The summertime is a popular time of season to see some of the natural wonders of the United States. The state of Utah is home to some of the finest wonders around. Unfortunately, many of these places are in locations that experience extremely oppressive heat, and are found in very remote spots that don’t have phone reception for miles. People from all over the US come to these places, and while many have experience hiking in outdoors, others are new to hiking, and don’t know all the things to take into account when hiking in the desert. Hiking safety isn’t one of the first things that people think of when they go on a hike, but it should be. Following these hiking tips could save your life.
This article will give advice on how to prevent problems on the trail during the hot, summer months and also explain how to recognize and treat symptoms of dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and elevation, and what to do if lost.
– Some times things don’t go the way they were planned, and you may find yourself lost in the backcountry. Here is what you should do if you find yourself lost.
Use the acronym STOP to remember these steps if you’re lost:
S – Stop.
At the beginning of a wilderness survival emergency, the most important thing you can do is stop. Once you have taken care of your immediate safety and anyone else that is with you, relax as best you can. Take a seat on a rock and let the initial fear of being lost subside. It’s OK, and natural to “freak out” a little for a couple of minutes. That’s why you need to stop and chill. Just don’t let it overwhelm you. Everything is going to be fine. Drink some water. Eat a snack. Even if it’s getting close to dark, you have time. You have resources. Survival is 85% mental and only 15% physical. You are intelligent and you know more than you think when it comes to survival. Now is the time to start discovering it. First Step: Stop.
T – Think.
Assemble the group. Use your brain to figure out what is really going on. If you think you are lost, study your map and try to determine where you are. Look around for landmarks. Note the contours of hills, ridges, or mountains and where you are in relation to streams or lakes. If you don’t have a map, try to remember where you could have gotten off course. What was the last landmark you positively identified? In what direction did you travel from there? If you are on a trail or a road, can you follow it back to your starting point? If you have left footprints in the snow, can you retrace your tracks? Don’t go anywhere yet. There is no rush. Stop and Think.
O – Observe.
Assess the immediate situation. What are the weather conditions? Where is a good place to take shelter? Inventory everything you have in your pack and pockets, and look around to get a sense of the natural resources nearby. What clothing do you have? How can you improvise with what is available to make it suit your needs? Don’t go anywhere yet. There is no rush. Stop, Think, and Observe.
P – Plan
When you have figured out what your situation really is, the group can put together a plan for what to do next. Build your plan on what you have observed, what you have in the way of equipment, what you can improvise from native materials, and how you can keep yourself safe. Put into practice the survival steps you have learned, and wait as calmly as you can for help to arrive. Plan carefully and cautiously; don’t make your situation worse by acting hastily. Most people are found within the first 24 hours of becoming lost or encountering difficulties in the backcountry. You could, if necessary, survive much longer.
By carrying a compass, a map of the area, and a GPS, it could entirely prevent a hiker from getting lost.
Dehydration – If you find that you are feeling thirsty, the beginning stages of dehydration have already started! Due to the hot, and extremely dry climate, elevation, and low humidity that can be found in the southwestern United States, dehydration is a real threat. Throw prolonged sun exposure into the mix, which there is plenty of out here, and you have yourself a very good chance of suffering dehydration if you’re not prepared. Don’t think that because you may not be in out hiking in the West, that you don’t need to worry about dehydration. It can happen in any climate. In dry, hot areas, hikers should be drinking at least 3-4 liters of water a day.
One of the biggest mistakes hikers make is to start the hike dehydrated by not being fully hydrated the day or two prior to the hike It is nearly as important as drinking water while on the hike. Stay hydrated. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, drink.
The symptoms of dehydration include:
– increased sweating
– muscle cramps
– extreme fatigue
– dark urine or lack of urination
If you or anyone in your hiking group is suffering from any of these symptoms, do the following: Find shade, which could be under trees, shrubs, or bushes. If there is no vegetation nearby, make some shade by using a tarp, an extra shirt, or anything else to provide cover. Have the victim slowly drink small sips of water at first. At first thought it seems to make the most sense to have the victim drink a lot of water right away. Don’t do it. They could just throw it back up, leaving them even more dehydrated than before. Once they can hold down small sips, you may slowly increase the amount, but it should never be large gulps of water all at once. Fan the person as well. Encourage rest until the victim is fully recovered and shows no symptoms. Closely monitor their progress the rest of the hike, and get them professional medical treatment if symptoms get don’t improve or get worse.
– It can be brought on by a combination of dehydration and exposure to the hot sun, and if not taken care of properly can lead to heat stroke which can be fatal.
Some symptoms of heat exhaustion are similar to dehydration and can include:
– pale and clammy skin
– heavy sweating
– tiredness, dizziness, or fainting
– muscle cramps
Place the person in the shade, and encourage them to drink water. The cooling process may be accelerated by applying a wet cloth to the skin and fanning the person. Do not continue your hike until the person feels better. Better yet, stop the hike, and try it again another day.
– Heat stroke is much more dangerous than heat exhaustion, and requires swift action, because the body’s core temperature has reached a life threatening 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius) or higher. Dehydration and overexertion contribute to heat stroke.
The main symptoms to look for with heat stroke are:
– increased heart rate/rapid pulse
– hot, sweaty, red skin
– confusion and disorientation
With heat stroke it is imperative that you get the victim to medical help immediately. The victim’s temperature needs to be lowered quickly. If you are in an area that is too far for swift medical help, you must move the individual to shade, loosen tight clothing, and have him drink small amounts of cool water. Pour water on them and increase cooling by fanning. If traveling in a group of three or more, send one for help. Do not leave the victim alone. Carefully monitor the victim to prevent a relapse.
– Many hikers that visit Utah or other western states are not accustomed to the higher elevations. With the higher elevation, comes less oxygen and added physical exertion. It can affect a hiker more than they think and can accelerate dehydration and heat exhaustion. One way to reduce the effects of elevation is to have a slower pace, taking more breaks, and drinking plenty of water.
Get an Early Start
– A great way to avoid the heat of the day is to get an early start on your hike. While it can be difficult to wake up very early in the morning and hit the trails as the sun rises, it allows hikers to complete a good majority of their hike in cool temperatures. I make it a habit to hit the trailhead and start my hikes by 5:30am, so that by 8:30am I am at, or close to the summit of most mountain hikes. I then can get back to the trailhead before the heat hits its peak. You will also find fewer people on the trail and also a better chance to see wildlife.
– A lot of the amazing hiking locations in the southwest are found in locations where there is zero cell phone reception for miles. Don’t count on phone service if an emergency arises. Instead, let others know where you are going to be and for how long. Also, if you frequent locations without cell phone service, you may want to invest in a satellite phone to be carried and only used only for emergencies.
Hiking can be enjoyed by all, and by using one’s head and following these simple hiking tips, one can minimize the chances of suffering dangers on the trail, and maximize the enjoyment.