Posted by Steve C, 06-06-06

In another topic, To the Top in a Day!!!, pasadenarehearsal wrote:

An addition to my trip report, I didn't use any sunblock that day and was wearing shorts the whole time. Needless to say, I have a serious burn on my lower legs and am now laying with my swollen feet up, wrapped in bandages from knees to ankles and taking Vicodin for the pain. Feel free to let me know what an idiot I am!!!
Everyone, do NOT do this!!! You are exposing yourself to a HUGE dose of solar radiation due to the altitude. And then the snow reflection doubles the amount you get. In 20 years, odds are you will have some serious consequences -- I am speaking from experience. Bad sunburn is absolutely the worst exposure you can get. ...and it is SO preventable!

It is no fun to have a Mohs Surgery -- they take out a plug of skin the size of a stack of three quarters, and it leaves a Frankenstein class scar.

Be safe. Apply strong sun screen several times a day to every inch of exposed skin.

Posted by Wayne, 06-07-06
Well, Steve, I go under the knife for my Mohs Surgery one week from today. I sure hope it is not as bad as you say. That being said, I've been so burnt so often on Whitney and our other California mountains, even though I finally learned to be generous with 45-sunblock, I'm now paying the price.

Posted by Bob R, 06-07-06
I haven't had to have Mohs yet; so far, semiannual visits to my dermatologist for 10 or 20 hits with liquid nitrogen on my face have kept the bad stuff at bay. Sometimes that isn't enough and he prescribes fluorouracil cream. Either way, you look awful for a couple of weeks until the scabs go away.

I've often wondered how much snow reflection increases the dose of radiation you get. I would think more than double is likely. If the surface were flat and perfectly reflective, like a smooth lake, the reflection would come from a single place and it should be double. But snow presents an irregular surface, so plenty of opportunity for reflections from many different locations around you. In a parabolic bowl, the effect can be intense. A mitigating factor is that snow is not a perfect reflector. But it's close: the World Health Organization says that fresh snow can be 80% reflective for UV.

Seems like a worthwhile research project. It shouldn't be too difficult to take some basic measurements with different snow conditions. We know snow intensifies sunburn, but it would be nice to have some numbers.

The other issue is UV at altitude. According to the WHO, the amount increases by 4% every 300 meters, and this would indicate that the summit of Mt. Whitney receives 80% more than at sea level.

In the meantime, as Steve and Wayne have said, use plenty of sunscreen. Check the expiration date; buy it new every year if you are not sure. In applying it, pay particular attention to body parts you don't normally think about, like your nostrils and under your earlobes. And men, especially, shouldn't wear baggy shorts.

Posted by Passinthru, 06-07-06
I concur, MOHS surgery is to be avoided, but that technique insures all cancerous cells are removed at the first surgery, and you don't have to go back after the lab report indicates the surgeon didn't get it all the first time. I am 63 yrs young and have had many basal cells removed, many skin grafts too! Wear your sunscreen !! I have had 3 basal cells removed from INSIDE MY EARS !!, one requiring a skin graft. Are my scare tactics working ??

Do not rely completely on sunscreen. Cover up too!! The reflective properties of snow and water concentrate sun exposure on parts of your body you might not think of. As BOB says, protect your nostrils too!! Altitude usually equals clear air, less pollutants to filter out the sun's rays-----MORE EXPOSURE. Enjoy the mountains, but don't get a sun burn, it is easily avoided...................steve

Posted by Ken, 06-07-06
This is a short article I wrote on sun protection that I wrote for the California Mountaineering Club. Some may find it useful.

Sun Protection, by Ken Murray, M.D.

As a physician, I am struck by the amount of sun damage that I see on many mountaineer's skin. While I make my living by (among other things) removing cancers and pre-cancers from people's faces, I don't enjoy doing so.

Many people who go climbing do not realize that we are multiplying the dose of sunlight...from the sun, and reflected from the snow, if we are in that environment. As we rise in elevation, we lose protection of the atmosphere, as well. An hour's burn at home, will take 10 minutes on Mt. Whitney. You should protect yourself, as skin cancer and premature skin aging are largely preventable.

Direct protection by a hat is good, although I'm astonished at how many people don't wear them while in the outdoors. However, even the best hat is often insufficient in the environments in which we climb. A lot of light is reflected from rocks and water, and we tend to be out in the sun a long time. Sunscreen is important.

Generally, any sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher will work, but there is little additional protection above 15, due to the unusual rating system of the Sun Protection Factor. A 15 (used properly), will protect against 95% of the UV light. If you double the chemical concentration, so that it is a 30, you only raise the protection to 97.5%, an insignificant change in protection, but a significant increase of exposure to chemicals. Some people react to these chemicals, although generally VERY safe.

Personally, I find the higher concentration formulations less pleasant to the touch.

There are new recommendations about use, of which we should all be aware:

First, people do not use enough. About one ounce of sunscreen (to fill a shot glass), is the amount to cover the exposed areas of the body properly; when we're mostly dressed, we'd use less.

Second, VERY NEW, is that a layer of sunscreen is 80% absorbed in about 20 minutes, and what remains is not very effective! You should use a SECOND layer of sunscreen about 20 minutes after the first! I try to apply the second before leaving the car, and the first sometime before that, depending upon the activity.

Third, you should reapply every 2 hours, or so. Screens rated "all day" have been found to not live up to the hype.

Don't forget the lip balm! Often, dryness of the lips is a sunburn! Many lip balms do NOT have sunscreen! Check for an SPF on the balm label.

The UV index peaks in May and June. When the temperature is relatively low, most people forget about sunburns, as they are not hot. For mountaineers, this is worse, as we are often in cold environments, with a lot of sun.
Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience, of course, comes from poor judgment.

Posted by Alan, 06-07-06
How about an edible sunblock, while we're at it?

No, I'm not kidding...given the amount of mouth breathing you do at altitude, your tongue and the inside of your mouth can actually get sunburned, too. A number of years ago, climbing Mt. Ritter, we went up the southeast glacier route. Although our backs were to the sun going up, the reflection off the snow bowl ahead of us was incredible and in addition to burned lips, the inside of the top of my mouth got burned.

Weird sensation...and I'll wear a bandana, Jesse-James-style, the next time I have to climb a couple of thousand feet of sunlit snow!

Posted by rafael, 06-16-06
interesting topic. I'm guilty of being careless about sunblock but perhaps this will help me be more diligent. I lived in Peru for the first nine years of my life. My mom was a beach bum who would take me to the beach every possible weekend and for a week during Easter. I still recent the fact that she never took me to the Andes, Nasca lines or Machu Pichu. I don't know if there is any scientific evidence for what I'm proposing but the absolute worst sunburns I've ever had were in Peru and I believe it to be because of the direct angle of the equatorial sun. My shoulders as well as hers look like an old freckled banana because of all this sun exposure.


Posted by VersatileFred, 06-16-06
If you are on the Equator, the sun goes overhead at high noon. In the US, the sun peaks at its highest angle in the June time frame. The higher the sun is in the sky, the less ground atmosphere the rays have to go through at that angle to reach you and the more intense the rays are as a result. At higher elevations, you also have less ground atmosphere to protect you from the rays. The troposphere is only about 7 miles thick and you lose about 3 of them on the way up Whitney. That is in a nutshell what this topic is all about.
Orientation Notes for Whitney First Timers

Posted by Gusto, 06-16-06
One thing I'm glad Ken mentioned was something for the lips, specifically with SPF. This is something that is really easy to look over. I forgot this on my last trip and paid the price with a skin pealing extravaganza for the following 4 days.

Especially now with the snowmelt in progressions, it's AMAZING to feel the difference between walking on rock and dirt one minute, then to be obliterated by the solar radiation by walking across a snowfield the next.

I was remarking to my partner that there's nothing quite like putting sunblock on your face and making sure to get it up in your nostrils due to the reflection off the snow.

Of course, the only thing better than that is then proceeding to wipe all the boogers and mucus all over the rest of your body with fingers that just went up your nose because you still have other areas to cover!

Ahhh... the joys of mountaineering.


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