Mountain Hypothermia – English Presentation

Mountain Hypothermia

“A decrease in the core body temperature to a level at which normal muscular and cerebral functions are impaired”

  • Mountain Hypothermia is potentially a dangerous problem faced by hill walkers at any time of year.
  • The Core consists of the Brain, Heart, Lungs and other vital organs
  • The Shell consists of the limbs, skin and muscle
  • Normal body core temperature is 37ºC
  • The body core temperature has to fall from its normal 37ºC by only 2ºC to cause hypothermia problems
  • This temperature can continue to fall to a life threatening 28ºC


  • Cold        –               An important factor but rarely causes mountain hypothermia by itself
  • Wet        –               Water reduces the insulating properties of clothing, and evaporation from wet clothing takes a lot of heat from the body
  • Wind      –               Causes heat loss on exposed skin and through non-windproof clothing, as well as increasing the rate of evaporation from wet clothing

A combination of any 2 or all 3 of the above can cause mountain hypothermia

Other factors that contribute greatly to mountain hypothermia are

  • Exhaustion             –               This is a major factor.  It can by caused by walking too far, too fast, carrying too heavy a load, hunger and poor clothing.
  • Morale                   –               Low morale usually happens because of exhaustion or a combination of the above

Signs and Symptoms

All Walkers must be aware of mountain hypothermia and know what warning signs to look for.

You should be keeping an eye on each other during a day out.  The casualty is usually the last person to realise that something is wrong.

If one person in a group is showing signs of mountain hypothermia, check with everyone else in your party, they might be showing symptoms as well.  You’ve all been out in the same conditions

Watch out for the ‘umbles’

The Stumbles, Mumbles, Fumbles and Grumbles

ºC Symptoms
37 Normal body temperature
35 Shivering, looks cold, feels cold
34 Change in personality, introverted, withdrawn, ‘switched off’
33 Shivering stops, drowsy, lowered level of consciousness
32 Limbs stiffen up
31 Progresses quickly to unconsciousness
30 Fixed dilated pupils
29 Heart (Pulse) irregularity
26 Death

The symptoms do not have to appear in a specific order

Your body can skip a lot of the symptoms if you are losing body heat at an accelerated rate

The sooner you identify the symptoms, the easier it is to recover

Signs and Symptoms

Early warning signs

– Feeling cold and unhappy

– Complaining and grumbling

– Slowing down or lagging behind

– Difficulty crossing rough ground

– Slowing mentally and physically

– Slurring speech

– Poor coordination

– Spells of shivering

Danger signs

– Shivering stops

– Slow jerky movement

– Falling down

– Collapse

– In and out of consciousness

– Hallucinations

– Slow breathing and pulse

More serious signs

– Feeling bitterly cold

– Stumbling

– Judgement affected, becoming     confused

– Drowsy

– Difficulty getting back on feet after rest

– Shivering becoming uncontrollable

– Disregard for cold (Jacket open, gloves off etc)


“Prevention is better than the cure”

  • Wear proper wind and waterproof clothing to protect you from head to toes.
  • Hats, gloves, rain jacket and leggings should always be carried
  • Attempt only what you know you can physically achieve
  • Eat sufficient energy producing food before and during your walk – drink regularly
  • Plan your route taking weather conditions into account
  • Be prepared to abandon your days plan, and turn back or get off on the quickest (and safest) route if group members start to show symptoms


The basic principles of re-warming a hypothermic victim is to conserve the heat they have, and replace the body fuel they are burning up to generate heat.

  • SEEK SHELTER – try to get them out of the wind and rain.  A bivi bag or group shelter is invaluable to help with this
  • Give additional clothing for the whole body – including a hat.  If you are sheltered from the weather replace wet clothing
  • Insulate from the ground
  • Warm sweet drinks and high energy food
  • NO alcohol, caffeine or tobacco
  • Reassurance, helps moral and cheers up victim
  • Do not use rubbing or external heat source.  This takes heat away from the core
  • While giving them all this attention, remember to keep an eye on each other for symptoms

After Treatment on the hills

  • If the casualty has severe hypothermia or has lost consciousness, do not attempt to evacuate off the mountain
  • Keep the casualty as comfortable as possible and send for help
  • If the casualty shows less severe signs of hypothermia, do not attempt to finish the walk – find the quickest and safest route off the mountain
  • Once off the hills, continue reheating and refuelling
  • Also, seek medical advice

It is important to note that if a person has had hypothermia once during the day, they are more susceptible to having it a second time.  And it will be more severe



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