Frostbite and Hypothermia

We will not go too deep into this subject since we are not doctors and there is extensive literature on alpine medicine. You should definitely educate yourself and also read and take along the book "Medicine for mountaineering" try for the expedition. We would though like to share with you some of our own experience from a more "hands on" view. Our advice is to be read as a climber's perspective, a practical complement to the conventional medical knowledge.


Frostbite and frostnip typically occurs in the hands, feet and sometimes ears and the nose. The tissue turns white, you lose the feeling in it, and eventually it becomes black, blisters and finally falls of.

Frostbite is thawed in cool water slowly heated to lukewarm. If you thaw the tissue too fast (in too hot water) it will thaw before circulation has returned and the tissue will die of oxygen depravation, the cells bursting. In addition to thawing you need to administer antibiotics to prevent infections.

It will take around 3 months to determine the exact damage. Luckily, frostbite often reverses completely. Never treat a frostbite by rubbing it!

Feel your feet sometimes while climbing, stretch the toes, kick the boots in the snow once in a while for improved circulation.

Use HotTronics for the summit attempt, don't wear too tight boots. Always wear gators over plastic shoes - or even better use the One Sports shoes.

Should you sense a loss of feeling in your feet while climbing - remove the boots and warm the feet in your buddies armpits or crotch (well, that's what friends are for).

The herb Ginkgo Biloba is said to expand the fine capillaries and be helpful against frostbite. Drinking lots of fluid is absolutely crucial.


Hypothermia can kill in only 30 minutes. Cold temperature, but also strong wind causes the body to rapidly lose heat. You start to shiver in order to maintain body heat from the rapid muscular shaking.

If your body temperature drops to 35C/95F, you'll get dizzy and disoriented. Then the shivering stops.  The body now maintains temperature only around the important organs; heart, brain and lungs by shutting down blood circulation to the arms and legs.

At 30C/86F, your pulse is weak and slow. Your blood vessels widen. Now, you feel hot and want to remove your clothes, finally slipping into unconsciousness. At 24C/75F your heartbeat stops. How fast you drop temperature will determine how rapidly you'll parish. 30 minutes is more than enough!

Full blown Hypothermia will not be improved by additional clothing since clothing doesn't generate heat. In difficult climbing situations, you need to put hot water bottles in your armpits, to your crotch and/or stomach.

As a last resort, strip and get into a sleeping bag - together with another undressed person, to warm up by the others body heat (yeah, yeah - keep your dirty imagination to yourself!).

Otherwise - keep moving until at safety. In 1998, a climber died of Hypothermia on the North Side. All that was found left of him was his clothing neatly folded below the summit. This is quite typical of the condition. Confused, the brain tries to bring some order in the situation, thus folding the clothes.

Prevent Hypothermia by adding on clothes as soon as you start feeling the slightest cold. Bring windproof clothing and lightweight downs in your backpack for the lower climbs, hot water bottles inside the down suit for the summit and don't pursue the climb if you start getting the symptoms of Hypothermia, unless you have no choice.