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Evelyn Reid

Frostbite FAQs

By January 24, 2013

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Frostbite FAQs.Chances are you won't end up with New Zealand mountaineer Mark Inglis' blackened, third-degree frostbitten fingers if you take some basic, common sense precautions traveling from Point A to B in Montreal when the temperatures dip in the low 20s. Or 30s. Or even 40s.* Simon Fergusson / Getty Images

Earlier this week, my radio alarm clock woke me up to the sound of a medical professional being interviewed on the health impact of Montreal's current cold spell. While his expert advice was clearly being delivered with nothing less than the purest of intentions, said medical professional made me want to barricade myself in my home for the next week lest my limbs suffer permanent nerve damage from frostbitten decay on my way to the metro, citing the dangers of breathing in cold air to the importance of traveling in pairs to be able to check each other's faces for frostnip. This, in the context of Montreal. Not the northwestern tip of Siberia. Nor Antarctica during its off-season. But Montreal.

So I panicked. Then I did some googling on the topic of frostbite. And I continued to freak out from reading article after alarmist article on the topic, typically low on context and overall perspective until after 12 hours of research, I realized that virtually all the photos of blackened fingers and toes I cringed over belonged to people who were either a) climbing Mount Everest, b) stuck on a random mountain for days or from trekking in the wilderness in Alaska or in select parts of Northwest China or Siberia or c), this brave gentleman, brazen enough to travel on his snowmobile in -60C (-76F) wind chilled weather 84 km (52 miles) from the village of Igloolik in Nunavut, just north of the province of Quebec.

Not quite Montreal, ennit. In fact, the only time Environment Canada goes as far as to say flat out "stay indoors, do NOT go outside" is when temperatures hit -55C (-67F) or colder.

Thus, inspired by my own media-induced panic, I put together an exhaustively fact-checked series of Frostbite FAQs for neurotic locals like myself who need some reassurance that their noses won't freeze, turn blue and fall off en route to work.

Oh, and guess what myth we've been fed for decades.

*Prior to Inglis' Mount Everest expedition in 2006 -- the above photo was taken upon his return home after successfully climbing the world's highest mountain -- the Kiwi climber had both his legs amputated after suffering a severe case of frostbite after being trapped two weeks near the summit of New Zealand's highest peak, Mount Cook, in 1982.


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