How to Survive Thin Ice - Backpacker

How to Survive Thin Ice

Stay dry, stay alive. Whether you’re wet from ankle to toe or head to toe, Den Mother knows what to do.
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Den Mother Thin Ice

What do you do when you fall through the ice?

If I fall through the surface of a frozen lake and I’m alone, how can I can get myself out?

—Ron Larrabee

Hear a crack? Cover your face; your body’s first instinct will be to hyperventilate, and gasping in water will kill you faster than the cold. Control your breathing, then turn around: The ice behind you held your weight a second ago, but the stuff on the other side has no guarantee. First, flop your arms onto the ice. Stab ice claws, trekking pole tips, or a pocket knife blade into the surface (keep tools in hand when crossing), kick hard, and haul yourself out. Just got your own two hands? Press your forearms against the ice and wait one minute—if you’re lucky, the wet fabric will freeze to the surface. Float your legs up straight behind you and frog-kick hard to scooch yourself forward. Once up, log-roll away from the hole. Tip: Avoid crossing lakes near inlets and outlets—the ice is often thin there, and currents are tough to escape.

I’ve got a last-minute, wet-weather trip, and my boots aren’t waterproof. Should I worry about trench foot?

—Barbara Nims

You don’t need to spend three months in a foxhole to rot your soles. Immersion foot (think pruny toes, but prone to infection and necrosis) usually takes a couple days of sloshing around in cold, wet boots, but just a few hours can be enough to get you started. Prevent it with waterproof socks (or plastic bags between layered socks). If your skin feels swollen and clammy, or if itchy splotches appear after drying, you’re in the danger zone. During the day (if conditions allow) remove shoes and socks every few hours and air your dogs for 20 minutes. Switch socks at lunchtime. In camp, massage your feet with oil or beeswax balm to reduce itchiness and increase blood flow. Got a partner with two good hands? Play the woe-is-me card and have him do it.