Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Great Outdoors Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who love outdoor activities, excursions, and outdoorsmanship. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've never been hiking in such extreme situations, but if in the situation in the question, i.e. you're hiking in very cold weather and someone falls in (let's say so pretty much their whole body is under, and it's a lake not a river, so no current) what's the best course of action?

Specifically, how do you get them out safely without endangering yourself or others, and what do you do to minimise the risk of hypothermia and other related conditions when they're out?

share|improve this question
add comment

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The guidance given to first responders from the Public Safety Training Academy is as follows:

  • Talk - Can you talk them out?
  • Reach - Are they close enough for you to reach, with a branch if necessary?
  • Throw - Do you have a rope or anything you can throw? This can include flotation devices - even if you don't have a rope this increases the likelihood of survival.
  • Row - If you have a boat, canoe or raft, row out to get them if it is safe to do so.
  • Go - If all else fails, pinpoint where the victim is and go for help.

You try to avoid going in the water yourself unless absolutely necessary, but the 5 options above should all be looked at in order.

Have a look at this set of slides from Montgomery County for end to end guidance. There is information for unskilled and trained responders on the rescue and the care of victims after rescue.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Sirex & Rory have covered getting them out of the water pretty well, but given that getting them out of the water in the first place might be no small feat, you're right in understanding that you're far from out-of-the-woods, so to speak, even after they're out. Getting the victim warmed up is paramount, and their wet clothes are going to be a serious impediment. If there's any way to get them out of their wet clothes and into some dry clothes, that's pretty high on your list. Some possibilities:

  • Get dry clothes from someone's backpack (maybe the best option).
  • Borrow clothes from someone else (ie, strip off the wet clothes and take someone else's jacket, etc.). This, of course, now gives you two people who aren't properly dressed, so you really want to accelerate efforts to get the whole group to safety. Since this puts another person at risk, you'd want to be pretty cautious about employing it.

The whole idea of changing clothes is that your hiker will be lots more likely to be able to warm himself back up in dry clothes than in wet clothes, so you're looking for any reasonable option to help that happen.

Next, you need to assess your status and consider getting the whole group to safety as soon as possible. If you've been able to get your soggy hiker into some dry clothes (fully or partially), you may be able to just continue your hike. You'll generate some body heat by moving, which will help some. If you have a short distance to travel in order to reach shelter / warmth, this is probably your best bet.

If, however, it's cold enough that you're not going to warm up by hiking, or if you don't have dry clothes, or you had to borrow some clothes from someone (leaving two or more hikers under-dressed) I'd strongly consider getting a fire started in order to warm up and dry off. Some sort of reflective surface (tarp, rock wall, etc.) may help warm you a little more evenly. Dry out your clothes, but don't burn them!

Keep an eye on time vs. your itinerary. If stopping to build a fire will cause you to not be off the trail by nightfall, you'll need to decide if you're staying put overnight or sending someone out for help. All the usual wilderness first-aid guidelines apply here -- don't send anyone anywhere alone, and a group of four is a great deal better than a group of two or three. If you don't have a large enough group to send a capable party for help, I'd be inclined to stay put and keep the group together.

The whole idea here is to keep your head and use the resources of the group to avoid making the situation worse while you're trying to recover.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I've never had this happen fortunately, but I'd imagine it would depend on a few factors. Namely:

  • How cold the water is.

  • What gear they are carrying that prevents them swimming?

  • How muddy the bank / lake bed is - will you get stuck if you enter or approach the water?

I'd personally consider going in after someone just about the last option, and even then only when you've no extra clothing and other ready to aid you leaving the water safely. I believe you can likely be more use from the water edge than in trouble with them, even if its only to grab any wood or such that will float and get it as close to the person as possible to aid in keeping them afloat.

Is there ice? If so, the victim may be nowhere near the edge of the lake itself, and you need to consider how much weight that ice can take.

What do you have available? Assuming there is ice, anything that can spread your weight is useful, as is anything long. Bear in mind many people find gripping difficult in cold water due to shock, but any floatation device or improvised life aid should work.

Best case scenario in my mind is that they pull themselves out the water, either by swimming or by pulling themselves onto the ice and keeping their weight distributed on any ice. At that point you need to go through the steps to increase body core temperature, (by fire, drying clothes, getting out of any wind etc).

It's a pretty complicated question to answer, particularly in a short time span, which I'd imagine goes some way to contribute towards the numbers of people killed in bodies of water each year, and those that die trying to save them.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.