|Over the years, remote and faraway places have become more accessible and, although as much care as possible is taken whenever there is snow on a mountain or slope, an avalanche is always possible. Find out the local emergency signals for “avalanche warning” and “avalanche imminent” and heed them. Many avalanches are caused by a skier going off-course or ignoring local warnings. Make sure that you are wearing appropriate clothing for the mountain and that you have at least a whistle as a rescue aid. Leave details of your route with a local contact.
SURVIVING AN AVALANCHE
If caught in an avalanche, try to hold on to an immovable object for as long as the more snow that passes you, the less likely you are to be buried when it comes to a halt.
If at all possible, try to work your way to the side of the flow by using a swimming or rolling motion, keep your mouth and nose with the top of your sweater or parka while continuing the swimming motion. When you come to a stop, create an air space by folding your arms in front of your face and chest while the snow comes to a halt. Orientate yourself by spitting and feeling which way it falls. Try to move one hand upward and if you feel air, and you are able to, dig your way out. Otherwise, conserve both your air and your energy until help arrives.
There are various avalanche beacons. These are small, portable transceivers, which are a worthwhile investment for those regularly spending time in the mountains.
Hypothermia is the lowering of the body’s core temperature to 95°F or below. The best treatment for hypothermia is prevention. As the body’s temperature drops there may be signs and symptoms that, if recognized early enough, can prevent an easily treatable condition becoming fatal. In the outdoors it is important to watch out for these signs in the group that you are with and to take early action to prevent deterioration.
Once recognized, the treatment for hypothermia is to re-warm the victim to the body’s natural temperature. However, this needs to be done with care because rough handling could lead to a heart attack in some people.
- Try to provide a warm, dry environment. Lay the person at risk down, ensuring that he is insulated from the ground, and gently remove any wet items of clothing, replacing them with dry ones as you go. Since we lose almost a third of our body heat through our heads, this should be covered as quickly as possible. If the person is able, sips of a warm drink may be taken, although this should not be relied upon and other warming techniques will need to be employed.
- Try to get the victim into a sleeping or survival bag and cuddle up close, reassuring him all the time. Closely monitor the victim’s progress by continuing to talk to him, nothing any changes in the level of consciousness.
- Although space blankets or silver foil blankets are useful when used with other equipment, they work by reflecting the person’s own body heat. If the victim is cold, they will reflect the cold, making the situation worse. They should therefore never be relied upon on their own.
- If you have a tent or survival shelter available, set this up and get inside as soon as possible. Take care to ensure that other members of your group do not succumb to the cold.