How to Protect Yourself from Frostbites when Climbing Aconcagua

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When climbing Aconcagua, you might have to face certain risk factors that may cause severe problems on the mountains which can lead you to abandon climbing on the mountains. One of the common problems faced by the mountaineers is Frostbite. Mountaineers are vulnerable to frostbites when their exposed skin gets too cold. Their hands, feet, and nose get numb, underlying tissue turns white, and eventually turn black, forming blisters which later falls off.

Frostbites are milder cold injuries, however, ignoring these injuries can even lead to surgical operations. Severe frostbites can damage your skin, tissues, muscles, bones, nerves, and cause other infections. Therefore, it’s better to take the necessary treatments before it becomes a serious problem.

Symptoms of Frostbite

Frostbites are generally caused by staying in cold-weather conditions for long time. When Climbing Aconcagua, you’re exposed to extremely cold weather which causes your skin and underlying tissues to freeze. You get frostbites on your hands, nose, toes, ears, cheeks, and chin.

Here are a few common signs of frostbite

  • Numbness and tingling sharp pain
  • The skin becomes reddish, pale-white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow in color.
  • Swollen, hard, and fish-belly white or wax-looking skin
  • Experience joint and muscle stiffness which causes clumsiness
  • The formation of blisters after rewarming

If you your tissue darkens in color and eventually turns black, it may lead to a serious infection known as Gas Gangrene.

The three stages of frostbite include

Frostnip – It is a milder form of frostbite. When climbing Aconcagua for long hours in the cold temperature, your extremities get numb and cause frostnip. Frostnip doesn’t cause any serious damage to your skin. This is reversible by simply warming your skin. However, you may feel prickling pain.

Superficial Frostbite – When your skin becomes reddish and eventually white or pale, this is a case of superficial frostbite. This is the stage when your skin feels warm and rewarming the affected area can only worsen the condition. You may find your skin stinging, swelling, and burning. This can further lead to the formation of a fluid-filled blister after 12-36 hours after rewarming your skin which is even more painful.

Severe Frostbite – If frostbites are left untreated, it gradually affects the underlying layers of the skin as well as tissues. You may find your skin turning white or bluish-gray and experience numbness and uneasiness in the affected area. In addition to these, your joint and muscles also stop working and you will find large blisters on the affected area after 24-48 hours after rewarming. Eventually, the affected surface turns hard and black as the tissue gets damaged.

When to Consult a Doctor

Due to cold-weather conditions and wind chills at the mountains, climbing Aconcagua can be a painful and risky journey if you’re frostbitten. If you experience severe pain, swelling, redness or discharge in the affected area, fever, and other unknown symptoms, you should consider seeing a doctor immediately. Also, if you suspect hypothermia, a condition when your body loses heat faster, and if you face intense shivering, drowsiness, slurred speech, and loss of coordination, it’s high time that you should see a doctor.

In case of an emergency, you may take several certain measures on a personal level by not exposing the affected area to cold, reducing pain by with ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), and not walking on frostbitten feet.

How to Prevent Frostbites while Climbing Aconcagua

When climbing Aconcagua, you should be aware of various challenges. Frostbites are cold injuries caused due to the exposure of your skin to extremely cold temperatures. As the temperature in the mountains remains below -15C or 5 F, frostbites can occur within less than half an hour while climbing Aconcagua. To prevent frostbites, here are some useful tips to stay warm and safe.

  • You shouldn’t remain outside in cold-weather conditions for long hours. Also, keep a check on the weather forecast and wind chill readings.
  • Layering yourself with loose and warm clothing to stay warm. Wear water and wind-proof outfits and undergarments that absorbs moisture from your skin. Change your wet gloves, hats, and socks as early as possible.
  • Cover your ear with a hat or headband
  • Use mittens rather than gloves as it can wick moisture away from your skin.
  • Wear socks, or hands and foot warmers that wick moisture and provide insulation.
  • Look for symptoms of frostbite.
  • Before climbing Aconcagua, do not forget to carry sufficient medicine supplies, energy food/drink, safety gear and warm clothing in case of any emergency situation.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages when climbing Aconcagua as they cause your body to lose heat faster.
  • Eat well and stay hydrated before and while climbing.
  • Doing exercise can warm-up your body and boost blood flow.

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