I’m not talking about getting denied by one of the two local ski-babe-rippers in town at yesterday’s "Free nacho and cheap PBR" apres' ski. I’m talking about losing fingers and toes here people. Frostbite is a common issue in the backcountry and you should take it as seriously as your weekly happy hour schedule. Prolonged cold exposure is the issue and our plastic boots are not the best in helping prevent this, especially in subzero temperatures. The combination of a tight fitting boot and cold exposure could leave you more susceptible to frostbite in the backcountry. Here’s what frostbite is all about.
Frostnip refers to the sensations that come along with cold exposure like ‘tingling’ and ‘numbness’ that resolves with rewarming.
Pernio is a localized reaction from repetitive exposure to cold and damp conditions but at a temperature above freezing.
Immersion foot involves injury to the nerves and blood vessels in the fee from prolonged exposure to damp cold conditions, made worse by your backcountry boots that might fit a little too tight. This can be prevented by frequent sock changes at the hut.
WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING? Frost bite is tissue death from the cold. On a cellular level, ice crystals form in and around the cells. This causes cell membrane compromise and destruction and an inflammatory reaction leading to tissue death.
WHAT IF IT HAPPENS IN THE BACKCOUNTRY? There are some really important things to remember when in the backcountry if you experience frost bite.
Warm the affected area as soon as possible.
SPLINT that area to prevent further damage. If it is your finger, splint the finger in an extended position.
Do not walk on significantly frost bitten feet! Do not rub the area you are trying to rewarm. This will cause more damage.
Use warm water near 100 degrees F to rewarm the tissue. Do not warm by fire as burns may result from decreased sensation.
IMPORTANT! If you are in the backcountry and you have frostbite, you need to get out. Warming the area and then refreezing it will cause MORE damage. If you make the decision to trek out of the backcountry, do not thaw out the frostbitten area only re expose it to the freezing temperatures.
BLISTER MANAGEMENT: If you have a blister form from frost bite, “Pop” it only if it is irritating or impeding movement in areas such as your feet, or around joints.
WHEN TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL. Choke on that pride, shit just got serious. All frost bite should be evaluated by a physician, but if you have frostbite that affects all sides of one finger/toe or multiple digits, this may require surgery, clot preventing medications, or antibiotics for infection control. Splinting is important in management of affected joints. You will need an update on your tetanus shot.