Sunburn and hypothermia
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Otherwise, the sun and the cold are your worst enemies. You can get sunburnt very quickly in the mountains, due to the combination of a thin atmosphere and reflection off snow, ice and/or water. High-factor sunscreen, a hat, and total sunblock for sensitive areas such as lips, nose and ears are essential. Reflection of the sun’s glare can also damage your eyes after a time, so UV-protective sunglasses or ski visors are a must.

There are no rules about judging weather in the mountains. Conditions can change from calm to stormy in minutes, and if you’re heading into the snows you should be prepared for the worst at all times. Layered all-weather gear is essential equipment for Alpine hikers at any time of year, and you’d do well to consult a travel clinic and/or one of the specialist Alpine tour operators in advance for advice both on what to take for your particular trip and on how to keep yourself and others alive in emergency situations. Hypothermia, when the body loses heat faster than it can conserve it, is most often brought on by a combination of cold, wind and driving rain, with hunger and fatigue also playing their part. Symptoms include exhaustion, lethargy or dizziness, shivering, numbness in the extremities and slurring of speech. In these initial stages, you must get the sufferer out of the elements and under cover, replace any clothing of theirs that is wet (with your own dry garments if necessary), give them hot liquids and high-calorie sugary foods such as chocolate, and encourage and reassure them by talking. Despite the Alpine heroics of brandy-laden St Bernard dogs in the past, alcohol is a bad idea at such a critical time. Prompt action will head off acute hypothermia which, if allowed to develop, can be fatal.

Virtually all high-altitude walks in Switzerland stay below 3000m, the rough cut-off point above which altitude sickness can rear its head. Headaches, dizziness and breathlessness are the main symptoms, all of which should pass after a day or two at altitude. If they don’t, the only treatment is to head down.

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