Since we’ve had a few cold snaps, I thought I’d touch on two important cold weather safety tips – one of which saved me from certain death. Although most of us live in the city and merely dash through the cold, if you’re suddenly stuck in it, frostbite and death can happen fast. When I went thru CWEST (Cold Weather Extreme Survival Training), I would have died the first hour on the mountain if we hadn’t followed the rules.
Rule 1 – Never go anywhere alone. Stick with the buddy system, whether it’s going to pee, to pick up a log – anything! I was sawing wood to build our shelter when my buddy saw I was wasn’t moving and hollered at me – “LT, you okay?” I wasn’t. I had blacked out standing up holding a saw in my hand. There I stood dying. And it came with no warning, while I was actually in motion. Once your mind trips offline, it doesn’t trip back online. That was a stunning wakeup call. YOU CAN DIE IN MOTION THINKING ALL IS GOOD. Fortunately, once I acclimated, that never happened again. I knew how important the buddy system was when diving, but you can imagine how fanatical I became about it during CWEST.
Rule 2 – Always dress for duress. The first layer of clothing should consist of a thin wicking material to keep the skin dry, like spandex, nylon or cotton. You never want to collect perspiration and make yourself wet. Over that, you want a heat generating garment, like polar fleece, down or thick wool. And on top of that you want something to break the wind, keep the heat in, and prevent anything underneath from getting wet. The inner layers are of no use if the wind cuts through them or they get wet. You need to trap that warmth and protect it. So the top layers should consist of something like Gortex, rubber or a material treated with scotch guard. 3 layers!
Although some consider me neurotic about safety (and don’t rebut me with the speeding motorcycle no helmet argument – that’s my only vice:), I think everyone should carry a stash of cold weather garments in the trunk of their car. Even if you don’t find yourself in a life and death situation, odds are one day you’ll be glad you had something warm and or dry with you. Be safe!