October 22nd, 2015 12:39:00 pm
Arizona is a fantastic place to hike, bike, rock-climb, kayak, raft and canyoneer. It is one of the most beautiful places to adventure in the lower 48 and at the same time, one of the harshest and most unforgiving places to play. Every year far too many visitors get into trouble because they don’t follow some fairly simple tips.
I used to work as a rock climbing guide for 360 Adventures as well as a back packing and canoeing guide over the years. I now own a small business (HQ98.com) selling two-way radios to businesses and guide companies across the country. I am also a Preventive Search and Rescue volunteer for the Grand Canyon National Park. Our job in that program is to help hikers enjoy the splendor of that magnificent park while staying safe. In this article, I’m going to offer you so of the same advice we offer to our park visitors.
It so easy to do these days and can truly make the difference between having a great time and a complete disaster. If you are venturing into slot canyons, remember that a slots watershed can be many square miles and it doesn’t even have to drizzle on your canyon to experience flash-floods. While we can never completely rely on the forecast, knowing what might happen can help us plan well. Chance of rain, OK throw in that poncho or even a large garbage bag. (Good light weight / cheap rain gear.) If you don’t use it, you can always clean up that trailhead on your way out!
I’m combining these two because they are both absolutely necessary to enjoy a safe day on the trail. Because of our extreme environment both are necessary to be safe. Many people forget or don’t bother to bring food along. While in many places this is OK, it is NOT OK when the temperatures creep over the 100 degree mark. The problem is that in extreme heat, our bodies sweat, we get thirsty and drink water and we sweat some more. When we sweat, not only water buy vital salts are also washed out of our bodies including sodium and potassium. When we lose too much sodium, our bodies go into a state of hyponatremia (hypo meaning too little) (NA) salt. If we don’t replace the sodium by eating salty snacks, (from Mayo Clinic’s website) “..your body’s water levels rise, and your cells begin to swell. This swelling can cause many harmful problems, from mild to life-threatening.”
Luckily, if you sign up with a great guiding company like 360 Adventures, they’ve got you covered. Reach into that bountiful basket of delicious snacks and then DON’T FORGET TO EAT THEM.
Those $3 protein bars may not provide the sodium you need. My advice, peanut butter crackers, gold fish or pretzels.
One of my favorite remarks from hikers in The Canyon when asking about plans is, “we’re going to hike until we get tired and then turn around.” You probably know where I’m going here. While this is particularly disastrous in The Canyon, it’s a bad idea anywhere. If you “hike ’till your tired” you are already exhausted for by the time you turn around. Think about your goals for your trip and then do just a little math. I usually plan for flat terrain or going down at about 3 MPH going up a steep hill, around 2. What time are you leaving, what time do you need to get back for that dinner reservation and how long do you want to spend adventuring along the way or eating lunch? With these things in mind, you can come up with good, safe turn-around location and time! You need to keep both in mind. You should have a turn-around time in mind that is inviable even if you haven’t reached your location.
Number 4 implies that you have at least looked at a map and know more or less how to read it. You don’t have to be an expert and if your not and expert, stay on the main trails. Many of our little mountains, including urban ones such as Camelback or Paestewa peak can have some fairly nasty surprises if you go too far off trail. So, you should have a map and compass or a watch. (Tip: If you point the hour hand of your watch at the sun, South is approximately 1/2 way between the hour hand and 12.) All you really need to do is get back to the trail and then remember which way you came and verify it with your map and compass (or watch).
This is an old adage of marathon coaches. In outdoor adventuring it means don’t try out all your brand new gear on what may be one of the most challenging trips of your life. This is especially true of footwear. Don’t do all your training hikes in those comfortable old tennis shoes and then go out and buy the latest $200 hiking boot the day before you go back packing on a five day Grand Canyon Adventure. You do not want to find out at the end of day 1 that they really don’t fit all that well and you have blisters the size of quarters all over your feet. Make sure you that you arrive with good, comfortable shoes that you have already put at least a hundred miles on them.
Or at the very least, bring a walkie talkie and stay in verbal touch. We have had far too many people lost and later in need of a rescue simply because their parties did not stay together.
Just stay where you are. Continuing an aimless hike in the wrong direction will only get your further from the trail. Most searches start from a known location and radiate outward. The farther you go from a known location, the less chance you will be found.
Never go hiking without a headlamp and an emergency blanket. Really bad accidents in the wilderness are usually a number of minor factors coming together in a perfect storm. Having these two small, lightweight items can literally save your life. Even though it may be 100 degrees in the day in the desert, it can drop into the 60s at night. While 60 doesn’t seem that cold, after a day in the sun, it can start your teeth chattering. (Which is the first sign of hypothermia. [Hypo: too little thermia: heat.]) If you have a good headlamp and can still hike and know where you’re going, you might not need the space blanket. On the other hand it’s good to have in the heat too! Using it for shade in the heat of the sun can drop the temperature up to 20 degrees.
Even if you have to leave a note on the windshield of your car. “Took the Old Same trail” Started about 6:00 AM on July 4th, 2015. Plan to by back by 5:00 PM. My Cell number is: xxx-xxx-xxxx. Alternate contact - Kim - xxx-xxx-xxxx.”
Yes, I know. They don’t work everywhere, but you have a lot better chance of getting to a place that works than leaving it in your car.
Plan to hike for no more than 60 minutes without a break. I usually go for 50 minutes and break for 10. “A break of ten minutes helps remove the metabolic waste products that build up in your legs while hiking.”(GCNP HikeSmart) Remember this is supposed to be fun. If you find yourself out of breath while hiking, slow down. You should be able to carry on a normal conversation while hiking. If you can’t, just slow down until you can.
Arizona is a wonderful place to explore and have fun. I hope these tips help you plan your adventures and keep you coming back for more. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact 360 Adventures.