Hot Town Hikes: The Depths of Summer
|Hiking through the hot box in the Grand Canyon on a single-day rim-to-rim hike. Wide brimmed hat, cooling towel, wet Buff, and long sleeved cotton shirt made it bearable.|
Now's the time where only the brave, stupid, or completely prepared dare venture outside into our desert parks to enjoy a hike. Most of us safely stick to air conditioned homes or misted patios while waiting for fall, or at least a good monsoon rain, to arrive before getting back onto the trails. But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.
First, let me be clear: I am NOT encouraging just anyone to go try hiking in the summer time if they are not FULLY prepared. Every year we get externs from around the country for the summer, and without fail someone always thinks they can hike Camelback because they do some hiking back home in New England. No. You should be accustomed to the heat and know exactly how your body will respond to the blazing sun and dry air. Maybe this is from hiking every day and experiencing progressively warmer temperatures; maybe you spend a hours outside doing vigorous yard work; maybe you're that guy in my neighborhood who goes for a run at noon in July. Whatever your heat tolerance is from, you need to have realistic, concrete knowledge that you can tolerate the extreme conditions. And DON'T TAKE YOUR KIDS OR PETS!!
Proper planning is another vital aspect of being fully prepared--so much so that they are synonyms. But here I mean that you know where you will hike, when you will, for how long you will hike, and that you've brought the appropriate supplies for that hike. You're better to do shorter loop hikes than long out-and-back hikes, that way if you start feeling the heat you can more easily and quickly get back to your car. But if you can tolerate the conditions you can always just do another loop or portion thereof.
Time of day is key. Obviously mornings are cooler than evenings, but I personally find the morning sun to be harsher than the evening and the rise in temperature throughout my hike to be unpleasant. This may be a personal preference more than anything. Either way, limit your outings to when your body can handle it best. For me, that means starting no earlier than an hour before sunset and no later than as early as the trail opens in the morning. If I'm out on a morning hike much past 7:00am, it's probably going to be miserable for me. That said, be strategic--one side of the mountain might be completely shaded at a particular part of the day--like the McDowell Mtn. Gateway Loop trail in the early morning, or Tom's Thumb in the late evening.
Be appropriately supplied. You'll find that loose fitting long-sleeved shirts/hoodies will keep you much cooler than a tshirt or tank top. Sun on your skin heats you up far quicker than sun on fabric; loose fits will allow air to flow and cause evaporative cooling of your sweat. And contrary to what you've probably heard for your entire life: cotton is key in high-heat outings (or merino, perhaps). Cotton will absorb your sweat and hold it on your body longer than performance materials, helping to keep your body cool longer. Performance materials can actually exascerbate overheating and dehydration by wicking away sweat too quickly and depriving your body of longer evaporative cooling, causing you to sweat even more which can lead to dehydration. Merino will hold sweat like cotton, it's just more expensive--though worthwhile if you can afford it. Also in my pack are sun-sleeves, and a hat with either a wide brim like the Outdoor Research Sombroleit or a neck covering like the Outdoor Research Sun Runner, and a Buff to wet down and cool my neck. Also, if you are hiking through a shaded patch feel free to take off your hat or long sleeves--this is where fewer things on your body will make you cooler, just cover back up for the sun.
Prehydrate and hydrate. You'll always hear to bring enough water for your hike, but you rarely hear that you should leave the house fully hydrated. Start drinking right when you wake for a morning hike, or make sure to get plenty of water through the day for an evening hike. Then on the trail bring several liters. Even for a 2-3 mile hike, I bring at least 3 liters and often also a 20oz bottle with a NUUN tablet dissolved inside. Bringing more water than you'll need guards against dehydration; it also lets you use some water to wet down a cooling towel, your hat, or your tshirt. I like to drink the NUUN bottle around halfway through to replenish all the salts I've lost through sweating.
Cell phones and their flashlights have somewhat relieved the need to carry a flashlight/headlight when you're on the trail after sunset, but I still prefer the headlight so my hands are free and the beam follows my gaze. The Petzl Bindi is a nice lightweight, compact option to keep in your pack.
Know the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and what to do if they happen. It's tough to tell in an arid climate, but if you've stopped sweating you might be dehydrated and at risk. Drinking too much water without electrolytes to replace what you've sweated away can cause hyponatremia--a serious condition caused by low sodium in the body--so take that NUUN tablet or some Gatorade to replace what you've lost. Also be snake aware--especially in the morning when they might be taking advantage of the cooler temps to venture out.
One benefit, aside from being one of the few people on the trail and not cooped up at home, is that exercise in high heat can prepare your body for activity at high elevation. So if you're planning to get up to Flagstaff for beautiful fall colors this could keep you from gasping for air.
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