Safe Hiking When the Temps Climb High
The sun is out, holiday fever is starting to set in, and it's time to hit the trails! But with temperatures expected to climb into record highs in the coming days, hikers will need to take a few extra precautions in the heat, crossing rivers and when they encounter snow. Even on a fine warm day, a slip on snow can mean a serious injury.
Hiking in the heat: find water and shade
Hike early. One of the best way to avoid the heat is to hike early in the day. With long days, it's easy to hit the trail by 6 and be home before the heat of the day really sets in. Try packing a picnic brunch instead of lunch, iced coffee in a thermos included.
Carry lots of water. Besides being prepared with the ten essentials, when you hike on a hot day, bring lots of extra water for all the members of your hiking group, including hiking pups. (Because their body cooling system is different than ours, heat exhaustion is a real danger for dogs who overexert on hot days.)
Choose trails with less exposure. Believe it or not, rainy day hikes can be the best hot weather hikes, too. Head for the Olympic rainforest or for trails with an old growth canopy.
The rivers are running high. Watch river crossings
All this sun and heat mean that snow is melting fast in the high country. That's good news for getting at views in a few weeks, but it means rivers are swollen and river crossings can be unexpectedly dangerous. Refresh your skills on where and how to make a safe crossing. (And remember, sometimes, that means turning around and picking a different trail.)
Snow dangers: slipping and unstable snow
Think the time for snow on trail has passed? Think again. Trip reporters are still finding plenty of snow blocking trails and creating danger zones you may have to pass. Slipping is one of the most common injuries to hikers. Add a dramatic change in temperatures to the mix, and hikers need to take extra precaution to avoid slipping or falling through unstable snow.
So what should you do if you encounter snow? It's a delicate calculus, which requires preparation, experience and common sense.
- Use these tips from author and mountaineering educator Mike Zawaski to travel more safety across snow fields in Washington.
- In general, if snow is partly covering the trail, the pitch is not too steep and there is a well-worn boot path across it, hikers should be okay.
- As it becomes warmer, snow becomes less stable. Post-holing (where your leg plunges through the snow up to your shins or waist) is a recipe for spraining or breaking an ankle. This is especially hazardous where snow covers water. You might think you're on the trail, but it is easy to go astray when the snow covers it.
- When you encounter steep slopes or avalanche chutes filled with lingering snow, hikers should consider what should happen if they slipped. If there are hazards below - rocks, water, trees - then they should be equipped with an ice axe and the knowledge of how to use it. Even then there are no guarantees. The best course of action may very well be to turn around, even if you can see dry ground on the other side or the destination is so close. The trail can always be hiked another time.
- Think twice about glissading (intentionally sliding down a snow chute). Sliding or glissading down the mountain after a long day’s climb may seem like a fun and easy way down; but attempting this activity is not without inherent risks.