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Never hike in the desert midday when it’s hot

Canyon Hot weather warning

Photo: xoque/Flickr/Creative Commons License

I’m always astonished by people in Vegas walking around with no hats when it’s 110. Tourists often do this. Locals too. Just walking around the Strip in those temperatures can potentially be a danger. However, air conditioning and water are nearby. German and Japanese tourists love to come to Vegas when it’s hot, then go to Furnace Creek in Death Valley to have their picture taken next to the thermometer. Most are not wearing hats. Again, that’s ok if you stick close to the ranger station and don’t wander. However, if you go hiking in high temperatures and are not ready, it can be life-threatening. And be aware you may be in areas with no cell coverage.

Soldiering on after a bout of heat exhaustion is a recipe for disaster on the harshest end of the heat illness spectrum. As a wise park ranger once told me as I prepared to hike out of the Grand Canyon on a warm day in May, “Testosterone is not an electrolyte replacement.”

The best rule is, don’t hike during the day. Do it early in the morning, and be done by 10 AM. Wear a hat and sunglasses. Bring more water than you think you will need. I would bring 3 quarts just for me for a two-hour hike in heat. It’s way better to bring too much water than not enough. If you stop sweating, immediately drink water until you are full, then drink more. Not sweating is a major warning signal you are getting dehydrated. Ditto for muscle cramps. When either happens, cool off first, then head back to the car.

People die every year here in the desert, and some not far at all from the trailhead. The desert can be a wonderfully beautiful place. However it is completely unforgiving.

But there’s something visitors to the desert don’t understand about those short summer midday walks: even they can go badly wrong. What might seem a trivial jaunt in Oregon or the south of England can be a life-threatening ordeal in the California desert.

Sit at the first water fountain a mile and a half down the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon in April and May, and you’ll likely see a Park Ranger stationed there to dissuade ill-prepared visiting hikers from attempting to make it down to the Colorado and back, generally carrying a pint or so of water.

People not from here just do not get how dangerous that is. They think they can tough it out. But in the desert in summer, people who tough it out die. Every single summer adds to the death toll, and a high percentage of the dead are people who came out for a bit of exercise.

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