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In the fiction, A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, one high castle in the mountains, the Eyrie, has so-called sky cells. Those cells are left open to the cold sky.

The Eyrie is 600 foot/180 meter above the valley below. It is astride the peak known as the Giant's Lance, a peak of 3.5miles/5.5Km. For the climate, it can change a lot, but to summerise, its temperate in summer, and colder (with a lot of snow) during the winter. As I would like to know the longest survival time, consider it's during summer, with a temperate climate. The prisoners have clothes and a thin blanket. the valley below, in a mountainous region. As it's open, the prisoners suffer from wind, and probably rain/snow (maybe depending on the sense of the wind though). It is also said that the floor slopes slightly, and the cell is miserably small.

How long could someone survive in such harsh conditions? What is the most probable way of dying between hypothermia, suicide, accidental fall or madness?

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    $\begingroup$ Depends on factor we don't know. With 10 degree slope covered in ice probability of fall in first hour is nearly 100%, for example. But without ice, with wind, with non-slippery stones and 0.5 degree slope?.. and so on. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 30 '18 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ Could you be more specific than "several thousand feet"? Could you maybe even give that altitude in relation to the sea level? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jan 30 '18 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ for those trying to answer the Vale where the mountain is located is described as a temperate climate. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 30 '18 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ In the "Wild West" criminals were often tied to logs or trees before jails were a thing…. Getting gnawed by animals was a hazard. $\endgroup$ – wetcircuit Jan 30 '18 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @wetcircuit Sky cells....gnawed at by animals....where have I heard that before... $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jan 30 '18 at 17:34
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Depends on the temperature

According to this paper, survival time in -20 C temperatures (-4 F) with 5 km/h wind and two layers of loose clothing is 15.4 hours. The same wind and clothes conditions at -30 C (-22 F) is 8.6 hour.

Using a wind chill chart we can estimate other temp combinations that would be equivalently deadly. For example, with biting 30 km/h mountain winds, the temps required for equivalent 15 and 8 hours deaths are -15 and -23 C, respectively.

Conclusion

As long as the person doesn't have a coat, any temperature is below -10 C (15 F) with some decent wind will kill the person within a day. Keep in mind, this is full on hyopthermia death; frostbite enough to lose hands and feet and such will happen much sooner.

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  • $\begingroup$ Great answer but I can't agree with the conclusion. I'm fairly sure that even +10C can kill overnight, with or without a coat. Water will condense and soak through clothing within hours. $\endgroup$ – nzaman Jan 30 '18 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @nzaman that depends on the humidity. Even traces of body heat will keep condensation at bay, and most fabrics will let body moisture out unless the wearer is sweating significantly $\endgroup$ – Chris H Jan 30 '18 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ Not really worth the trouble of building the cell. You could just have a manacle set in a rock in your backyard you liked the "death by exposure" sort of thing. I suppose that lacks drama, though. Maybe it could be a manacle with dragons and stuff on it. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 30 '18 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ Temperature is not only factor for hypotermia. It's also depends on how often a prisoner get hot food/drink and humidity. Also I doubt that with 3 surrounding walls he experiences a strong wind. $\endgroup$ – ADS Jan 30 '18 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Will The flying people who saw the corpse probably though, "Oooh, good, a snack for Viserion" $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jan 30 '18 at 17:51
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For a clothed individual it depends on rainfall and wind direction, if the cell is dry and they can get out of the main force of the wind they can probably survive quite a while. I'd say the main cause of death would be a toss up between exposure when there's rain and unfavourable winds and accidental falls/suicides in warmer drier weather. If the prisoner is naked then they cann and probably will experience irreversible, and eventually lethal, damage from exposure in as little as three hours according to the "threes of survival" which state that you can survive: three minutes without oxygen, three hours without shelter (cloths count), three days without water, and three weeks without food.

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Skycells as they were written are more likely to cause someone to freeze to death.

The answer to this question is largely dependant on exactly how high the Skycells are. And for this you'd need to be exact. There are at least 10 mountains on this earth above the height of 20,000 feet. It took them a long time to get up the mountain, so just going to say your estimate of a couple thousand feet seems...off. By a lot.

The book mainly talks about people going mad and falling out accidently, but, it's the cold at that altitude that is more likely to kill.

You will lose an average 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1000 feet of elevation you gain.

If you start out at 1000 feet, and climb to 6000 feet, that’s a 5000 foot difference (6000 – 1000 = 5000). So, since you’re gaining 5,000 degrees, you’ll use a 5 in your calculation. 5,000 feet, times 3.5 degrees. Just drop the (thousand). So, ( 5 x 3.5 = 17.5 degrees). So roughly, you’ll expect to lose at least 17.5 degrees. I always round up to the nearest 5 just to add some safety buffer, so a 20 degree difference. Simply subtract this number form your expected low, according to the forecast, and you have your expected temperature.

Ex: The weather man says it’s going to me 60 degrees today for the high in your city. Your city is at 6,000 foot. If you’re climbing from 6,000 feet to 14,000 feet, That’s an 8,000 foot difference. 8 times 3.5 is 28 (8 x 3.5 = 28). You can assume a 30 degree difference after rounding, so it’s only going to be 30 degrees max at the top of the mountain (A high of 60 minus your 30 difference)! Remember, that’s for the high. Always consider your low temperatures too.

Besides the base height, there's also wind chill to consider.

Questions to ask:

  • Exactly how high?
  • What's the base temperature at the bottom of the mountain?
  • Wind Chill?

  • Exact pitch of the floor?

  • How icy are the conditions?

It doesn't need to be as high as in the books to kill folk--could be as little as 400 feet, as long as the ground beneath is rocky and jagged. Do that, and pitch the floor a little more, and it's more likely that they would die from something other than hypothermia. But seriously, it's hypothermia.

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At high altitude, minimal protection and especially in cold weather. Mostly likely death is exposure a.k.a. hypothermia, which could be within a matter of hours.

Time to death for a swimmer in open water in the North Sea is around 30mins. A fully equipped mountaineer in a storm can survive several hours before frostbite begins to set in, death will not be far behind.

Dry cold is relatively survivable given suitable equipment, however suitable equipment is not given and the environment is most likely to be at least damp, if not outright soaking. Survival times are likely to be measured in hours though a few days is possible if conditions are particularly favourable.

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"How long could someone survive in such harsh conditions?"

As long as author would like. Sky cells are usually used to show a great feat in character. Either by surviving for a long time (until rescue came) or by escaping such prison.

In game Far Cry 4, character escape such cell by using "magic" (and drugs, and demons). In Thorgal comics book in issue "Between Earth and Sun" three people are placed in "mouth of the sun" to die from sun that shine directly onto them. They wait for the rescue.

If a person is put in such cell to die then why not just kill them on the spot? Would save hassle of going to such cell and leave prisoner there.
If a person is put there to suffer hard conditions it would be better to put her to work in mines or something.
If a person is put there to restrain them for a certain time then the conditions should allow him to survive. And experience regular prison life in isolation but with a very large window.

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    $\begingroup$ "why not just kill them on the spot?" - When you are a political ruler, then executing certain prisoners might be problematic for political reasons. Having them die in captivity from "natural causes" (enhanced by bad living conditions) might have less political fallout. (I've used that strategy in Crusader Kings 2 :)) $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jan 30 '18 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp This is regarded as a bad move even in Sun Tzu view. You kill your opponent and all his children so no one can avenge him. If some people don't like it you execute them as well. It's a monarchy not a damn arm race. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 30 '18 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ Sun Tzu was a general, not a politician. There are rivals who might be more powerful than you are but are also tangled up in political problems preventing them from declaring war on you without a good reason. You don't want to give them a just cause for war by publicly executing their relatives. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jan 30 '18 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ Machiavelli was the politician: "If an injury is to be inflicted on an enemy, it is to be so severe, that the enemy’s retaliation need not be feared". I think Machiavelli would advocate killing whole families so they don't hold a grudge later. $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Jan 30 '18 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp If your rival is tangled up then you stir that political problems so he stop being more powerful than you. Then you kill him and his relatives. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jan 30 '18 at 16:29

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