What's the difference between being out of breath and becoming hypothermic? It's hard for me to tell in real time.
Earlier this Spring I was running up Mt. Si. It wasn't warm. The snow level was below 2000 ft. I felt fine almost the whole way up, but it was not the usual, high traffic day on the mountain.
When running up, I passed two older Japanese men with proper packs and poles. I had spikes and extra warm gear, but the snow made progress slow. The trail to the summit basin rises about 3300 ft over four miles. What I love about this trail is how easy it is to get into hypnotic training rythem. What I learned during this excursion is that this might be a problem.
The last switch of the trail had at least 18 inches of soft snow. It wasn't exactly breaking trail, but it was very sloppy for the last half mile.
Plodding my way up the last bit in snow-buried, rocky gully, I noticed that I couldn't feel my fingers.
Being mostly alone on the summit of a peak in the snow, this is not a great sensation to have. Whether it was my body temperature dropping or not, the chill quickly spread into my wrists and forerms.
From the comfort of a desk, I can see now that this was more hypoxia than hypothermia. I was almost certainly pushing too hard. But try to tell this to somebody in real time. My toes went numb. I scrambled to put on another jacket, but couldn't jab my lifeless hands through the sleeves. I cried out and tried again. I dropped my pack and shoot out my hands. My heart was racing. Focus. I pushed my other hand through, and pulled the layer on.
My feet were numb when I crammed my hands back into their gloves.
I crammed a gel and a stroopwafel, shuffled down the trail while restuffing my pack, until I finally took off running. It took at least a mile before I could feel my extermities again.
Something to work on
I wish I could say this was an isolated incident. As the temperatures begin to fall again, these experiences will start to recur. Last Saturday I found myself shivering alone in the fog at the top of a nearby summit. I’d been going for almost two hours without eating. The capacity to shift between the micro and macro perspective while adventuring an important skill. Gah. So much to work on.