Let's talk cold
I don't mean below freezing, I mean cold!
I want to bring this up for discussion because over the past couple of weeks, I've received a few PMs with questions about cold weather hanging. A couple of these PMs were from relatively new members. To be honest and blunt, I'm a little concerned this year. My concern comes from what I perceive as a sense of a challenge. I soooooo get that. :D
But, I can't stress to you enough that when dealing with temps below zero (f), things can go very wrong, very quickly. I know there are a lot of young and brave hangers on HF these days. That's great because you can take up the slack left by some of us more well-aged folks, but listen to those of us who have already tread where you wish to go. BTW, actual age has little to do with this discussion. I readily acknowledge that young, or old, it is the actual experience that matters, not the date on a calendar.
In my last PM response, I shared something I don't often admit, but the person asking has been around long enough that I figured he would get what I was saying and take it as intended; friendly advice. I told him about my only real failure at cold weather testing. I don't like to fail, so I stack the deck when testing. I usually have a pile of 'stuff' in my truck (nearby), so that no matter what, I can stay through the night. There was a night two years ago, that got so bad I had to get in my truck. Even in my truck with the heater running, the weather was wicked. It didn't take me long to make the decision to leave the warmth of my truck, go pack up my stuff (by that I mean wad it all up and throw it loose into the truck), and drive back down to Denver. I told this person that story, which I don't think I've ever fessed-up to around here, because he wanted to do some cold weather testing, but didn't know of a way to do it without having an easy bail-out. Without hesitation, I say that is not a good idea. This person has been hanging for a while and I'm sure he can take care of himself, but a recent convert to hammocks wanting to challenge the cold? Think real long and real hard about doing it, then go do it.
The cold makes you think funny. Best way I can think of to describe it. A good example is the number of people who die from exposure that are found in their birthday suits. For whatever the reason, in the process of freezing to death, they think it a good idea to strip off everything. Tell me that isn't 'funny' thinking. Point is, the very cold makes your decision making process fuzzy to say the least. Want to challenge the cold? Go for it, but have a plan in place. Know what you are going to do before you go out there. Practice your ideas, be it in your house/apartment, backyard, or local park. Don't make your mind work through things when the pressure is on. That is where mistakes happen and depending on how cold of an environment you're in, a little mistake can have very large consequences. Without a way to get out of that environment, the problems grow exponentially. In my other line of work, we have a saying: "As you train, so shall you fight". Believe you me, dealing with sub-zero temps in the field, is a fight. As you practice, so will you hang.
I don't pretend to be a cold weather expert, but I am most certainly experienced. I've suffered both frostbite and hypothermia, neither are remotely pleasurable. I can tell you from first-hand experience that hypothermia can kill you while you think you're making the right decisions. In both of those instances, I had people around me that took care of me. I was lucky and am still thankful.
I'm just a has-been that won't go away, so I'm sure the younger folks are thinking to themselves "that was him, I'll do better". Probably true, but if you're wrong, well...
So, for the benefit of all, let's talk about cold weather hanging before the cold really sets in this year. What are your philosophies for testing your cold weather setups? What precautions do you take? What is your plan for an emergency and how will you recognize it as an "emergency"? We've got some old hands at cold weather around here and I'd like it if they would share some of their knowledge with the freshman class of hangers. We've got a lot of them joining us these days.
My cold testing plan goes a little something like this:
I think I have a good idea.
I rattle it around in my head for a little while and maybe do some searches on HF for previous futzing.
I assume nothing! Other people have different tolerances. While their insight is helpful, I assume NOTHING.
I setup in the backyard and work on the practicality and process of what I want to try.
I spend a night, at least, with the new setup in moderate conditions.
I wait for more foul weather to come to the backyard, then try it again.
I start watching the weather in the mountains for the right window.
Truck is loaded with backup supplies and cold specific gear that I already know works.
I tell and text my chosen location for testing to both Genuine Draft and my father.
On the way out, the moment I get a cell signal, I text both parties that I am on my way home. They have both been given a cut-off time that if they don't hear from me, they should make calls to the appropriate organizations.
The rest are just details, but following this basic procedure has allowed my winter testing activities to be both successful and safe. I just want to be sure that folks are giving enough respect to truly cold conditions. They are not to be taken lightly and I have no desire to moderate a thread about losing one of our people to the cold...ever!
Just cause I sound like an old man lecturing, I'll throw in "AND STAY OFF MY GRASS!" :lol:
I agree in that you should always test your gear and have an escape plan.
And I am not well aged..I am well seasoned
Nice write up, Cannibal. Around here, it,s hard to test out "below O" temps. A few years ago, at a Scouting Winter Camporee, the temps fell to -3, where as a most time, the coldest we can expect is mid teens to twenty's. So to have below zero and camping, it was COLD. I woke up, and as soon as I got out of the cot (this was before I found hammocks), the cold sapped my breath away. Took everything I had to get moving and was lucky that others had gotten cold before me and had a nice fire going. It was not a good experience.
At the same camporee, on Friday night, we were told that there would be a "search and rescue" training going on the next day, and to make sure we didn't block the path. Saturday morning, after I got warmed by the fire, I noticed a man caring a "dummy", figured it was for the "search and resue" then realised that it was actually a scout. They got him into a truck to run the heat and warm him up. Glad he was alright afterwards.
The cold is definetly not the place to test without a back up plan. Be prepared, and I learned alot from my experience. I have thought about going to the Winter hang @ Mt. Rogers, but the thought of being that cold again, has me second thinking it.
Also, we are not invincible, even though we think we are sometimes. Be careful and listen to others recommendations.
I read that people are found naked when they freeze, because once the mind is gone they think it is actually hot out.
Excellent post Cannibal. .
Being from Northern Ontario, we get our fair share of cold. I've never had any desire to winter camp or winter hang. I love being outdoors in the winter to play, but would never consider sleeping out there. For those that do, your advice is sound. Frostbite and hypothermia are not to be toyed with, they are both very dangerous conditions that need immediate treatment.
Your comment that 'the cold makes you funny' (I call it crazycold) is similar to 'nirvana of the deep' where divers start making irrational decisions while underwater. If you're alone, there's no one to tell you that you're experiencing it, and your decisions can very well cost you your life.
For those that do want to experiment with the winter hang, don't go alone and as Cannibal already pointed out, always have a backup plan in case things go wrong...which they can...especially in the cold.
+1 for Cannibal! Great stuff there.
I also did a 3 part blog series on my winter hiking adventures and testing:
Thank you, Cannibal.
Originally Posted by Cannibal
My son is in Boy Scouts this year, and they will do the inevitable snow camp. I have very little experience with snow camping, and am not really in a position to add some of the extra gear that I would need in order to hang safely. Thought long and hard for the last month, and came to the realization that if I go along on this trip I will probably have to do so as a ground dweller. Not what I wanted, and even though I was tempted to push my current setup by adding some extra pads and sleeping bag, there are variables (like condensation) that I am unfamiliar with that could push me past uncomfortable and into dangerous.
Personally, I'll need another year to study, glean, acquire, and practice before I'll feel okay trying it out--but I'm okay with that... I've got the time :D
the reason people get hot and strip is actually cause by the body core temp dropping to low.
When in the cold, severe cold, the body will slow down blood to the arms and legs, to try and maintain your core temp. Its a natural reaction of the body trying to survive. However once your core drops to a certain temp where it can no longer function, the body gives way, all the blood rushes to the arms and legs and people feel like they are suddenly on fire from the warm blood. And once that happens people think they are alright when in fact they are minutes away from dying.
Bottom line, don't mess with the severe cold, it will and can kill you.
Very timely. I also want to raise the bar by lowering the temps. I've kicked this around with some "oldtimers" as well: ready, aim, fire after you have dialed in your rig by practicing in "bailout friendly" areas. Around here I would need to hike into elevation - not a great "test lab". So I'll pick my opportunities whenever I get the chance with other hikers. As that world philosopher Harry Callahan said, "a man must know his limitations". The woods are not going anywhere; we'll have opportunities to hang again.