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919 Summer Stories
The Heat is On

Child hiking in the heat of the sunny Tetons.

During our Summer of '13 stay in the Tetons we experienced odd weather. We had a week long stretch where there was no rain. The dreaded afternoon thunderstorms were not even forecast nor did they mistakingly appear. Instead of the storms, another phenomena occurred - it was just plain hot in the mountains. We mean really hot.

Now, on a normal summer day, the mornings are cool and as it heats up toward mid-day the thunderstorms appear. Most tourist hikers make casual starts of 9 (am), 10, or even later in the mornings. They only have started hiking and then the clouds start building and soon they are scurrying down the mountains to the trailheads. With perfect weather, the hikers were getting high in the mountains and far away from the trailheads without and threat of thunderstorms but they were facing the dangers of heat.

On almost every hike, we saw red faced, overheated hikers looking for shade and water. So why weren't we red faced too? We had started at daybreak (or earlier) and were on the way downhill when we met the laboring hikers going up the mountain.

Toward the end of our stay in the Tetons we were hiking down from a camp in the Meadows, it was mid-afternoon. As we descended, there were groups heading toward Garnett Canyon laboring under the weight of their mountaineering packs and the oppressive heat. I truly felt sorry for them. It was very hot.

In particular, a family of three were struggling as they climbed the lower slopes. They were a little over a mile from the trailhead, but at the point where the trail begins to climb. You could see the look in their faces. They were not having fun.

So for a few sunny day hints ...

Yes, we have spent our share of sweating on the trail, but we try to put the odds in our favor.

Check the forecast. You can't live by the prediction, but at least it should give you a guideline.

Ask at the Ranger Station (or other land managers) about the heat or other weather events.

The hotter it is supposed to be, the earlier that you should start.

A side note - in bear country we like walking at sunrise, but not much earlier. We like to see who else is on the trail!

Pay attention to topography, on south facing slopes, start even earlier.

Know about the water. You have to drink, so is there any sources on the trail or do you have to carry it all.

The heavier the pack equals more work. Lighten your load. If that is not possible, it might be necessary to change objectives.

Wear a hat. A wide brimmed hat provides the most shade, but can be unruly in the wind.

Wear cool clothing. Several manufacturers, including Patagonia and Rail Riders, make hot weather clothing.

Use a water soaked bandanna or one of the frozen coolers to go on your neck.

Rest in the shade.

Try an umbrella, like the GoLite - it is a portable shade.

Monitor your group. Heat exhaustion and stroke can happen.

Wait until dusk before hiking.

Plan the hike. Don't just start from the trailhead as soon as you are ready. Pack the day before, predict the time for the hike, and leave the trailhead at the optimum time, or change your plans.

Train in the heat. If you are expecting warm weather on your trip, then train in warm weather.

If all else fails, try a night hike, or wait for cooler weather.

Using an umbrella as shade from the hot sun.

Remember, you're supposed to be having fun. If getting up at 4 so that you can walk in the cool of the morning does not sound fun, walking in the blazing sun, sounds even worse. Well, at least to us!

It's just a good thing we have short memories, that allows us to forget the misery of our failures, but remember the peak experiences.


Happy Heated trails


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