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Yukon Territory, Mt. Logan

Yukon Territory, Mt. Logan. In early August, Albert W. Nickerson (22) was a member of a party climbing on the east ridge of Mt. Logan. His footwear consisted of Gerry insulated overboots over heavy leather climbing boots. These boots were a bit short and caused, along with the tight crampon straps, an impairment of circulation. This shortness also caused damage in prolonged step kicking. The combined effect was a numbness that set in after about 10 days of climbing and remained until a week after return to civilization. If actual freezing occurred, it probably happened on the summit, where the most extreme conditions were met (ca. -5°F. wind 50 mph). On return, the toes seemed all right although observation was difficult in the darkened snow cave used as shelter. The symptoms, other than numbness, were discovered four days later at base camp. The tissue of the left big toe, down to and including the base of the nail, was soft, pulpy, and bluish colored with a clear line of demarcation between the affected and unaffected tissue. The second toe was also slightly affected. The toes became painful after about four days and the damaged part hardened and turned a dark brown color. A month later the nail and skin sloughed off leaving the toe only slightly scarred. The nail has since grown in but the toe is still much more sensitive to cold and pressure than before. The equipment had been used on Mt. Washington, N.H., under conditions more extreme than those met on Logan, but never for so prolonged a period. On Logan the toes had no chance to recuperate.

Source: A. W. Nickerson.

Analysis: Defective boots allowed crampon straps to impair circulation in the toes. This, together with the period of prolonged cold exposure produced the symptoms of frostbite or trench foot. (Although frostbite is the more likely possibility, this incident does indicate that trench foot might occur and that regular foot inspection and care should be practiced. Ed.)