Big Bend Conservancy
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Beware the bite of frostMatt Hardison 11.DEC.06Winter has descended on the Northern Hemisphere and even on down to the deserts of southwest Texas. Itís cold! Presently, the average daily high for the region is estimated to be a max of forty cold ones, Fahrenheit, that is. The Davis Mountains have already seen snowfall and Jack Frost will be coming for the rest of us soon enough. Even without the snow, the winter winds themselves are known to lead to exhaustion, hypothermia, and the dreaded frostbite. The season can be a deadly temptress; however, the frosty delights are worth braving those chilly temperatures. Winter provides a whole new season of unique outdoor activity. Nonetheless, the weather can quickly transform a wintry wonderland into a disaster zone. Precautions are in order.The first and foremost step to any cold weather outdoors excursion is to insulate your natural body heat. The heat you produce is most precious to preserve, and the most difficult to rekindle once it has been dulled. To properly insulate, remember to layer your clothing. It might seem easy enough just to throw your parka or goose down jacket over a T-shirt, but once outside youíll find that without sufficient layers youíre losing your heat faster than Drew Bledsoe. If the temperature drops below freezing in the morning pull out the long underwear mom gave you for Chanukah, then move on to warm pants and a shirt and then another shirt, one with long sleeves. Now youíre ready for your coat and jacket. Once the day gets started, and the sunís warmth runs old Jack back into his terrible cave, one can always peel off some layers.Keep in mind that your body warmth originates from the torso and spreads like an oil slick on a pond. This means two things: one, the torso is the most important part to keep insulated, and two; your extremities will get colder, faster. If you keep the torso warm the rest of you will survive. Guard it with layers of shirts and donít spare yourself a thick vest or sweater. Nonetheless, a person shouldnít have too much trouble maintaining warmth in the upper body. Your body is smart. Sometimes itís smarter than you are. As the body temperature drops, heat is retracted and reserved in the chest and abdomen in order to maintain the warmth necessary for the functioning of oneís vital organs. This heat is withdrawn from the extremities: the arms, legs, fingers, and toes. The human body reckons, hey! Everythingís okay if losing a finger means saving a kidney. And itís all right for the body to feel that way, too, but you shouldnít. Protect what little heat your body will afford your fingertips. It may be difficult to maneuver on skis, prepare a cup of cocoa, or squeeze off a high-velocity round at a prize buck without your fingertips. So, continue to layer even when it comes to gloves and socks. Thick wool is the best cover for the extremities because fleece will continue to keep you warm even when it gets wet. You donít hear any sheep complaining, do you? In the severe cold, layer a second pair of cotton or wool socks or a thin pair of knit gloves under the outer layer. Polyesters will keep you warm, but hold those mittens too close to the fire and theyíll melt to your hands. Plastic gloves melted to hands like super glue are not unusual in emergency rooms. No matter how much stuffing you pack around your chest, no matter how many pairs of socks you put on, none of it will make a lick of difference if you havenít protected your head. Ninety percent of body heat escapes via the cranium. Your head can be used as a thermostat to control your body temperature, if you have a hat. The more insulated the hat the better, and when it does get too hot youíll be amazed at just how fast youíll cool down when you take it off. A woolen-knitted cap or ďbeanieĒ is the best for conserving warmth but a felt cowboy hat or other thick hat will also save heat. Youíd also do good to choose a hat that protects the ears at the same time. Ears are often subject to frostbite and cold weather presents a host of medical problems to the hearing receptacles, from things as mild as earache all the way to deafness.When the winter is razor sharp and unrelenting youíll also want to consider heavy-duty protection. A woolen pancho is literally a blanket you can wear. The open sides allow your arms to move freely. Be careful with a pancho though, the loose front and back can easily get caught in machinery. If one plans on using any kind of shop tool this season he/she would be wise to invest in a pair of thermal coveralls. While the pancho is akin to donning a blanket, coveralls are more like wearing a sleeping bag. You can find affordable coveralls at most any clothing, hardware, or feed store. And they are an investment you wonít regret. Layered clothing may keep you comfortable during the day but at night the cold only becomes . . . well, colder. In the frozen hinterlands there is no substitute for lasting heat that will outshine a campfire. There seem to be more fire layouts to choose from than there are woods to build them from. Of course the traditional log cabin method surrounding a teepee of kindling works great to provide heat for a group. One or two people may find a reflection fire more apt in directing the heat their way. To build a reflection fire, stack the fuel logs into a wall opposite the direction you wish the heat to be projected. Place the kindling into a lean-to against the wall and light. The flames will reflect the heat away from the wall of logs into the path you have chosen. Any hale-fellow, well-trained Boy Scout can tell you that this type of fire is also the most conservative when supplies of firewood dwindle.Eventually youíll have to retire for the night and sleep. That is when layered clothing becomes counterproductive. Do not climb into your sleeping bag wearing every article of clothing you own. The body stays warmer when the skin is in contact with skin. Thatís why medics, when treating emergency hypothermia, share body heat skin to skin. When itís time for bed strip off the layers of clothes before getting into the sleeping bag and then pile layers off blankets and quilts over you, as well as under. With the right sleeping bag you could spare yourself the quilts but the right sleeping bag could cost you as much as $300 bucks. Chances are youíre not planning an expedition to the South Pole so you should consider bags from Kelty, High Sierra, or Coleman Peak 1, which will keep you warm, and not require a cosigner to purchase.Few people in America freeze to death in the outdoors. Frostbite, unfortunately, is all too common. This year some hunters will awaken early, and then snap off a finger while unzipping the old sleeping bag. Thereís a problem among cross-country skiers too; many wonít even notice their toes going numb -- turning into stubs of ice. And they are relatively lucky. Amputated arms and legs are a sad but common sight this time of year. A little common sense and prior planning will keep you intact, warm, and ready for the numbing adventures Mother Nature flings your way.
Few people in America freeze to death in the outdoors.
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