Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur


Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 27-28.

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In the desert, you must be concerned about being too hot (hyperthermia) and too cold (hypothermia), often within a few hours of each other.

Say "desert" and "death," and most people first think of dying of dehydration from the heat. Most desert survival literature was written for the Sonoran Desert around Tucson. While it doesn't get anywhere near that hot in the Oregon Desert, people can die of heat-related injuries. They have to be quite stupid and/or work hard to do so, however. Hyperthermia is being dangerously hot. It usually can be prevented easily by proper preparation and actions.

Be aware of heat-related health concerns. Master the accompanying box, and know the difference between mild hyperthermia (heat cramps and heat exhaustion) and very serious hyperthermia (heat stroke). Treatment is quite different.

Seek shade during the summer midday. Hike early or late. If water is plentiful, take a dip with clothes on. Be careful. Think ahead.

Except for Steens Mountain, try to avoid the Oregon Desert in August, the month for which forests were invented.

Symptoms and Treatment of Heat-Related Injuries and Heat Stroke*


A . Symptoms

        1. Heat cramps

                a. Caused mainly by loss of salt from the body.

                b. Symptoms:moderate to severe cramps in legs, arms, or abdomen.

        2. Heat exhaustion

                a. Caused by large loss of water from the body.

                b. Symptoms: headache, excessive sweating, weakness, dizziness; skin is pale, moist, cold and clammy.

B. First aid for mild heat injuries

        1. Create shade for victim.

        2. Have victim lie down.

        3. Loosen victim's clothing and sprinkle victim with water.

        4. Fan victim to cool.

        5. Give victim water from a canteen.

        6. Let victim drink small amounts of water every 3 minutes.

        7. Call a medic immediately.

II. HEAT STROKE (a medical emergency): A severe heat injury caused by an extreme loss of water. The victim has lost the ability to cool his own body and may die if not cooled immediately.

A . Signs and symptoms

        1. Sweat stops forming, and the skin feels hot and dry.

        2. Headaches and dizziness.

        3. Fast pulse.

        4. Nausea and vomiting.

        5. Mental confusion leading to unconsciousness.

B . First aid for heat stroke

        1. Immediately send for medic.

       2. Create shade and move victim under it.

       3. If possible, get victim off ground (about 18 inches or 45 centimeters).

       4. Loosen victim's clothing.

       5. Immediately pour water on victim.

       6. Fan victim to cool.

       7.  Massage victim's arms, legs, and body.

       8. Cool victim off—but do not use ice (it may cause shock).

       9. Evacuate victim to an aid station as soon as possible.

       10. If victim regains consciousness, let him or her drink small amounts of water every 3 minutes.

       * Adapted from The Basics of Desert Survival, by Dave Ganci, ©1991, ICS Books, Merrillville, Ind. Used with permission.

Worry more about hypothermia than hyperthermia. Even if it's a scorching day, it always cools off at night. Even when days reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it can still frost at night. Carry long underwear and sock cap on every trip, anytime of the year. If you get too cold, you become disoriented and incoherent and can die.

Carry an outfit of polar fleece–like material (get the stuff made out of recycled pop bottles) as it is very warm (even when wet) and lightweight. Carry rain gear (coat and pants) all the time (it can thunderstorm in August). Even if it doesn't rain, rain gear can help keep you warm. One can die of hypothermia in above-freezing temperatures, especially if windy. The key to keeping warm is keeping dry.

If someone is hypothermic, get the person out of wet clothes into something dry, and administer warm fluids (but only if the victim is conscious!).

Please see Recommended Reading for books on backcountry medicine that cover hypothermia and hyperthermia.