One aspect of your trip that you cannot book is the weather. Whilst Fiordland National Park gets its fair shair of sunshine and balmy days, please respect the fact that it is a rainforest and therefore subject to sudden changes of weather conditions at all times of the year.
When walking independently, plan properly for your trip and make sure your party has a capable leader experienced in bushcraft and survival skills. Physical fitness and good equipment will make all the difference to your enjoyment of the trip. Take adequate food and clothing (click here for a gear list) and account for weather changes and possible delays.
Let someone know where you are going. Complete intentions forms at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre in Te Anau, and sign the hut books supplied in each hut. Sign out or phone the Visitor Centre on your return.
Sections of track around Fiordland can become impassable after heavy rain. Take care with river crossings and if in doubt, sit it out.
Know the symptoms of exposure and react quickly by finding shelter and keeping warm.
Stick to the tracks. If you become lost - stop, find shelter, keep calm and try to assist searchers.
What is Hypothermia? (Exposure)
The human body is a finely tuned instrument which works at 37 degrees Celsius. The outer parts can get much colder but the vital organs in the ’core’ must stay at this constant temperature.
In cold, wet, windy conditions this can quickly lead to:
Loss of co-ordination
Failure of breathing and circulation
What Causes Hypothermia?
The loss of body heat is caused by:
COLD - remember temperature drops with altitude
WIND - will drag warmth out of the head
WET CLOTHING - spoils insulation
Contributory factors are:
LACK OF FOOD - not enough, often enough, or the wrong sort
FATIGUE - lack of fitness, too arduous a trip, or too heavy a load
INJURY OR ANXIETY
RECENT ILLNESS - esp. the flu
Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia
Watch for the early warning signs
Feeling cold, shivering
Tiredness or exhaustion
Anxiety, lack of interest, lethargy
Clumsiness, stumbling or falling over
Slurred speech, difficulty in seeing
Sense of unreality
The later signs are:
Shivering stops, despite the cold
Collapse and unconsciousness
The progress of hypothermia can be very fast, with as little as 30 minutes from the first symptons to unconsciousness.
The victim will often make no complaint.
Exhaustion or Hypothermia?
Only a low reading thermometer can help. Take temperature under the tongue for three minutes.
More than 35 degrees celsius?
Hypothermia is unlikely i.e. the person is probably suffering from exhaustion. Keep them moving as 70% of heat production can be generated by muscle movement. Movement will keep an exhausted person warm and prevent hypothermia.
What to Do
Signs of hypothermia are a medical emergency; don’t ignore them.
Immediate action is needed:
Prevent further heat loss
Watch for unconsciousness
’Bashing on’ can cause rapid onset of hypothermia
Stop and find shelter
Get victim into dry clothes
Warm sweet drinks
Keep victim in horizontal recovery position
No rubbing or rapid reheating
If breathing stops- check airway, start resuscitation.
With warmth and shelter, victims often appear to recover quickly, however don’t press on again or collapse is likely. Full recovery can take up to two days.
How to Prevent Hypothermia
Prevention is easier than cure.
However fine the weather, be prepared for it to get worse. Have waterproof and windproof clothing - parka and overtrousers. Wear wool or synthetic clothing e.g. polypropylene, fibrepile, polarfleece. Layers are best as they trap air. A woollen hat and mittens (gloves) are equally important because of the high heat loss from head, neck and extremities. Avoid cotton clothing e.g. jeans.
Plan Your Trip
Don’t attempt too much. Allow time for breaks. Don’t get too hot on the move but put on extra clothing during the breaks.
Drink Liquids. Drink water regularly. This will help prevent exhaustion. A thermos of hot liquid is ideal but a fast brew on a primus is also effective.
Don’t try to carry too heavy a load. This is esp. important for young people.
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