Image of the June 2019 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
June 2019 Issue
Home / Articles / Editorial

The silent menace

LandSAR Turangi’s Blake McDavitt says people often ignore the first symptoms of hypothermia Photo: Martyn Davies

Reading this month’s feature on hypothermia, I realised, quite worryingly, that I have been through the early stages of the condition several times. And the chances are, you have too. The numb fingers refusing to cooperate. The cold mouth seemingly so paralysed by botox it can’t form words properly and what’s enunciated is mostly gibberish. They’re both early warning signs that your body is cooling dangerously and that hypothermia, or the ‘silent menace’ as Search and Rescue volunteer Cliff Jones describes it, is not far off.

And that’s the thing that is really worrying about these symptoms: It’s not until you’ve reached the hut and try to unfasten your pack or start the cooker that you realise your hands aren’t working as they should and you can’t speak too well. What if there was no hut, or it was still a way off? Would I realise I was becoming so cold I might die?

Sadly, unless others noticed my stumbling and slurring, probably not. Hypothermia really does sneak up on you – even the experts, like the six LandSAR operatives who developed hypothermia while trying to rescue three other hypothermic victims, can get caught out. And it’s truly insidious – it can even trick your mind into thinking you are so hot you take off your clothes. By that stage, you’re pretty much done for unless you get to a hospital. In the backcountry, that’s unlikely to happen.

You have to nip it in the bud early and act before cold stress turns to hypothermia. That means finding shelter, getting out of the wind, drinking warm tea and eating food.

Hopefully, our story will help make you aware of the danger of hypothermia and alert you to the risks.