I can recall our first return trip from Yahtam being a roughly two-hour boat ride in the steady rain. It wasn’t thick sheets of rain, but each drop was fat and consistently beat on the outer shell of your clothing like a deep rhythmic bass drum so persistent that it became almost impossible to focus on anything else. The temperature was easily in the mid to low 50s. It was cool enough to see your breath but not obviously cool enough to first take notice of the temperature. That is not until you find that the seams of your Gore-tex jacket are leaking.
“That’s why we always called it Wet-tex,” George explained after I mentioned my predicament.
Two-thirds of the way through the return trip what started as two leaks in the seams of my jacket turned into the most miserable, damp, bone-chilling, teeth-rattling experience I can remember. As the moisture spread I, slowly at first, noticed my body temperature drop a bit but that soon began to compound and became exponentially more miserable.
I don’t know if I officially became hypothermic, never received any certificate or anything, but that experience taught me just how dangerous such a circumstance came be. It begins almost unnoticeable but then quickly spirals out of control. Where it becomes most dangerous is when you’re in a place such as the Alaskan wilderness. You realize quickly it’s unlike camping in the backwoods of Alabama or most forests in the contiguous United States. It’s not like it’s feasible to stop and build a fire (see rule #2) to dry off and warm-up. The sun isn’t out and very likely hasn’t been out for any long duration for some time. Where are you going to find anything that’s dry enough to burn?
You also are at least a day away from the nearest town or any medical assistance. You’re very much in a situation where, if you don’t know what to look out for, you’re likely to think you’re fine right up until the moment you’re not. Unwittingly exposing yourself to this type of situation is not only dangerous but possibly deadly.
George did mention that he had a box of trash bags and candles in case of an emergency.
“Huh?” was the unanimous response.
“Well if we’re in trouble and you’re wet how else are you gonna dry off? Everything else is damp too. You gotta remove your wet clothes, and crawl into one of them 72-gallon hefty trash bags. Light the candle and just sit there until you warm up and dry off as best you can. May have a can of soup in there too if you get hungry.”
Fortunately, we never had to experiment with such a survival tactic. When we made it to our destination I was able to remove all of my wet clothing and fire up a small diesel stove to warm up next to. I then spent the rest of the day and night wrapped in a sleeping bag trying to warm the chill out of my bones. It’s amazing how that feeling just refuses to leave you until you’ve exhausted every possible measure to remedy it.