You’ve probably seen all the headlines. It’s no secret that it’s been a very hot month. Thanks in part to a strong El Nino year, temperatures have risen across much of the United States, including here in Southern Utah. The deserts of the American Southwest are already pretty hot during normal years, so you can imagine how hikers this year need to be extra prepared to handle the heat. So let’s talk about some ways you can still have fun in the sun, and stay safe.
Best Practices for Summer Hiking
There are some simple rules that will help you avoid any unnecessary risks when exploring the national parks here in Southern Utah during the summer.
- Don’t hike during the middle of the day. Plan your adventures for the morning and evening. We recommend that you finish your hike by about 11am or start after 6pm. So look at your route and plan accordingly.
- Carry lots of water. Lots. A gallon (or four liters) per person hiking. And take some electrolytes with you too.
- Know your party’s limits. Don’t attempt to do something you or members of your group don’t feel qualified to handle. You don’t want to be stuck out on a remote trail in the middle of the day.
- Have the right gear. Have a map, the right footwear, a good first aid kit, plenty of food for the trail (snacks, light meals) and a strong flashlight if you’re hiking in the evening.
Most people who take common-sense preparations will be totally fine hiking in the desert parks, even during summer. The trick is to plan ahead. Plan your hikes, talk to the rangers, and learn as much as you can about safety on the trail.
But if things do go bad, you should know what to look for if you or your hiking buddy is starting to feel the effects of extreme heat.
What Heat Does To The Body
If the human body reaches certain temperatures, it can start to exhibit symptoms of heat-related diseases. Namely: heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Of the two, heat stroke is by far the more dangerous, requiring immediate medical attention. Here’s how to tell heat exhaustion and heat stroke apart – and what to do next.
- Feeling faint and/or dizzy
- Excessive sweating
- Cool or clammy skin
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid, fluttery, and weak pulse
- Muscle cramps
What to do?
If you, or someone in your party, is displaying signs of heat exhaustion, take action to cool down. If possible, get to an air-conditioned place. If that’s not possible, find shade on the trail. Drink plenty of water and take a long break. And be ready to turn back. It’s not worth trying to “finish” the hike if someone isn’t feeling well.
Of course, the best cure is prevention. Again. Don’t hike when the sun is strong, but instead plan your adventures for the mornings and evenings.
- Strong, persistent headache
- Not sweating
- Hot skin, usually dry
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid, over-strong pulse
- May lose consciousness
What to do?
Call 911. Then take immediate action to bring the body’s temperature down. If you have access to ice, make an ice bath, or place ice compresses under the armpits and between the thighs. If you’re on the trail, move into deep shade and use wet-cloth compresses in those same spots. Do everything you can to cool the person down, and wait for emergency services to arrive.
Heat stroke is serious. But there are plenty of observable warning signs before a person develops heat stroke. Be smart when hiking in the summer months. Don’t attempt activities beyond your abilities. And always, always carry plenty of water. Again. One gallon of water per hiker.
Monsoons in the Desert?
Ok. There is one other important thing we need to talk about for safe hiking in summer in much of Southern Utah. We have a monsoon season here. It begins towards the end of July, when the temperature is hottest on the Colorado Plateau. The climate patterns, and increased evaporation, bring daily, afternoon rainstorms.
So, what does this mean for your trip? If you’re visiting Capitol Reef, or any of the national and state parks of Southern Utah during the late summer, you need to be a little bit more prepared. Plan on doing your outdoor activities – hiking, biking, climbing, trail riding, whatever – in the mornings. Avoid activities during the mid-day (you’re probably sensing a pattern here.) The rains don’t arrive until about 2pm, so plan on wrapping up before that. At this point you shouldn’t be hiking (see above), but you might still be picnicking in a park. And nobody wants a soggy sandwich.
But most important, be aware of flash floods.
Summer rains bring an increased chance of flash floods. And those can be very, very dangerous. So stay on high ground if you get caught in the rain. And check with the visitor center of the park you’re visiting to get the best information on flooding in the area. Also, check out this site from weather.gov to see if there are flash flood warnings.
It’s Not So Scary
You might be thinking, “Heat stroke? Flash floods? Maybe I’ll just stay home.” But trust us. Once you understand the weather patterns, Southern Utah is a wonderful, beautiful place to visit. Just work within the elements of nature, and you’ll be safe. And you’ll have a great time!