How Prepared Are You?
By Paula Rodriguez de la Vega
The Oliver Osoyoos Search and Rescue team (OOSAR) typically undertakes two to three winter searches annually since their inception in 1975. Every year, at least one of these searches involves lost or injured snowmobilers.
OOSAR Search Manager Rob Selsing states, “Typically, it is males we end up searching for ranging in age from young adult to middle age. They seem to take more chances, generally are less prepared, and have the more powerful equipment.”
In the mountains surrounding Oliver, snowmobilers can encounter frozen lakes, deep back country powder and avalanche terrain. What happens if your snowmobile breaks down or if someone gets injured? Are you prepared for a blizzard? What if you get lost? Or someone in the group gets stuck and you can’t get them out? OOSAR recommends that anyone going snowmobiling should be properly trained and equipped to survive a night outside or help others in need. “Most importantly, never go sledding alone. A fifteen to twenty minute ride out into the wilderness can equal a 24 hour walk out if you get stuck,” says Selsing. Snowmobilers should be aware of snow conditions. Avalanches can and will occur. Over 90 percent of avalanches that involve people and snowmobiles are triggered by the victims themselves or someone in their group.
Other factors in snowmobile accidents in BC include riding under the influence of alcohol or drugs, speeding, crossing roads if riding alongside a roadway, and young operators who have not been trained in basic safety. “Snowmobilers riding at night should also take extra precautions,” adds Selsing. “Headlights generally light up the path about 60 meters in front of you, so you should keep your speed below 60 km/hr, so you can see what’s ahead and be able to react on time.” Snowmobilers should also respect closed areas, regardless of whether they are private or public lands. Sometimes, these closed areas contain hazardous conditions for snowmobile operators. Other areas may be closed due to sensitive landowner relations or due to special management prescriptions that benefit wintering wildlife or non-motorized recreation. For safety, all snowmobilers should wear a helmet with a face shield or goggles, waterproof jackets and pants, thermal underwear, gloves, and socks. For backup, take extras of each, along with a warm tuque. In addition, each person should have and know how to use an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel, and a 50 foot length of rope for avalanche or crevasse rescue. For the snowmobile, they should carry a spare belt, plugs, tools, and extra gas. Lastly, don’t forget to leave your trip plan with a responsible person.
For more information, visit the Adventure Smart BC website (www.adventuresmart.ca).
Ways To Avoid Becoming Lost and What To Do If You Do Become Lost. If you get lost today, will anyone know? Are you prepared?
Leave A Message With A Friend
A note, left with a responsible person, explains your destination, the route (or runs) you are taking, who is with you, and your return time. If you do not return as planned, this person can give the accurate information to the police.
Always Carry The 10 Essentials
Be ready to stay out overnight in a survival situation. It is quite likely that you may not be reported missing for many hours. Carry extra clothing, survival gear, and be mentally prepared to endure the night out.
Never Hike Alone
Hike with a group and keep together. If a person becomes separated by going ahead or falling behind they are more likely to become lost.
Be Prepared For Your Chosen Hike
Hiking requires physical preparation. Be physically fit to enjoy your activities. Stick to a turn around time, and leave enough time to get home without causing people to worry about you. Take the proper equipment and have a trip plan – even if you will be hiking for only a few hours on a local mountain.
Do Not Panic
Maintain a positive mental attitude if you become lost. Being lost is not dangerous if you are prepared. Stay Where You Are. People who go on, after becoming lost, usually get further from the trail and further from people who are looking for them. Help will come.
Do Not Go “Downhill”
On the North Shore, going downhill often leads to dangerous natural drainages. These drainages have the common features of very thick bush, steep cliffs, and waterfalls.
Use Signaling Devices
Blowing a whistle, lighting a fire, and staying visible will help searchers find you. Help people trying to find you, even if you feel embarrassed or afraid. Remember that animals will not be attracted to your signals.
Build or Seek Shelter
Protect yourself from the elements. Be as comfortable as possible but when it is light make sure you are visible from the air and visible to searchers in helicopters or planes.
It Could Happen To YOU
Bad weather, early darkness or an unexpected injury can turn an easy hike into an extended crisis. IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU! By being prepared you will enjoy your trip in the backcountry regardless of what nature throws at you.
Hypothermia occurs when core body temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius. This occurs when the body’s ability to generate heat by burning calories, muscle exertion and shivering is overwhelmed by heat loss. Heat is lost in four ways; radiation to a cold environment, conduction through contact with cold surfaces, convection from wind and water currents and evaporation of moisture. Improperly prepared or injured backcountry travellers can become hypothermic even in summer months.
The international commission on alpine rescue classifies hypothermia into five stages based on core body temperature. Each stage can also be differentiated by clinical findings in the field when core temperature reading may not be available.
HT I: Mild Hypothermia, 35-32 degrees
Normal or near normal consciousness, shivering
HT II: Moderate Hypothermia, 32-28 degrees
Shivering stops, consciousness becomes impaired
HT III: Severe Hypothermia, 24-28 degrees
Unconscious, may be difficult to detect vital signs
HT IV: Apparent Death, 15-24 degrees
HT V: Death from irreversible hypothermia
The goals of treating all stages of hypothermia are the same. Prevent further heat loss by radiation, convection, conduction and evaporation. This means changing wet for dry clothing, insulating the patient from the environment, providing shelter from the environment and arranging evacuation. If possible the patient should be provided with hot sweet drinks and food as fuel for their body to produce heat. Once patients move beyond mild hypothermia they will likely no longer be able to produce enough heat to warm themselves. Once further heat loss is prevented with adequate clothing, insulation and shelter, they require the addition of external sources of heat for warming.
Treatment of mild hypothermia/HT I
Mild Hypothermia can often be treated simply by changing any wet for dry clothing, properly insulating the patient and providing hot sweet drinks for calories. If the patient is otherwise healthy and uninjured once they have been properly insulated and given adequate caloric replacement gentle exercise can be encouraged to further increased body temperature. If the patient is unable to move about due to illness or injury, external heat sources in the form of hot packs or hot water bottles should be added to the armpits and groin to prevent further cooling.
Treatment of Moderate hypothermia / HT II
Moderate Hypothermia is identified by the absence of shivering and the onset of impaired consciousness. At this stage careful handling becomes imperative to avoid deterioration and inducing cardiac arrhythmias due to heart muscle irritability from the cold. Active assistance by the patient should be discouraged. As above the patient should have wet clothing replaced with dry, be carefully insulated and sheltered from the environment and have external heat sources applied to the armpits, groin, neck and trunk. If they are still cooperative and able to swallow they can be carefully given hot sweet drinks under direct supervision. These patients all need to be evacuated to hospital as soon as possible.
Treatment of Severe Hypothermia / HT III
Patients with severe hypothermia will likely be completely unresponsive to stimuli. They usually will have signs of life (pulse and breathing) but this may be very difficult to detect because it may be at a very slow rate. Rescuers should check for at least a full minute for both pulse and breathing before determining them to be absent. Severely hypothermic patients must be handled as gently as possible to prevent cardiac arrhythmias. As in milder forms of hypothermia the most important principle is to prevent further heat loss with proper insulation. These patients should not be given anything to eat or drink. They should have external heat sources applied to initiate rewarming in the field and help prevent further cooling. Cardiac monitoring and higher level care by an advanced medical provider should be initiated as soon as possible and they should be evacuated to a hospital with cardiac bypass capabilities if possible.
Treatment of Apparent Death / HT IV
These patients will appear to be dead. They will not respond to stimuli and have no detectable signs of life such as heart rate or breathing. Despite their appearance of death there have been multiple reports of successful resuscitation of patients with profound hypothermia. Despite the severity of the condition the principles of management remain the same. Very gentle handling, prevent further heat loss and apply external heat sources to initiate rewarming in the field. Advanced medical personnel should be involved in the rescue as soon as possible to provide advanced life support care. CPR should be started once its continued maintenance can be guaranteed. It is ineffective to do CPR during a stretcher carry and therefore should not be started if the patient will be evacuated this way. These patients should be evacuated to a hospital with cardiac bypass capabilities.
When is it Hypothermia V or actual death?
When a patient can be declared dead in the field is a subject of great controversy in the medical field. There have been multiple amazing recoveries of patients with severe hypothermia that no one thought possible. If there is any doubt and it is safe for the rescuers to do so the patient should be treated as HT IV and evacuated to hospital. Ideally the decision to stop resuscitation should only be done by an experienced physician or advanced life support provider with the ability to monitor cardiac activity and measure core temperature in the field. Clearly in the wilderness environment this is not always the case. For the first responder and basic life support trained rescuer resuscitation efforts can be stopped or not initiated when it is determined that rescuer safety will be compromised by a prolonged resuscitation and rescue effort, there is obvious lethal injuries or the body is so frozen that the chest cannot be compressed during attempts at CPR.
Durrer B, Brugger H, Syme D. The medical on site treatment of hypothermia in consensus guidelines on mountain emergency medicine. Accessible on the ICAR website (www.ikar-cisa.org)
State of Alaska. Cold injuries guidelines (2005); accessible at http://www.chems.alaska.gov
Auerbacher P. Field guide to Wilderness Medicine 3rd edition 2008
Ellerton J. Casualty Care in Mountain Rescue 2nd edition 2006
Even the best weather can change rapidly, and even the widest trail can be lost. It pays to take a little extra with you, just in case.
Notice: Always tell a reliable person where you are going and when to expect you back, leave a detailed trip itinerary, and make sure you know your route and plan accordingly.
Flashlight or a headlamp with extra batteries (and light bulb if not LED). Green cyalume stick or small turtle lights as emergency backup.
2. Signalling Device
Whistle (we recommend the Fox 40 whistle with a lanyard), Bear Bangers, Pencil Flare
3. Fire Starter
Matches (water proof or in plastic bag) or lighter. We also recommend a commercial firestarter and/or a candle. Commercial firestarters can be purchased at outdoor stores like Mountain Equipment Coop.
4. Extra clothes
Hat or toque, gloves or mittens, fleece jacket, gortex jacket, polypro underwear, good quality hiking socks and gortex over pants.
Although a multi tool is preferred, a good pocket knife with a quality blade will suffice. It may also be worth carrying a small pruning saw for cutting branches when building a shelter or fire.
Large orange plastic bag and thermal tarp.
7. Water (gatorade crystals recommended) and food (high energy food bars)
8. First-aid kit
Should include pocket mask; Sam Splint, bulk dressings, protective gloves, bandage, scissors and blister dressings
Good quality compass with built in declination adjustment and both topographical and interpretive maps. we also recommend a GPS unit but only as an adjunct to compass and map. Most team members carry a Garmin 60 series GPS unit that has terrific reception in the trees.
10. Communications – Cell phone
We recommend you bring a cell phone with a fully charged battery. It is advisable to keep the phone turned off, and stored in a ziplock bag. This way, if you get into trouble your phone will be dry and have a full charge. Many people manage to call 911 initially but their phone dies before their location can be relayed, not a desirable situation. If you have a smartphone, you should also know how to get GPS coordinates off of it to give to search and rescue if you become lost or injured (eg. MotionX or iphone compass app) . Depending on the terrain and difficulty of your excursion, it may also be worth considering satellite based communications devices like the Spot, Delorme InReach or a Personal Locator Beacon.
Just remember, these are not get out of jail free cards, electronics can fail, run out of batteries, or lose their signal. Telling someone where you are going, leaving a trip itinerary and bringing the other 9 essentials is critical to a safe outdoor excursion.
Important Tips regarding the 10 essentials:
The lack of light is the single most cause of overdure hiker calls for NSR. It is so easy to under estimate the amount of daylight left especially if you are deep in the forest. That is why carrying a good quality flashlight or headlamp with extra bulb and batteries per person, is number 1 on our list of the ten essential items. It is also prudent to carry green cyalume light sticks as an emergency backup ONLY. These lightweight items will illuminate the trail around and in front of you sufficiently for you to travel slowly in darkness fro several hours.
Note that training is required to develop efficient skills for use of a map, compass, and first aid kit, as well as to efficiently light fires. However having these items with you can make all the difference in a survival situation.
Why a large orange plastic bag? It’s actually one of the most valuable items on the list. Crawling into the bag helps keep you warm and dry. The orange colour is also highly visible and helps attract attention, particularly from the air.
Why a whistle? It is ideal for siganlling for help as your voice will become very hoarse in a short period of time especially if you are dehydrated. We reccommend the Fox 40 whistle because it works very well in wet conditions and has good range. When sending out a distress whistle blast do three short blasts in timed intervals of 1 to 5 minutes and in different directions from where you are standing as rescuers may be above below or to the sides of you, especially if you are lost in a canyon.If you here whistle blasts from rescuers it doesn’t mean that they can here you. Continue whistle blasts at even shorter intervals 1 minutes or less until they can make voice contact with you and the follow their instructions etc..
We also recommend you carry a heavy duty thermal blanket as this provides excellent shelter and reflects body heat.
Water especially, is an important essential item to take before and during your hike. We recommend you drink between 1-2 litres of water before and carry 1-2 litres. Hydration is directly proportional to your performance but also in maintaining essential fluid balance in your body. This is only a general guideline and is to be adjusted for extreme heat, cold, altitude, terrain etc. We also recommend you carry electrolyte, such as Gatorade in order to replenished salt and potassium that are depleted during excessive exercise. We recommend that you be always fully aware to take short rest and water breaks and hydrate yourself during your hike so as to avoid fluid depletion that leads to heat exhaustion and/or hypothermia.
We combined navigation and communications into number 9 and 10 essential items rather than creating the 11 essential items as they go hand in hand with each other. Knowing where you are and communicating your location in an emergency is a god send, both to yourself and the search and rescue team. As stated above you need proper training to orienteer with compass and map and a GPS should be seen as an adjunct to this. The GPS in itself is a valuable tool and depending on the type and price you want to pay you can get topographical maps downloaded onto the GPS. However, the GPS requires practice and it is not a substitute for orienteering skills especially if you are in terrain with natural obstacles such as canyons, cliff bands etc
The whole strategy to clothing is layering and breathability. This prevents overheating and sweating which can cause dehydration and begin the cycle of hypothermia in cold weather and heat exhaustion in relatively warmer weather. There are many clothing types on the market but you will want to wear underclothing next to the skin that wicks sweat away. It is also important to purchase fleece and gortex clothing that has venting zippers in the armpits and leg areas as this allows excess body heat to vent during times of heavy exercise in inclement weather. A fleece or woolen toque or hat is also a must as a great deal of body heat is lost through the head especially in children. Remember the saying ” if your feet get cold put your toque on”. Good quality woolen or gortex gloves or mittens are a must, especially in winter and inclement weather so as to prevent frostbite or cold injury. This will also allow you to perform tasks such as holding onto rocks or tree branches when traveling in terrain, wood gathering , lighting a fire etc. One additional little tip is to carry two good quality plastic shopping bags in case your boots get wet. You can put on your dry socks and wrap them in the bags then put your wet boots back on. This is great if you are stranded overnight and want yo keep you feet warm and be somewhat comfortbale. It can also prevent frostbite in cold weather in this type of situation.
We did not include footwear as an essential item to carry as it something that goes on at the start of your hike and stays on. Footwear selection from trail runners to approach shoes to light hikers to full mountaineering leather or plastic boots needs to be based on the type of activity you plan to carry out and the type of terrain you will travel in. Remember, if you buy new boots break them in long before your hike and have plenty of moleskin on hand to cover the potential hot spots that always seem to go with new boots. Also, good quality hiking socks are a must as these types of socks will wick sweat away from the feet thus reducing the risk of blisters or skin problems.