recognized our lake. We get dropped off n he flys off. I start out on the 2 mile walk north to the cabin, my wife n her feet with recent feet surgery at the lake.
I get to the cabin fine. Fire up the 4 wheeler I freighted out earlier n go get my wife n a load of freight. We get back to the trailhead n it's getting dark. As we head in my beautiful wife who is usually much better at direction than me says go left. I say go straight. We go left. Should a gone straight.
2-1/2 hours later in pitch black dark, rain, low 40s,no light except her phone at 8%, she says she can't walk anymore because the pain is so severe. And she instructs us to climb under the spruce tree next to us. I remember thinking that I was as warm n comfortable as sleeping on my sofa in the sunshine. When I started to doze off she recognized the situation n got me going. We fortunately found our cabin just before midnight.
What really happened was I started out on a trip I had never done before, in the evening. Over confident in my skills. Was too busy to fill up on a good meal before we left got over exhausted soaking wet n made bad decisions. I had all the survival gear we needed on our wheeler I abandoned after it got too stuck.
And more dumb stuff.
But my partner noticed the hypothermia signs n took immediate correct action. My over confidence almost got me. And it's a bad habit. I still find myself doing it . So maybe take an extra minute to look at your outdoors habits.
Stay safe n take one make one
 

devon deer

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Mate, I'm not trying to be a smart arse, but you need to brush up on your navigational skills, then the dangerous situation you found yourself in could have been avoided.
Basic map and compass and know how to use them, don't rely on equipment reliant on batteries, but also don't be without them.
You had phones, GPS, and couple all this with the App what3words and you would have been at your cabin in no time.

Good luck on your hunt.

Cheers

Richard (from the UK and not allowed to hunt Alaska without a guide)
 

BZNHNTR

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Scary story, glad it worked out. Testament to how important your partner is on any outdoor adventure; whether it be your wife or hunting buddy having someone to think straight if you are not can be life saving. Never been in a situation as serious as you were but been on both sides of situations where one person is freaking out a bit and the other has to settle things down and figure it out.
 

AlaskaHunter

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interior Alaska
Scary story. I had a friend of a friend die of hypothermia back in the 1980s.
Their sea kayak overturned, they had to swim it 100 yards to shore.
Windy, upper 30s, drizzle lead quickly to hypothermia and killed him.
That shocked us all as college students we took many stupid risks outdoors.
 
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Akcabin

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Yeah probably right about learning more about navigation. My sense of direction is terrible.
Funny thing is I'm not sure that would have helped much. I have all kinds of gear and the skills to use them. And have spent a few nights curled up under a spruce tree. I suspect the effects of hypothermia had me not thinking very straight. And it would not have mattered as to how much navigational skills I have. That's the particularly scary part.
I like to go out n usually hard to find someone else to go out with so am on my own regularly. The phone service is sketchy at our cabin so I don't depend on it.
But then again that's the adventure for me.
Concerning the hypothermia, it was a learning experience but as many folks mention it sneaks up on you. I had no clue. And tired hungry n cold , we've all been there. And angry because of the situation. I just didn't listen to my body.
This incident still shakes me I'm glad I had my partner on that trip.
 

OntarioHunter

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You were still a ways off before looking at grappling with the Grim Reaper. You weren't hallucinating yet. Simply dozing off would not likely have been fatal. The intense shivering would have woken you up. Indeed, it would have been so bad, you would not have been able to lay or sit down. How do I know all this? Because I have been over the edge and back. October 16, 1971, opening day of elk season. I was delayed getting back to the car and my hunting buddy left for Spotted Bear ranger station to report me missing ... and never returned. I had no matches or food and temp was just above freezing. Finally, at 11:00 p.m. I decided to walk out. By the time I got to the reservoir road, nothing I was seeing was real. The road became the top of Hungry Horse Dam. Walk to one side and look down and I saw water. Other side, the powerhouse. None of it was real. I saw fantastic frightening creatures, my friends and family driving up in cars, airplanes in the sky with searchlights (stars) ... all phantoms. Then the shivering set in. I was literally bouncing off the ground. The pain was unimaginable. Then the shivering subsided. At that point my body was giving up ... and I knew it. Fortunately, the week before I read in the paper a story about a teenage girl who survived a wilderness school lab exercise that went arry in Oregon. She described what her two friends went through before they died. So I knew what was happening to me. That knowledge kept me from panicking.

Know that when you get to that point, your judgement becomes impaired. Put a plan in your head when symptoms first present ... and DO NOT deviate! Also understand that you will not be seeing reality but, curiously, you still will hear it. When approaching someone you suspect is in the throws of hypothermia, ANNOUNCE YOURSELF CLEARLY AND LOUDLY, especially if they're armed. Consider that they will be scared out of their wits ... what little they have left. And people in the final stages will present like they're drunk. Don't automatically blow off someone you see in the bush acting like they're gassed up. They may be too confused or, in my case, too ashamed of appearing drunk to insist on help. Impaired judgement.

The day after getting back to town and finally becoming sensible again, Dad took me to see the family doctor. My body temp was still ten degrees below normal. The doc said that wasn't possible and still be alive. But there I was. He made me tell the whole story while taking careful notes. Wonder what happened to that file.

Also keep in mind that ambient air hypothermia, while more insidious, is more survivable than water immersion hypothermia. The latter is typically much quicker. Often all the stages are run together very quickly and it's overwith. But again, if you can get out of the water put a plan in your head and stick to it.

I have had several other close calls with hypothermia, but none as severe as 1971. Best way I have found to judge my condition is talk to myself and see how it sounds. Once speech becomes slurred and difficult, it's time to dig into rations. As I've said many times before, be very wary about relying on building a fire for survival. Depending on weather conditions and fuel availability, you may waste more energy keeping a fire going than you'll get out of it. Food for the internal fire is your best defense.
 
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NoWiser

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Had it bad after plunging through the ice one night years back while fishing. I fell through 3 times and the only reason I got out the third time was because my gloves froze to the ice sheet I was clinging to. By the end of the 2 mile walk to the nearest occupied cabin I was slurring my speech badly and couldn’t walk without assistance. I remember everything vividly but don’t remember feeling cold. I can see how it could creep up on a person, but in my case I knew it was coming and exactly what was happening.
 

OntarioHunter

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Had it bad after plunging through the ice one night years back while fishing. I fell through 3 times and the only reason I got out the third time was because my gloves froze to the ice sheet I was clinging to. By the end of the 2 mile walk to the nearest occupied cabin I was slurring my speech badly and couldn’t walk without assistance. I remember everything vividly but don’t remember feeling cold. I can see how it could creep up on a person, but in my case I knew it was coming and exactly what was happening.
Must be six or seven years ago on the last day of hunting in Montana I stopped at the bird refuge to get the last three roosters for my possession limit. It was -25 but thankfully no wind. I bagged one bird fairly quickly and rather than walking the dike I decided to take a shortcut across the ice to the big island. I should have known the current from creek runs through there. Suddenly my right leg went through almost to the hip. I lunged forward pulling it back out only to have the left weight bearing leg go through. Repeat with right leg again. This time I dropped to my belly to spread the weight. My three dogs saw me on all four and came running to investigate. I screamed at them to get away and they obeyed immediately. Managed to crawl to the dike safely. My legs are now crystal stovepipes so the plan is give it up and go home with seven birds. That's enough. Maybe fifteen yards down the path and Opal goes on point. Up goes the rooster and down it falls in a cloud of feathers (too close for my backup 870's fixed full choke). So now the plan changes. Get the third bird. It took about an hour and a helluva long shot plus some persistence on old Pearl's part to eventually find that crafty old cripple but we got her done. The law enforcement guy met me as I walked into the visitor centre washroom to change. He wanted to know what happened and I told him. "Jeezus, you are NUTS!" "Maybe, but don't say that too loudly or the authorities in Canada will hear you and take away my guns."

Edit: I had slurred speech but never any serious shivering. Good boots and staying on the move made the difference. God help me if I slipped and broke a leg. Probably wouldn't have survived twenty minutes. But in that flat country breaking a leg was unlikely. Too wet for badgers to be sinking tank traps. I did wind up with a small patch of frostbite on the outside edge of my right foot. Nothing serious. I never felt I was in any significant danger.
 
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Akcabin

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Yeah I thought I was napping on the sofa. Thinking this ain't bad. Feeling n warm.
Either way the fact that folks with lots of time in the bush can have issues that can lead to bad endings. But I use it as a learning lesson n get on down the trail. Being out n exposing ourselves to a bit of risk is worth the rewards in my book.
Have fun all
 

Akcabin

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Jul 11, 2021
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Had it bad after plunging through the ice one night years back while fishing. I fell through 3 times and the only reason I got out the third time was because my gloves froze to the ice sheet I was clinging to. By the end of the 2 mile walk to the nearest occupied cabin I was slurring my speech badly and couldn’t walk without assistance. I remember everything vividly but don’t remember feeling cold. I can see how it could creep up on a person, but in my case I knew it was coming and exactly what was happening.

A good way to simulate what falling through the ice feels like would be to slap yourself with a rug full of needles. The cold can take your breath away the instant pain can impair your judgment.
 

LopeHunter

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I was checking a muskrat trapline in early winter 1978 in the dark after high school basketball practice. Was well below freezing, brutal winds and pitch black. I had put out the traps on Sunday, the day before, in the daylight and turns out the lake was a much longer walk across the plowed field than I thought. If you have walked a frozen plowed field then you know it is like waling on boulders. My hair was wet from practice and had on my school clothes, a heavy coat and hip waders. Got to the lake and my headlamp was fading so would turn it on/off as walked. In spots the lake's bank was steep so I would stay on the ice.

In one such spot, there were tufts of grass sticking up through the ice and in those zones the ice was thinner or had melted away from the grass at some point. My left heel went through the ice about 18" until hit the mud bottom of the lake cove then I fell back on my rear end partially busting through the ice and water seeped into my right hip wader. I got back on my feet and once at the lake's bank I leaned on a cottonwood as I lifted my right leg to empty the water which worked, sort of, but also got that pant leg more wet as some water went inside the jean leg. My gloves were now soaked. I could not be further from the truck and had a few more traps to check and traps need to be checked daily. Reset the tripped traps. About 45 minutes later got to the truck with the walk over the plowed filed taking longer this time as was stumbling more and had eight muskrats over my shoulder on baling wire. I figured values in cases of beer back then so that was 5 cases of beer after the fur was skinned, more if stretched the hides.

I had trouble getting the tailgate latch to open so I could shuck off my waders. My coordination was failing and fingers were numb. Could not feel my right toes. Got the tailgate down then kicked the waders off as another pint of so of water ran out of the right hip boot. Tossed the waders in the truck bed, walked in socks painfully over the gravel around the side of the truck to use the key to unlock the door but was shaking even with the mostly dry coat. Took a few jabs to get the key in the door and then into the ignition. Turned the heater on. My right leg's jeans were frozen is a circle. The heater gradually warmed up and my right foot was stinging but my left foot was cold. Still shivering. The wind was rocking the truck. Could not feel the pedals with my right foot. Drove home left-footed and had some hot coffee as shucked off the wet clothes. The shivering was gone. Stepped into the hot shower and when the water touched my right foot it was like stepping on cactus needles and the foot was redder than any sunburn before or since.

Lots of mistakes that night. My headlamp was not properly charged (was the coal miner style). Blue jeans were not the proper clothing. Stocking cap was synthetic and almost worthless even with the hood of the coat up. I should have avoided the rotten ice. I should have immediately headed to the truck after my fall. Should have taken off the wet jeans while in the truck. Survived but never again made a shortcut across the ice of a slough or cove that had grass or branches poking through.
 

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