Just how cold will it be?

Just the word Siberia makes most people think of frozen wildernesses, reindeer herders, gulags and coldness, and the first time you step out in these sorts of tempertures is, well, it's a bit shocking.


Winters are brutally cold and can range from -10 to -60. Add to this windchill from the back of a motorbike - which at 40mph some calulations suggest subtracting another 40 odd degrees - and you are talking seriously cold.

At around -17 the moisture inside your nose freezes the second you step outside. After five minutes your eyelashes will have frozen, and the cold will be punching you in the lungs like a heavyweight boxer. Take your gloves off for a minute and the cold sears through your fingertips. Take your gloves off for five minutes and you could already be developing frostnip, and worse.

Extreme cold can also be sneaky, creeping up on you in a painless attack, robbing the sensation from your extremities without you feeling a thing. Only when you come into the heat (if you're lucky) at the end of the day do you feel the agony in your deadened feet.

In short, the cold is dangerous, and things can go wrong very, very quickly at these temperatures.

How to prevent and treat frostbite

*This information came from our own research and from the good chaps at Prometheus Medical.


Dress properly: base layer, mid layer, top layer, multiple socks and gloves (mittens on top). Don’t have even a tiny chink in your clothing - keep everything covered. Before you go outside check each other over and make sure you are dressed properly and everything is covered.

Monitor each other on the hour: Frostnip can develop fast, without pain, so you need to keep an eye on each other. Frostnip and the beginning of frostbite looks waxy, white, like a candle - the blood vessels on the surface of the skin freeze - there's no pain, the area just goes numb. If you ignore these signs then the extremities of the body can break down and you can get severe damage.

Drink and eat properly. Another way to prevent frostbite is to stay hydrated and eat lots of food. Water prevents dehydration, and when you're properly hydrated you've got less of a chance of getting frostbite. Eat lots of food before you venture into the cold outdoors (especially foods that digest fast and turn to bodyheat the quickest). Carbohydrates are known to metabolize into heat quickly. Small carbohydrates as snacks throughout the day should also help to warm you from the inside out and prevent frostbite. Glynn from Prometheus ate 7000 calories a day in the Arctic. So stock up on those Mars Bars.

Don't get exhausted. If you are exhausted, it is more difficult to notice the symptoms of frostbite, ultimately making treatment that much more difficult.

Ice Run 2013 099.JPG
The risk of hypothermia and frostbite are very real and Ice Runners shouldn’t just ‘man up’ and think they will live through it
— Mike Northcott - Ice Run veteran & former paramedic


Re-warming: After frostbite, the affected areas need to be re-warmed. This process should not be started until you are out of the cold. If the warming process is started and the frozen parts are re-exposed to the cold, it can cause further, irreversible damage. Re-warming a frostbitten part of the body can be painful and should ideally be carried out under medical supervision.

The affected area should be re-warmed slowly by immersing it in warm (but not hot) water. A bath of water at 40-42 degrees celcius is recommended. If a tub of water is not available, warm wet-packs can be used. Rewarming usually takes between 20 and 40 minutes.  As the affected area gradually starts to warm, colour and sensation should begin to return.

After re-warming: After the frostbitten area has been thawed, it should be wrapped in clean bandages, with the fingers and toes separated out. It is very important to keep the skin clean to avoid infection. Too much movement should be avoided and limbs should be elevated if possible. Painkillers can be taken to ease any pain.

After re-warming, the skin will be discoloured and blister and eventually scab over. If the frostbite is superficial, new pink skin will form underneath the discoloured skin and scabs. The area will usually recover within six months.

If the frostbite is more severe, the tissue may die; gangrene will develop in the affected area turning it a blue or black colour. The damage is then permanent and the affected area will either fall off, or will need to be removed (amputation).

Surgery to amputate frostbitten areas is not usually performed until three to four weeks after the initial injury. This is to allow for the full extent of damage so that no unnecessary tissue is removed. Surgery may be performed before this time if the dead tissue is life-threatening.

Some people are left with permanent problems after frostbite, such as pain, numbness and stiffness in the affected area.

Handwarmers are brilliant, use them to heat up the affected area. But don’t apply directly to the skin, keep a thin layer in between.

Rubbing vaseline on the affected area can help too.

In the meantime, the more time you can spend in your freezer, or local meat chilling unit, the better.