Last updated: July 6, 2015
As temperatures sizzle, so are backcountry permits! Snow is coming off our mountain passes at an alarming rate which is making some trails that are usually inaccessible this time of year, very doable instead. We had more than twice as many campers this June as last partly because of this. Check trail status here. The trail status will tell you about any hazards or conditions you might expect on a particular trail, but what it doesn't tell you is how the temperature will affect your backpacking trip…so let's see if we can help.
It's hot out there! Every permit writer can tell you a story about the heat…For instance, I sweat so much going into Poia Lake that my eyebrows were stuck in one position due to dried sweat salt. Ed's wife wouldn't let him in the house until he dropped his odiferous pack outside due to that smell –you know the one we're talking about! Angela fried the backs of her legs –yikes! Baked legs are painful! Our West Side Supervisor (a trail fiend) stayed inside on her days off with the windows closed until the sun went down. On a trek to the Belly River, the sweat coming off Katie forced her to apply bug spray every half hour (with some choice words about Glacier's mosquitoes)…
You might say…but 83 degrees isn't that hot when looking at the forecast for the east side;granted 91 degrees is getting up there on the west side of the continental divide –but it's not that bad! Here's something to consider. It is easier to get sunburned when you're on a mountain pass because you have less atmosphere. For every 1000 feet up you go, you're increasing your ultraviolet exposure by 4 %. More UV means a greater chance of getting burnt, dehydration, heat stress, and ultimately heat stroke!
A lot of backpackers are in denial when symptoms start! I suggest being smart instead. Here are some things that indicate you're becoming dehydrated:
- Dry, sticky mouth and lips
- Decreased urine output (you should be peeing A LOT - 100 feet off the trail on a durable surface)
- Few/no tears when crying (don't cry! We tried to tell you how much elevation gain you'd have!)
- Muscle weakness, sleepiness, tiredness
- Headache (indicator unless there's someone hiking in front of you with bear bells…)
- Dizziness/lightheadedness (not to be confused with giddiness from the awesome scenery)
Remember with the snow pack melting, there is also the reality that high mountain streams/creeks that depend on snow melt runoff are drying up! You may not have much water available on those mountain passes, so preplan and have water filtered before heading into a dry, exposed area.
There's another thing to consider in this heat, regular visitation is very high too, which means parking is hard to come by! Logan Pass, for instance, should your backcountry trek leave from there…the parking lot has been filling at 10 am and stays full until early evening. Also after July 7th there will be no parking at the Gunsight Trailhead due to construction at any time of day or night. Hiking Siyeh Pass to or from Sunrift Gorge is also going to find you without parking. When starting at any of these Going-to-the-Sun Road trailheads, plus a few others, consider the park's shuttle as an option. It leaves daily from Apgar and St Mary heading towards Logan Pass at 7 am; the last shuttles leave Logan Pass in both directions at 7 am. It is free as long as you have a valid entrance pass for the park.
Until next time, stay cool backpackers!