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Don't Be That Guy: Summer Hiking Tips to Avoid a Camelback Rescue

Written by Claire Demirjian Category: Adventures Issue: June 2017
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Last year, on June 19, Phoenix broke a daily heat record reaching 118 degrees, killing four hikers in the Phoenix and Tucson area. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a singular incident. Phoenix weather routinely tops a scorching 110 degrees in the summer. Yet people continue to think they can handle hiking around the Valley despite the heat, especially, it seems, Camelback Mountain – the Phoenix hiking trail equivalent of L.A.’s Runyon Canyon in terms of popularity, but with steep ascents and tricky switchbacks over unforgiving desert landscape. It seems there’s always a helicopter rescue or five every year. Don’t forget who pays for those rescues… us, taxpayers.

This week, the National Weather Service has issued another excessive heat warning, until Wednesday night at 8 p.m. With temperatures expected to hit a high of 109 in the next few days, we thought it would be prudent to revist some all-important summer hiking tips and warnings.

First, let it be said, you should probably avoid hiking when excessive heat warnings are in effect. (And if you hike at all between late May and early September, that makes us very different people.) But if you insist on exploring our Valley's myriad trail systems, we've compiled a handy guide with hiking tips and tricks to stay safe, and out of a helicopter. You can also review the city of Phoenix and the Arizona Office of Tourism's"Take a Hike, Do it Right" awareness campaign for more safety information.

Best Time to Hike
Bright and early in the morning, when the weather is coolest and the animals are out. Try to finish hiking before 9 a.m. when the temperatures start rising quickly.

What to Bring
It’s easy to get dehydrated in this dry heat so make sure you always have water and Gatorade, or some electrolyte elixir of your choosing, easily accessible. Bring a snack or nutrition bar to keep you from feeling hungry or light-headed. Also bring a first aid kit, a map and a cell phone. It’s easy to lose your sense of direction while hiking.

What to Wear
Appropriate shoes are a must. We’re talking legit hiking boots versus your old Nike sneakers. Boots keep you from rolling your ankle and falling down. It’s also a good idea to layer up when you hike. Though you’ll be tempted to wear as little clothing as possible to deal with the heat, it’s actually better to wear longer sleeves and pants to protect your skin from the sun and elements (AKA jumping chollas).

What to do if you see a bear
Nothing, because we don’t have bears in the Sonoran Desert. Still, there’s a decent chance you’ll see some wildlife, including birds, lizards and bugs. The bigger stuff is rare but there’s a chance you might encounter coyotes, javelina, snakes, bobcats or bigger game. The smart thing to do in those situations is to slowly back away from the animal instead of running away or playing dead. Remember these wild animals are NOT trained so don’t try to pet or feed them. If that’s what you’re after, go to the Phoenix Zoo or Wildlife World Zoo. They have feeding encounters with giraffes AND misters.