Heat Advisory

July 15, 2016 Posted by: George Jacobi

view seen by heat exhausted hiker looking up at canyon cliffs with sun glaring down at midday.

I didn't get seriously scared until I threw up. Until then it just seemed like the antsy stomach would slow me down a little more, and I had plenty of water. So I drank some more. At that point there was still three and a half or four miles to go, but it was only 10:30 and hey, there was no hurry.

This was supposed to have been a basic hike. A night at Phantom Ranch and then back up the Kaibab Trail early –a way to tell followers of the blog about the blessings awaiting hikers who had the foresight to reserve a campsite in the Canyon. A few things slowed me down in the morning. Then I paced myself, walked slowly, taking into account the unusual heat wave that had settled in. For a couple of days it had averaged over 100 degrees, which meant that here in the stone pizza oven of the Inner Gorge it was –well, alarming. Within a degree or two of 120 in the shade. Relentless, but a lot of other hikers were here anyway, and I had patience and maturity to offset my sore feet.

After a brief rest in the partial shade of a Pinyon Pine, I kept on going. It was fine for a while, although the walls of limestone began getting closer. In fact, once or twice they had seemed to waver, shimmer in the heat. My stomach was mildly nauseous. I found myself resenting this wren that was flitting effortlessly from tree to tree, unaffected by the temperature. That's when I got sick.

Dizzy, I sat right down, then crawled to the nearest bit of shade. Why does the shade keep getting smaller and smaller?-  the trees are the same size. Covered with dust now, I drank deeply from the water bottle. After a 20 minute rest, I thought I would try it. I urinated on the tree –stupid tree wasn't big enough –and set off up the trail to the faraway rim.

The heat was coming off the vertical stone all around, licking me like fire. I could tell my body temperature was beginning to feel like the rocks. Each ponderous step now was a struggle, and my eyes were fixed on my feet, ignoring the color of the Redwall. The Redwall, out of the corner of my eye, was neon, and the sagebrush was fluorescent green. Don't look up, too weird. "What's the sense of this if you can't see the view?" somebody thought. I could hear, though, and I heard a jet overhead. Those people were in the air conditioning, leaning to look out the window at me. "Cool," they were saying, "Grand Canyon down there." Geez, imagine the nerve of people saying "COOL." When I realized with a part of my mind that it felt like I was in the air conditioning, and the Canyon was spinning, I knew I had to get some help. But by then it was too late.

They told me I had a seizure. Someone found me, ran to a ranger, and I woke up in the Hospital. It was close, though. I had been beaten by Hyponatremia (water intoxication). "What the heck is that?" you say. It's caused by drinking too much water, while not replenishing your salt. You lose the salt sweating, not noticing it much in this dryness, not noticing that you urinate a lot. Then you end up, because you are still drinking water, having low blood sodium. As if regular heat exhaustion isn't enough!

This could have happened, folks. Avoid the heat of the day. Hike before 10 am and after 4 pm. Eat salty snacks often, and drink something that contains electrolytes whenever you hike, especially in a brutal summer environment like the National Parks of the Southwest.

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Last updated: July 15, 2016

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