A dangerous medical condition caused by overexposure to UVB light, which burns out the cornea (the protective covering) of your eye. Basically, it's an optical sunburn. Snowblindness occurs most often in arctic climates or at high altitudes, where you get the killer combo of freezing temperatures, thin atmosphere and reflected sunlight from snow and ice.

Though it typically takes an hour or two for a really serious case to develop, a mild case can occur with only a few minutes of unprotected exposure, even on a cloudy, overcast day. Especially on a cloudy day, since the haze simply serves to reflect even more light into your vulnerable eyeballs.

Note that snowblindess is not the same as getting "dazzled" by a bright light (i.e. after-image). After-image is caused by damage to the retina (the sensors inside your eye), not the cornea. The other thing that sets snowblindness apart is that the symptom of blindness usually seems only secondary to the intense, excruciating pain that comes along with it.

The pain is typically described by those who have experienced it as "like having sand thrown directly into your eyes. Continuously. For 12 hours." Other symptoms include: tearing, redness, headache, swelling around the eyes and acute light-sensitivity (obviously). Actual loss of vision only occurs in the most severe cases. Usually, partial sight is still possible, albeit very blurry and red-hued, as if seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses (but without all the cheeriness and glee).

Most dangerous of all, however, is that-- just like a sunburn--- you don't notice the pain right away. It usually takes 8-10 hours for the symptoms to really set it. About the only immediate symptom is a growing inability to distinguish colors. If your gear is starting to look a different color than it did when you started out, you may be in serious trouble.

Luckily, the damage is only temporary. Even bad cases will eventually subside in a day or two. In the meantime, there's not much you can do besides applying a cold compress, some pain-killing eyedrops, and maybe an ophthalmic antibiotic solution (like Ocumycin) to prevent infection. These will only help to decrease the pain and irritation, though. The only way to get your vision back is simply to wait for your corneas to repair themselves.

Snowblindness most often effects high-altitude mountain climbers. Prevention is as simple as wearing UV-shielding eye goggles, but having your goggles fog up in difficult terrain can force a rather tough decision. Often, even veteran climbers will remove their goggles if they become too clouded or scratched, opting for the temporary advantage of vision while knowing full well that they'll be in a world of hurt by the time they get to safety.

sources: MedicinePlanet (http://www.travelhealth.com), MountEverest.Net (http://www.mounteverest.net), Snowboard Britain (http://www.snowboardbritain.com)

A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade

A book written by Robert Sabbag in 1976, about the early days of the cocaine trade. Days, when instead of cartels moving the product, individuals did. Based on a real character (I always believed this book was autobiographical), the protagonist in the book is Zachary Swan, an american smuggler, who uses sophisticated scams to outsmart Customs as he plies his trade from Colombia to New York.

Snowblind is practically a how-to book on drug smuggling, especially in its infancy and it's not an activity that I'm advocating. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Swan runs through the early seventies with a silver spoon in his nose. Sabbag's account of Swan's adventures is truly breath taking and written in both a funny and illuminating account that has made it a cult classic. I provide here an excerpt as Swan explains the Duplicate Bag Switch trick;

"Now, here is how it works . . .' And Swan gave Canadian Jack the Duplicate Bag Switch. Like all of Swan's flim-flams, the Duplicate Bag Switch is designed not to protect the goods, but to protect the carrier. The goods are taken care of in the usual manner. The cocaine is packed in Madeira wood, chosen for its high specific gravity _ a distinctive physical property of that wood which, after all is said and done, is nothing more than Nature's way of telling us: it is heavy. When a Madeira rolling pin or statue is hollowed out, it does not feel hollow. Neither does it feel suspiciously heavy when filled with cocaine. So whenever he could, Swan used Madeira. And he used Angel, who was more than a carpenter _ Angel was an artist, and his work was flawless.

So from the time it is packed, the coke is on its own, protected as well as it can be. There is no guarantee in the smuggler's handbook that everything that passes through Customs will not be opened (that is why Sicilians and Corsicans dealing in hundredweights of heroin go around Customs). The only thing that encourages or discourages a Customs man from cracking anything he finds _ apart from the fundamental consideration of the time it requires _ is the carrier. And if the carrier is not a consummate actor or actress (and often even that is not enough), then he or she is going to need propping up. Propping up a carrier can be done with coke, or it can be done with a foolproof smuggle. There are other ways, but the point is that if a carrier is propped up (confident, unafraid, i.e., not suspicious looking), the chances are that the Customs agent will not be any more curious than usual. Given the odds on the coke (and when you mule it, no matter where you put it, those odds conform to nothing more profound than the law of averages) and taking for granted that there's no way you can deny it's yours, man, if it's strapped to your back, then the Duplicate Bag Switch is the perfect scam.

Originally printed in paperback and now out of print, but has recently been reissued in 1998, or '99 as a hardback. My original copy was the most passed around and dog-eared book I ever owned and has somehow disappeared. I highly recommend it if you can find it. You don't need to be pro-drugs to enjoy it, it's a fascinating book. There is also a limited edition copy of the 1976 book, designed by Damien,and signed by the artist selling for $1925.00.


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