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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24 Comments Comments icon

  1. Ariela
    August 19, 2017 at 11:38
     

    What a creative way to warn of the dangers of summer hiking. This could happen to hikers, even experienced ones. Just hiking 10 miles around the lake in front of my house in the height of the summer months almost claimed me. Your infusion of the environment into the tale made it even more compelling.

     
  2. July 21, 2016 at 07:46
     

    While reading this to Duke, with a lot of OMGs here and there, I was thrilled to find out it was a lesson in hiking in the heat. Looking forward to reading more, now that I found you!

     
  3. July 21, 2016 at 02:26
     

    Also, after reading your story I feel just slightly better about digging a drainage ditch in our front yard in 90+ degree heat & high humidity; just slightly! Thanks!

     
  4. July 21, 2016 at 02:16
     

    Well, Orson, you scared the hell out of a hand full of people. Good writing ... but don't do it again - or for real! Nice to be in touch.

     
  5. July 19, 2016 at 01:16
     

    IT WAS FICTION. I thought that saying at bottom "this could have happened" was enough. Apparently not. Thanks for your concerns, my apologies to all. But guess what? Inspiration can come in any form. love, G

     
  6. July 19, 2016 at 01:13
     

    Glad this was a hypothetical story George, and that it really did not happen to you. Good warning to all though.

     
  7. July 17, 2016 at 07:27
     

    Cautionary tale George. As an East Coaster I remember my first flirtation with dehydration. I was riding my bicycle quickly and joyfully on desert roads occasionally wondering why my ride was so comfortable and "no sweat." Then the symptoms came on.

     
  8. July 17, 2016 at 07:27
     

    Cautionary tale George. As an East Coaster I remember my first flirtation with dehydration. I was riding my bicycle quickly and joyfully on desert roads occasionally wondering why my ride was so comfortable and "no sweat." Then the symptoms came on.

     
  9. Ann
    July 17, 2016 at 05:51
     

    Sorry for duplicate postings. I didn't't think it went through.

     
  10. Ann
    July 17, 2016 at 05:41
     

    Ok George...glad you are up for telling the tale. "This could have happened"? But maybe it didn't, though the narrative is/was very compelling. I do hope it was a cautionary tale, and work of fiction....

     
  11. Ann
    July 17, 2016 at 05:40
     

    Ok George...glad you are up for telling the tale. "This could have happened"? But maybe it didn't, though the narrative is/was very compelling. I do hope it was a cautionary tale, and work of fiction....

     
  12. Ann
    July 17, 2016 at 05:38
     

    Ok George...glad you are up for telling the tale. "This could have happened"? But maybe it didn't, though the narrative is/was very compelling. I do hope it was a cautionary tale, and work of fiction....

     
  13. Ann
    July 17, 2016 at 05:38
     

    Ok George...glad you are up for telling the tale. "This could have happened"? But maybe it didn't, though the narrative is/was very compelling. I do hope it was a cautionary tale, and work of fiction....

     
  14. Ann
    July 17, 2016 at 05:38
     

    Ok George...glad you are up for telling the tale. "This could have happened"? But maybe it didn't, though the narrative is/was very compelling. I do hope it was a cautionary tale, and work of fiction....

     
  15. Bob
    July 17, 2016 at 04:35
     

    and here i am in 60 degree SF!

     
  16. July 17, 2016 at 03:50
     

    I learned something here. So sorry you learned it the hard way. Glad you are ok.

     
  17. July 17, 2016 at 03:49
     

     
  18. July 17, 2016 at 01:56
     

    Holy Moly, George! That was one scary episode. Those temps sound brutal at the bottom... High 90's is hot enough at the top...Good lesson for all of us to read about....but please don't repeat it!

     
  19. July 17, 2016 at 01:56
     

    Holy Moly, George! That was one scary episode. Those temps sound brutal at the bottom... High 90's is hot enough at the top...Good lesson for all of us to read about....but please don't repeat it!

     
  20. Jan
    July 17, 2016 at 01:11
     

    Criminy, George! That's a close call that hopefully won't be repeated. I always cringe when people say " It's not the heat, it's the humidity"...it IS the heat!

     
  21. July 17, 2016 at 12:16
     

    George, You really scared me. But I'm glad you're OK, and you certainly put the fear of God in me, jack

     
  22. July 17, 2016 at 08:16
     

    Try adding electrolytes to your daily water; also a little sea salt. Quite an experience. I have heard about getting too much water but never knew of anyone that experienced it. Glad all is well!

     
  23. July 17, 2016 at 07:44
     

    Same! I thought you were too experienced a hiker to end up there and figured it must have been BAD! I won't be forgetting salty munchies on hot days now.

     
  24. Jim
    July 16, 2016 at 05:45
     

    Jeeez ... You had me worried for a moment there George. I thought you were a goner. That's one way to get someone's attention: Scare the hell out of 'em! Interesting way to make an important point. Good job!

     
 
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Last updated: July 15, 2016

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