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The Extremities

At high altitude you are at more risk from burning and freezing. High levels of UV radiation at altitude can easily cause sunburn. Low temperatures and low oxygen make it easier for your skin to develop frostbite, especially in people who already have poor circulation (such as in Raynaud’s disease).

Frostbite can happen to any body part in freezing temperatures and / or high winds. Early signs of frostbite are white, numb and hard skin. Re-warming is very painful and the skin may go red, itchy, blotchy and swollen. If freezing goes on, blisters may develop and finally the skin can go black and die. This is very serious and may lead to amputation of fingers and toes.

Body parts most at risk of sunburn and cold injuries are those ‘sticking out’ – lips, toes, nose, chin, fingers, ears – so they will need extra protection.

Swelling around the hands, face and ankles at altitude is common. This is not serious, but it may be worth checking for other problems.

Keep hands and feet dry, change wet gloves / socks quickly.
Wear properly fitted kit.
Apply sunscreen / block

Get suncreen (SPF 15-30).
Get total sun block.
Get warm gloves, socks, hat, boots - be sure they fit properly.

During an avalanche in the Himalayas, nine people were killed and several others were injured. The injured were air-lifted out to hospital. The porters involved were left behind to find their own way down, carrying the equipment of their clients. Some of the porters never made it back, but died from the cold. The clothing they had was not good enough for the conditions, but they dare not open the bags they were carrying. They died beside bags containing warm mountain clothing.

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