If you’re a regular reader, some of what follows may seem redundant from columns this time last year—but if you follow the local hiker-rescue statistics during the months of April through September, you will agree that some things need to be repeated, for safety’s sake!
Hiking in the desert during these months of extreme heat can not only be brutal; it can become life-threating in a matter of minutes. Even the most experienced hikers can find themselves in trouble.
Approximately 50 hikers a year are rescued from trails in Palm Springs and surrounding areas due to dehydration or injury, said Berenice Tratter, a Palm Springs Mounted Police Search and Rescue volunteer, in a video posted on the group’s Facebook page on March 21.
Temperatures rise quickly throughout the day, so it is a good idea to get out early and do shorter hikes so you can be off the trails by about 10 a.m. on the hottest days. The USDA Forest Service recommends avoiding hiking between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on hot days.
I try to adjust my hiking schedule around the heat. Sometimes, I do an alternative workout in the pool—treading water and swimming laps—following my morning run. Also, many surrounding areas, less than a two-hour drive away, offer hiking trails in cooler climates. It’s a great time for desert dwellers to break away from the heat.
If you are going to be out on the trails, please remember to always take more water than you should need—at least one liter per hour. It’s a good idea to wear a bandana or cooling towel around your neck. Seek shade whenever possible; don’t be on the trails during high heat hours; and always be prepared for the unexpected. Have a plan! In addition, don’t forget the 10 desert essentials (www.desertmountains.org/10-essentials) suggested by Friends of the Desert Mountains. Following these guidelines can really make a difference—and quite possibly save your life.
Even though I am an experienced hiker, I have found myself in trouble many times (sometimes not related to heat) while out on the trails. So far, I have been extremely fortunate and have always made it out on my own. I credit that to always practicing safety and taking preventative measures to avoid a rescue. I hope this good fortune will continue throughout my future hiking days.
I spoke with a great friend and hiking buddy, Marnie Hesson, who was raised in Palm Springs and grew up exploring the mountains and nearby canyons. She knows to follow certain rules and take precautions when spending time in nature. Hesson realizes that living and hiking in the desert requires more caution than in most other places—yet even she admits there have been times when she did not take proper precautions and ended up getting in over her head.
“It happens to most people I know who spend time on the trails,” Marnie says. (I admit that includes myself.)
Hesson says she has lost count of the number of overheated people to whom she has given water—including one woman in her 70s who was hiking with her husband in Murray Canyon with just a small bottle of water and no hats on a 90-degree day in June.
“She was red faced and obviously exhausted as they walked by me,” Hesson says. “I noticed the signs of heat exhaustion, gave them water, and suggested that the lady sit for a few minutes to rest. After re-hydrating, she was tired but felt better, and they headed down the trail back to their car.”
I have had similar experiences. I once came across an elderly gentleman who had overheated while on the Palm Springs Goat Trails coming from Murray Peak. It was mid-morning during the summer months, getting hot—and he had run out of water. I gave him some water and hung out with him for a bit to make sure he was going to be OK.
Another instance happened in the Whitewater Preserve, where an elderly couple was hiking the Canyon View Loop, but missed staying on the loop at the split (which is easy to do) and ended up on the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness area, headed toward Morongo. They were more than a mile from the Loop Trail when I came across them. My first thought was: How in the world did they get here!? The gentleman was at the bottom of a long hill, while the lady was about halfway up the hill, yelling at him and trying to get him to turn back. He was on his knees when I got to him—in trouble. I sat with him for a bit and helped them get back up the hill and to the Loop Trail.
People of all ages and experience levels can experience trouble while out on the trails; like I said, I have been there myself. If you ever encounter someone in distress, help that person out; that is what we hikers do. Aside from having your essentials with you, don’t go out alone if possible—and if you do go out alone, tell someone when and where you’re going, and let them know when you arrive back safely.
Also, know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion (dizziness, headache and clammy skin) and heat stroke (dizziness, nausea, vomiting, a lack of sweat, confusion and disorientation). If you start experiencing any symptoms, get out of the heat; drink water; and eat a snack. Stay calm! Don’t panic! Don’t try to continue on if you’re exhausted; instead, seek shade, and stay put.