Hike Smart: Summer Backpacking Site Bulletin: Hiking in the desert at the hottest time of the year carries inherent risk. Timing your hike to avoid this dangerous heat is crucial to ensuring your personal safety and having an enjoyable trip. To survive, you must limit the amount of time you exert yourself in direct sunlight. Hike in cooler weather—near dawn and dusk or at night. Do not underestimate the intensity of the mid-day desert sun!
Summer Hiking - Hike Smart
The National Park Service urges SPECIAL CAUTION for all hikers during the summer months.
Every year, scores of unprepared hikers, lured by initially easy downhill hiking, experience severe illness, injury, or death from hiking in the canyon.
Be aware that efforts to assist you may be delayed during the summer months due to limited staff, the number of rescue calls, employee safety requirements, and limited helicopter flying capability during periods of extreme heat or inclement weather.
Do not rely on physical strength alone, hiking smart will take you much farther. Rangers respond to heat exhausted hikers every day during the summer — don't let yourself become one of them! Use the information below to hike smart.
Ambient temperature, elevation, and exercise intensity and duration increase the physiological strain, calorie and water demands on our bodies. This makes canyon hiking more difficult than traveling the same distance on level ground or in cooler temperatures.
Fluid/electrolyte loss can exceed 2 quarts per hour if you hike uphill in direct sunlight and during the hottest time of the day. Because inner canyon air is so dry and hot, sweat evaporates instantly, making its loss almost imperceptible. Keep an eye out for salt rings on your clothes.
Even a mild level of dehydration can make hiking a lot less fun. The more dehydrated you become, the less efficient your body is at self-cooling. This puts you at greater risk for heat related illness. Over-hydration and lack of salty foods can be equally as dangerous, as this may lead to a life-threatening electrolyte disorder called hyponatremia.
The sensations of thirst and hunger are influenced by many factors, and should not be used as the only guide to replenishment. Eat and drink enough throughout your hike to replace the calories and fluid your body is using. Make sure that you balance your food and fluid intake, to avoid the risk of becoming exhausted, debilitated, or severely ill.
AVOID HIKING BETWEEN 10AM AND 4PM!
Even if you are eating and drinking correctly you still need to avoid hiking in direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day. Sun temperatures are 15F to 20F (9C-11C) degrees hotter than posted shade temperatures. And keep in mind, the farther into the canyon you go the hotter it gets!
Plan your day so you are not hiking between the hours of 10am and 4pm. Take a break near shade and water to avoid the worst heat of day. Enjoy a predawn start and a late afternoon finish. Experienced desert hikers know that the timing of their hike is the most important factor in avoiding hazards. Most of the people who need emergency medical help in the canyon due to heat illness are hiking between 10am and 4pm.
Always bring a lightweight flashlight to give yourself the option of hiking out after dark in the event that illness, injury, or enjoyment should slow you down.
Warning! Summer thunderstorms bring lightning. Read more about Lightning Danger...
Average Temperatures in the Inner Canyon
KEEP YOURSELF SOAKING WET TO STAY COOL.
This is one of the best things that you can do for yourself, it will help decrease your core body temperature. Whenever you are near water, make sure that you wet (actually soak) yourself down. If you hike while soaking wet you will stay reasonably cool. This will make a wonderful difference in how well you feel, especially at the end of the day!
WATCH OUT FOR THESE HEALTH HAZARDS!
HEAT EXHAUSTION - The result of dehydration due to intense sweating. Hikers can lose one or two quarts (liters) of water per hour. Rangers at Phantom Ranch and Indian Garden treat many cases of heat exhaustion each day in summer.
Symptoms: pale face, nausea, vomiting, cool and moist skin, headache, cramps.
Treatment: drink water with electrolytes, eat high-energy foods (with fats and sugars), rest in the shade for 30-45 minutes, and cool the body by getting wet.
Symptoms: flushed face, dry skin, weak and rapid pulse, high core body temperature, confusion, poor judgment or inability to cope, unconsciousness, seizures.
Treatment: the heatstroke victim must be cooled immediately! Continuously pour water on the victim's head and torso, fan to create an evaporative cooling effect. Immerse the victim in cold water if possible. Move the victim to shade and remove excess clothing. The victim needs evacuation to a hospital. Someone should go for help while attempts to cool the victim continue.
Symptoms: nausea, vomiting, altered mental states, confusion, frequent urination. The victim may appear intoxicated. In extreme cases seizures may occur.
Treatment: have the victim eat salty foods, slowly drink sports drinks with electrolytes, and rest in the shade. If mental alertness decreases, seek immediate help!
Symptoms: uncontrolled shivering, poor muscle control, careless attitude. Look for signs of the "umbles" - stumbling, mumbling, fumbling, grumbling.
Treatment: remove wet clothing and put on dry clothing, drink warm sugary liquids, warm victim by body contact with another person, protect from wind, rain, and cold.
Avoid hypothermia by checking at Canyon View Information Plaza or the Backcountry Information Center for the latest weather and trail conditions, taking layered clothing for protection against cold and wet weather, eating frequently, replacing fluids and electrolytes by drinking before feeling thirsty, and avoiding exposure to wet weather.
Additional backcountry info can be found on the following webpages.
Last updated: July 9, 2017