Hypothermia. In the mountains in Britain we are always at risk from hypothermia. Hypothermia is a lowering of the bodies core temperature, the core can be defined as the vital internal organs. This cooling can result from a combination of factors such as cold, wind, rain, exhaustion, lack of clothing and poor training.
In the mountains it is often cold, windy and wet, so at first sight it seems there is little we can do about the weather. But we can study the weather forecast and adapt it to reveal what the conditions will be like on the mountain. Bearing in mind that the wind speed will be 10 - 20 mph faster than at sea level and that the temperature falls 3 degrees C for every 1,000 feet. So if at sea level its 0 degrees C with a 10 mph wind then on top of Snowdon it will be -10.5 C and with a wind of 20 - 30 mph it will feel like -40 to -50 C due to the wind chill factor. So we can avoid going into the mountains during the worst weather. But instead opt for an alternative low level walk. Other things we can do is identify the most common wind direction and try to plan a route up and down the mountain that is on the lee side and out of the worst of the weather.
To protect us from the weather further we can wear warm and waterproof clothing. Exhaustion, generally this results from taking on to much, walking to fast at the beginning of the walk, not stopping for rests often enough. Whilst, stopped not putting on warm wind proof clothing straight away and pushing on regardless instead of retreating. Not eating and drinking enough also contributes to exhaustion. Personally I try to walk at a pace I could keep up all day without sweating or having to stop and at the end of the day feel like I could easily do the walk again, the aim being to conserve energy, maintain body temperature and fluids. Obviously, I do stop and eat / drink little and often. The reason for this approach is that your never 100 % sure what will happen on the mountains and someone in your party may have an accident or you may come across someone that has had an accident. Which means you may have to stay on the mountains far longer than expected and assist in evacuating the person without becoming a hypothermia casualty yourself and further complicating the situation. We can further protect ourselves from hypothermia through training, which means learning to avoid hypothermia, how recognise it and treat it. Avoidance has been briefly described above and so we will move on to recognition and treatment.
Recognition, you should frequently monitor yourself and the people in your group for the early signs of hypothermia. Don't be afraid to remind people to put on warm / windproof clothing and eat / drink. Hypothermia, is a progressive condition, initially people will complain about being tired, cold, wet and they may begin to shiver. In the next stage the signs and symptoms can come in any order and may not all be present. Shivering becomes more frequent, they walk more slowly, trip over, have slurred speak, blurred vision, behave out of character or even suddenly walk much faster for a time. They may stop feeling the cold and refuse to put on warm clothing. They may be vaguely aware that the have hypothermia but are to apathetic to do anything about it and all they want to do is curl up and go to sleep. In the final stages shivering stops or comes in violent bursts, then unconsciousness as the body tries to go into hibernation, coma, then coma without any pulse at the wrists as the body shuts down unnecessary blood flow further to protect the vital organs, then eventually death.
Treatment, during the very early stages simply finding some where out of the wind, putting on warm clothes having something to eat and a warm drink may be enough. But, consider altering the walk to make it shorter / easier. Redistribute the persons load and go more slowly if necessary. Constantly reassess the situation bearing in mind that there may be others developing hypothermia including yourself and take into account that your judgment may becoming impaired so edge on the side of caution. If after a short time the person doesn't seem to be improving then turn back using the quickest and safest route available. Obviously, whilst planning the walk you will have contemplated problems like this and for each section of the walk have decided what routes you would take to make the walk easier or to return to the car park. Together with having left exact written details of this with someone who will contact the police if you fail to telephone them at the appointed time. The police will in turn fax the details to the mountain rescue team who will then know where to look for you. If the person gets worse then stop ideally some where out of the wind, put more warm clothing on them and put them into a sleeping and bivi bag. Put up a tent if you have one or a Karrimor instructors survival unit (KISU) or make some form of shelter. Give them food and warm drinks until they are warm enough to continue or wait for rescue.