Hypothermic stories

How about posting summaries of your ‘sucky’ or ‘really bad’ hypothermia experiences? Might help us all.


Paddled all day in misty rain in 60°F conditions with rain jacket and T-shirt, khaki pants. On my evening landing, drug up the canoe, set up tent, and was about to start the stove when intense, stomach clamping shivers abruptly set in. Could not flick the bic, couldn’t hold a match tight enough to strike it. Backup plan was to cut the sleeping bag cord and curl up inside hoping to warm up- some never warm up. I was able to get a good smear of starting wax paste on the Svea, held all my matches in one large bundle, and got a good strike and torch flareup on the stove. End of problems.

IMO, a classic case of using energy throughout the day at a high rate concealed by the warmth of excercise. When exercise stopped, heat developed dropped quickly, leading to the severe chills.

I I had a couple and…
Both were mountain biking:

One was in a metric century race in the NC mountains in the early spring. There was a freezing rain and I was not dressed for the conditions.

About three quarters of the way through I should have stopped at one of the aid stations where we left the forest trail and crossed a public road before going back in the wilderness.

Unfortunately I didn’t and when I realized I was in trouble I just had to continue.

At the next station I was so cold, shivering and incoherent all I could do was ask someone to help me. They put me in a vehicle that had a front seat warmer and I am guessing that it took a hour before I was even close to warm, and then I felt sick all over.

It was the only long distance bike ride I ever dropped out of and believe me I didn’t feel any shame in so doing.

Hey welcome back from wherever you were !!!



Camping (sort of)

– Last Updated: Dec-30-05 12:05 PM EST –

I got put on kp at Hoensfelt in Germany in February. My company moved out while I was stuck back in the rear and when someone packed my ruck up on the rack they didn't notice all I had on there was my summer weight Belgian bag. Since I was responsible to have my gear ready to do, my squad leader thought it might teach me a lesson to make me sleep in it when I got sent back to my unit, no hooch, frozen ground. Shook violently for a couple hours, then I kept jerking awake to find the bag encased in ice. Finally fell asleep and they had a real rough time waking me up. They put me in the track behind the heater for a couple days, didn't have to pull security, so I didn't squeel on my squad leader for being an ignorant @#@#. It was a little scary actually. Had my extreme cold bag strapped to my ruck 365 days a year after that.

Sneaky hypothermia
I’m impressed with the number of stories where hypothermia “sneaks” up on a person - as opposed to a sudden immersion experience.

Mine was in Quebec in 1976. Middle of September, after teh summer warmth and before the planned Indian Summer. Weather was cool - 50s and 60s, mostly overcast. Towards the end of our route, we had a full day into a stiff wind. Usual spray, unable to land so we snacked in the canoes. One couple was driving a 15 ft Grumman, and when we reached our campsite she was shivering uncontrollably. We quickly set up a tent, got her in a sleeping bag with her hubby, heated some water for hot chocolate. She warmed quickly, but had no memory of landing, setting up camp, or initially getting into the bag with hub.

This episode really opened my eyes to how hypothermia can creep up to you. A similar scenario was reported several years ago in SeaKayaker Mag, but it required a CG evacuation.


Mine’s for the campfire only

– Last Updated: Dec-30-05 12:43 PM EST –

I was "on the lam" and am not sure the statute of limitions has run yet, some 22 years later.

(Thanks for the edit suggestion Jim!)

Florida Keys In Spring
I have had some predictable ones like wiping out in big winter surf in NORCAL and not being able to remount my SOT, but I had a unusual one in the Florida Keys.

Water conducts heat away from your body more than air does. I was on a two tank dive off Key Largo in 70 degrees water. I figured I didn’t need a wet suit at 70 degrees, but after two one hour dives I was shaking pretty bad.

As it should be!
Anyone who is “on” a furry critter should keep it quiet!

Now, being on the “lam” is a different, er, animal.


sheep farmers wear wellington boots why?
I think I should email the answer if needed.

Great Points, Mike

– Last Updated: Dec-30-05 12:49 PM EST –

The way hypothermia can "Sneak up" on you, and the fact that your judgement decreases along with your body temp make it imperative that you avoid the beginning stages of hypothermia at all costs. I always have a change of clothes in the canoe and fire starter in the 1st aid kit. Laugh, but even in summer. First story takes place in July or August in MO. Hot summer afternoon and one of our afternoon thunderstorms lasted for a couple of hours and dropped the temp from 90's to probably about 70. Didn't bother to put on rain gear, as the rain felt good to us. By the time we got to the landing, we were starting to shiver. Noticed the coordination was a bit off trying to load and tie down the canoe. We turned on the heater in the car and after we warmed up changed clothes. Seemed like it took an hour with the heat full blast before we were warm. Another story happened on a trip in the BWCAW of northern MN. Our friends dumped a canoe, we got onshore and I told them to go back in the woods and change and I would build a fire. They thought this was overkill, that I was being too cautious, but by the time they got to the fire they were shivering and very appreciative of the fire and hot chocolate. Another time, in the BWCAW in the late 80's or early 90's, spent hours under a canoe in a torrential rain that spawned a tornado. Despite our rain gear, we got wet as the temp dropped from 70's to probably high 40's or lower 50's. Started to shiver and decided we had to get back to camp. By the time we got to camp, it was getting scary. Thank God we had dry firewood and got a roaring fire going in minutes. It took a LONG timein front of a warm fire and hot food and tea before we got comfortable. I'm more carefull now not to allow myself to get to the beginning stages even when I take a swim in 40 degree water in February (but that's ANOTHER story)! WW

Please! Oh please!
Please! Oh please! Tell us that story of capsizing in Febuary, in 40 degree temperature! I’d love to hear that story…again…



Not just hypothermia
sneaks up on you. When I was in the Air Force, we would have to go up in the altitude chamber as part of our regular training. At altitude (18,000 ft. +), the instructor had us take off our oxygen masks and start signing our names over and over on a pad. Whenever he would ask how we were doing, everyone said just fine. After instructing us to go back on oxygen, we were invited to inspect our signatures. They had pretty quickly degenerated into illegible scrawls belying our conviction that we were “just fine.”

Imagine trying to control an aircraft if it lost pressure and supplemental oxygen were not immediately available. There are stories of pilots who crashed and burned not long after saying they were “just fine.”


“Some men like their womens
They like them soft and round.

But my love’s warm and wooly

Ans she makes a baaaaaing sound!”

Just repeating a ditty I heard. Honestly.


Regarding “stupid” actions
In the SeaKayaker Mag accident report, the couple had been shore-bound by an unforecast front that blew into the Pacific NW. They had a tent, sleeping bags, stove, water, and food. But they slowly lost core temperature because they were exhausted from lack of sleep (partially collapsed tent on gusty shore) and got to the point where they just were not interesting in eating or drinking. The guy commented that his usually cheerful wife had become quiet and sullen. But neither recognized the symptoms.

Folks like Mike, and I include myself in this group, often get stares of disbelief when packing emergency equipment on a good-weather day. Better to have it and not need it, and all that.


Lack of oxygen
Back in the '80s when I was in good condition some friends and I bicycled up Mt. Evans in CO (14,200 ft) on the highest “paved” road in the continental US. Was not especially difficult with touring bikes equipped with granny gears, but the pictures I took from the summit were awful! Poorly composed, un-focused, shaky. But at the time, I was sure that they wwere going to be winners!


Impaired, but not aware of it.

not exactly hypothermia
but learning experiences where calorie output/input aren’t in balance.

  1. long bike ride/race when I was younger. 75miles with me and another fellow riding together the last 50miles. I was wearing wool, cap, arm warmers, and snacking regularly. He was thinner and wearing only lycra. Five miles from the end on a long descent with swooping turns he could not maintain a line through the turns. He was all over the road. I shot ahead in the last mile and noticed when he came in that his lips were blue.

  2. long mtn. bike ride with friends in Tahoe region, 80degree temps. We took two wrong turns and what should have been a 2 3/4 hr ride became a 5 1/2hr ride. One fellow was being goofy and not riding well. Group dynamics changed when it was obvious the guy wasn’t operating on all cylinders and we had to watch out for him and baby him to finishing a powerbar/water even though he was having too much fun to bother.

    Goosebumps from being chilled on the descents even though it was fairly warm.

  3. ACA IDW where we were on the water for 3hrs mostly sitting/paddling around modeling/practicing rescues and various techniques finishing with a video of paddling technique with rolls at the end.Not very vigorous but exposed a lot. Water temps were 46. We were out in 46 air with a breeze for all the day. One fellow, big and muscular, with lots of white water expertise was finishing his turn and declined my offer to wear a beanie/hood for the rolls.

    He did three rolls perfectly, tried to do a hand roll and couldn’t do then wet-exited. He got out and pulled the kayak the short 30’ to shore and got out. Thereafter he was like a walking drunk for 15minutes and according to him was shivering for a half hour and never got warm until he got into a shower and had dinner that night.

    Although he had lots of whitewater coldwater experience he had never sat around exposing himself to that much low level exertion and cold so that by the time he was dunking his bare head in 46degree water it took his balance right away.

I think it was June in NH, bright sunny day, light breeze, just warm enough to be comfortable in a polypro shirt while paddling. Nice to be out without all that gear on. The wind kicked up, I started getting splashed, the sun went behind some clouds, and damn, I’m getting cold out here! I dug out a jacket and hood before it got too bad, but without them I would have gone downhill fast on a nice day.

You prepare for bad days. Days that start with good weather are the sneaky ones.


– Last Updated: Dec-30-05 4:54 PM EST –

When I was racing my bike, I would go on a Saturday morning training ride year round. No matter how cold, wet, or miserable it was, I went to hammer and stay in shape for race season. I would always go out with the Fast Boy group and it was basically a race for 42 miles.

I usually just wore a long sleeve synthetic T-shirt and two LS cycling jerseys; one midweight, one heavy weight. If it rained, I wore a thin nylon shell to keep most of the water off. Gloves and somethimes a thin polypro under-the-helmet cap completed ensemble. Normally at hammer speeds, I was generating enough body heat to stay warm the entire ride until I got home. I lived basically at the beginning of the route.

One Saturday there was just one big group and we were not 'hammering' at the speeds the Fast Group usually went. It was dry, so I wasn't wearing my nylon wind/rain slicker.

About 7 miles into the ride, I wasn't warming up. One of the guys looked at me and said "You look cold. Geez, where is your jacket?" Don't need one I replied, I'll be okay when I warm up".

Well the warm up never happened. I tried leading and increasing the tempo, but that didn't work. I tried drafting behind a big guy to get out of the "wind", but that didn't help either. I was just plain cold.

Fortunatley, at the 28 mile/42 mile split, everyone went the 28 mile route, which brought me back home in roughly an 1:40. Normally this is an 1:15 ride during a hamerfest.

Got off the bike and started to shiver uncontrolably. Wife looks at me and says there is no color in my skin and starts to get concerned.

Being the nurse that she is, she measures my temp through my chattering teeth to find out if this is requires an E-Room visit pronto. 93, so I am helped up to the shower to see if I can warm up on my own with the warm water.

She stands outside the shower to make sure I don't crumple against the side. The warm water runs out, so I dry off and have her measure the temp. again. Now at least I have mostly stopped shivering. Temps up to 95 where it stays for about 10 minutes until the furnace can generate more hot water. Meanwhile, hot tea is pumped into me which maintains my temp at 95 ish.

Another hot shower brings the core temp up to 97. From there, layers of warm clothes, some food, hot drinks, and blankets completes the heat up cycle. It basically took all day to get back to 98. When my wife felt my chest just before the first shower, she said it was ice cold and still felt ice cold many hours later.

I bought nice winter cycling jacket the next day.


Not sports related…but
I was hired to replace some copper panels on a local church steeple in March 1984. I forget the temp at the time, but it was cold. I hired a crane with a work bucket to lift me 60’ to the damaged steeple. I had to go up, remove the flapping panels that were loose, bring them down, and run to the shop to make the replacement panels. The wind was blowing so hard that the crane operator had to rest the work bucket against the steeple to keep it steady. I removed the damaged copper, and gave the operator the signal to bring me down. By the time I got to the ground I was shivering uncontrolably, the swaying of the bucket didn’t make me feel any better, and I couldn’t raise the safety bar on the bucket. I had to sit in my truck for an hour in the heat before I felt like I was able to drive.

I think that’s the coldest I’ve ever been.

Day Before Yesterday
My buddy and I went to the lake to paddle and roll. I chose to wait and roll that night in the pool but my buddy went ahead with it. I was spotter. He had on a dry jacket, dry pants, and a diver’s neoprene hood. He hit some and missed some. On one of his missed rolls, I took a second or two more than usual getting to him and he got nervous and swam. I guess his lower body went from 80 or 90 degrees to 40 degrees in about a second. He didn’t gasp but he couldn’t talk. He finally spoke and asked me to paddle him over to the shore. He grabbed my bow and I paddled him to the shore, then I fetched his paddle and boat. He said he’d hit his limit. No more rolling in water that cold. The air was pleasant that day. Maybe 60 degrees and the sun was out. My buddy warmed right up after I got him to shore and we weren’t far from the marina. This wasn’t a real life-threatening event. More of an education.

Good and bad. Warning! old story re-told
Yes, there’s “good” hypothermia. Mine was a priceless education, administered in a coldwater tank while testing various drysuit/underlayer combinations for offshore drilling helicopter transport. The final combo was a Typhoon backzip divers’ suit with only street clothes underneath, and I asked to be left in until I cried “uncle”. As I found out, hypothermia isn’t all that easy to recognize whilst you’re experiencing it. The crew, trained at Memorial Uni in St, John’s NFLD, pulled me out when I stopped shivering and started babbling. They got me in front of a heater, wrapped in blankets for a few moments (so I’m told) then loaded me in the front seat of a car and trucked me off to a local fish and chip joint for lunch. The shiver reflex returned while I was eating chowder at the lunch counter, and I involuntarily flung lobster bits, scallops and corn at the ceiling! (Great joke on the cfa mainlander, eh b’yes?)

Shortly thereafter the nausea struck, and I spent a miserable afternoon lying on a wooden table in an overheated room. That table was doing approximately 650 RPM, if I recall correctly.

The most insidious of my “bad” experiences with hypothermia happened two Feb’s ago when I was heading for a small island in a bit of a snowsquall. The wind kept rising, and rising, until I broke into a sweat just trying to maintain headway. I was wearing a Goretex drysuit with Helly-Hansen longjohns, but the micropores evidently couldn’t keep up with my output. When I finally reached the lee of the island, I stopped paddling and almost instantly started shivering. As I floated gratefully in the relative shelter, I started to convince myself that I didn’t really need to go to all the bother of pulling my boat onto the ice shelf, opening the frozen hatches and preparing a hot lunch. “I’ll just rest a bit here in my boat, then ride the wind back the three miles to my car.” Yeah, right. I was lucky enough thru the previous experience to realize that lethargy could kill me, and forced myself to make for shore. Good thing.