Understanding hypothermia🌬🌡

I recently went mountain biking with a group of friends in Rotorua; an hour inland from Tauranga. We had all anticipated the drop in temperature as we headed inland (we live on the coast where the weather is comparatively mild in winter) so believed we had dressed appropriately and had the right gear.

I’ve noticed there is a bit of a theory with mountain bikers about “starting cold” because no doubt 5 minutes down the track you will be stripping off layers = which you then have to carry.  I’m never able to bring myself to do it and yes you guessed it, I’m the one with a big backpack with jackets, jerseys etc but that’s just my way. The girls and I discussed all this in the car park when we realized just how cold it was (4 degrees).  One of our group went with the “start cold” theory another realized her jersey was way to big to ride in, so left it in the car. I was the only one with full finger bike gloves and within 5 minutes everyone’s hands (mine included) were freezing. We finished the first trail and tried to warm our hands, but then our body temperatures started dropping so we had to start biking again. After riding for another 30 minutes my hands thawed out and the rest of me was fine as I was wearing fleece leggings and adequate merino and thermal layers and wore my buff like a bank robber!

20190406_102534It wasn’t until we stopped again that one of our party crouched down and said she felt dizzy. She was all pale and started yawning.  I had a jacket in my bag which I put on her and had to zip up for her. I also gave her my gloves, as my hands were fine by then. I realized we needed to get her out of the forest and warmed up but I didn’t know the trails ultra well, I also realized the other friend who had left her jersey in the car was finding it hard to string sentences together because she was so cold. All three still had freezing hands. As I consulted my map and started scouting our way out I realized that it was possible my friend was going into the first stage of hypothermia and that we needed to get her out ASAP. I started thinking we may need to call for help. Fortunately when I returned from my brief scout, my friend had started to feel better and was able to ride out to the car park. Meanwhile my cold jersey-less friend turned to me and said this had been a good lesson to her about bringing a jacket “just in case”. I’m happy to report we made it out safely, got hot drinks, cranked the heater in the car and headed back to our sunny coastal haven where we completely thawed out and even managed another ride -this time in shorts!🤣🚴‍♂️🌞

There was a happy end to our story, however hypothermia is a serious condition and immediate preventive action is required to prevent the condition worsening. Anyone can get hypothermia old, young, fit, healthy, experienced or inexperienced. Plus you can get hypothermia in summer as well as winter.

Here is how you can recognize it:

The stages: (from the NZ Wilderness Magazine)

  • Cold stress: The stage preceding hypothermia, reduced body temperature (35-37 deg C), mild shivering and stiff fingers. Treat with sugary drinks, food, shelter and clothing layers.
  • Mild Hypothermia: Symptoms may include confusion, personality changes, impaired motor functions, uncontrollable shivering and a core temperature of (32-35 deg C). If cold stress develops into hypothermia emergency services should be contacted. Treat as above and add active heat pads and hot water bottles.
  • Moderate Hypothermia (conscious): Core temperature 30-32 deg C) physical ability is impaired and shivering has likely stopped. The patient should be kept horizontal and still, and choking hazards exist so nil by mouth. Active heat pads, as patient has stopped producing body heat. Hospitalization is essential.
  • Moderate Hypothermia (unconscious): Core temperature drops below 30 deg C and patient loses consciousness. Cardiac arrest risk is high, and patient should not be moved unnecessarily. Hospitalization is essential for survival as the energy requirements to reheat this patient are very high.

*Keep an eye on kids is particular, because even though it can appear like they don’t feel the cold, they have a greater risk of becoming hypothermic due to their lower fat mass, meaning less insulation, and lower muscle mass, which means less capacity for producing heat.

Be prepared and recognize the signs. Have fun and stay safe x Tammy.



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