DSC_5937_JPG_t285It's true what they say, hyperthermia kills. The "big chill" inflicts more paddlers then any other outdoor calamity. Problem is, it's the ending of the prime paddling season when many of us want to be out on the water most.

There's really no reason why we can't do just that — go paddling one last time before the lakes freeze. I'm still going out and its mid-November. Paddling in cold weather is quite doable as long as we all remember what our mothers once taught us — dress for the weather.

Parental rules of course don't mean wearing long-johns and a wood toque. You must be dressed for the cold water, not the cold air-temperatures. You must assume you'll go over and immerse yourself. Hopefully you won't. But if you assume you will, then you'll end up dressing accordingly. But it might be best to take some pointers from Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, the world's leading authority on cold water immersion, rather then your mother.

Giesbrecht, director of the University of Manitoba's Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, is the "King of the Big Chill" and takes his job very seriously. "Professor Popsicle" has, for the goodness of science, lowered his body temperature below 95 degrees (the inception of hypothermia) over three-dozen times.

A key point Giesbrecht states is that the idea of immediately getting hypothermic the moment you take the plunge in cold water is false. The initial danger here is that instant gasp of breath one takes, which will end up drowning you if you submerge, inhale and panic. If you don't panic, control your breathing, begin to slowly tread water or keep a hold of your boat, the "gasping" will subside within a minute or two. You will definitely go numb but the pain of the cold will lessen and you'll have about ten minutes before muscles react and the real cold sets in. You have that time to re-correct yourself or head for shore. After that point you're mind may not be rational but your body has another hour before its reaches the critical point of being hypothermic.

So, what's cold? If you're cold sensitive, then it's quite reasonable to feel the "shock" of the cold when the water temperatures are only 77 degrees F (25 degrees C) but on average it takes temperatures below 60 degrees F (15 degrees C) to become life-threatening.

The immersion time is obviously increased by what you're wearing — dry suits and wet suits are very effective — but being skilled at self-rescue and having enough smarts to not get into a dangerous predicament in the first place is what's going to keep you alive.
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