The heat is on.
Searing temperatures means people should be drinking water, water and more water, say Arches National Park rangers.
The park has seen its fair share of dehydration cases this summer, but no more than in the past. With the unusually high temperatures, the park is taking extra measures to warn hikers about how to prevent dehydration and heat stroke.
Delicate Arch is the most hiked trail in the park, but its difficulty level in the summer may be underestimated. The trail’s three mile length is may seem like no big deal.
“Its not just three miles, it’s a really challenging three miles,” said Catherine Dalrymple, a park ranger at Arches National Park.
It is exposed and there is no shade. The slickrock heats up, so not only are you getting direct heat from the sun but also radiant heat from the slickrock that may make it seem hotter than the ambient air temperature, Dalrymple said. There is no place to hide and this is where most people get into trouble.
“The most important thing is to know your limits and not be focused on getting to one point if you’re starting to feel the effects of the heat of the day,” Dalrymple said.
Beating the effects of dehydration may require more than just water.
“If you sweat a lot, which most people do, it’s important to not only drink a lot of water but to also replenish your electrolytes too, so drinking Gatorade or any sport drinks,” said Paula Fuller, assistant director of Grand County Emergency Medical Services (EMS). “Or drink water and eat salty snacks. That helps too.”
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke do not discriminate against age or sex; everyone can be affected by it.
Dalrymple said that if a person is hiking in the parks this summer they should be carrying adequate water. She said they should start their hikes early in the day and get done by noon, or choose an evening hike to begin after 5 p.m.
There are two locations within the park where a person can get water. The first station is at the visitor’s center near the entrance of the park. The second is in the Devil’s Garden area, which is located at the end of the park’s paved road, roughly 18 miles from the visitor’s center.
Dalrymple recommended carrying a wet t-shirt in a plastic bag. Wearing a wet t-shirt will cool down an overheated body. A wet bandana can work in the same way.
“I think if people understand the difference between a 98 degree day and a 108 degree day, it seems there is a breaking point somewhere in there where people get into trouble a lot quicker,” Dalrymple said.
“We can’t stop people from hiking and making bad decisions but we certainly are making an effort to get out, be it presence at the trailheads and to really educate people on how much water they should be carrying and the difference between their 16 ounce bottle that they buy and the 32 ounce bottles,” Dalrymple said. “Also educating on where they can get water in the park, to be prepared when they are going out and not to underestimate the distance of hikes.”
There are signs posted at the beginning of certain trailheads and the visitor center warning guests of the heat and advising people to carry and drink lots of water.
“We are trying to make it as simple as possible for people to understand how important it is to drink water,” Dalrymple said.
Not all people heed the warnings and still continue on their planned adventures within the park. Simple things like being prepared when in the wilderness can save a day from turning into a potential dangerous situation.
“On a super hot day during one of the first heat waves, we had one person go to the hospital and one person go to the morgue. I was more than happy to relay that message to people to show the real life risks and dangers of having enough water, it may be kind of grim but at the same time not,” Dalrymple said.
Fuller said EMS hasn’t responded to any abnormal number of dehydration cases this summer. Most cases requiring EMS are for traumatic injuries, which could or could not have resulted from dehydration.
“We can’t be responsible for dangers out here, it’s still wilderness. We can put posters up in stores which is great, and we can put volunteers at trailheads, which is great but we can’t close things,” Fuller said. “I think that implies that we are guaranteeing that people are safe if they go during the time when its not closed.”
“I think any national park has dangers. Any time you leave your comfort zone or what you’re used to, there is always potential for problems. I think allowing people to have the opportunity to experience the parks at any environment and temperatures, it’s their right,” Dalrymple said.
Fuller said that even though there are signs and attempts to educate people on how to be safe, its still not perfectly safe.
“Its not Disneyland. It is still the wilderness,” Fuller said.
Going out in undesirable conditions not only puts the person at risk, but the crew who may have to rescue them as well. It can take up to ten people to rescue one person, and those ten people now have to be exposed to the elements and the heat which is dangerous.
Dalrymple recorded eight serious cases that ended at the hospital since June. There are many unreported cases of dehydration because people attempt to recover themselves in the early stages of heat exhaustion.
“I think anyone hiking in the middle of the day is going to suffer some mild dehydration this month,” Fuller said.
Heat illness is a progressive illness that is completely preventable. If action is not taken when one develops the early signs of heat exhaustion, it can progress into heat stroke. Many factors alter the body’s ability to regulate temperature including age extremes, heart disease/medications, alcohol, dehydration, acclimatization, humidity and altitude.
Heat illness starts out as heat exhaustion. Look for headache, fatigue, overall weakness, thirst, feeling “extremely hot all over”, dizziness and a skipping heartbeat. If one ignores these symptoms, it can progress quickly into nausea and vomiting. This further puts the person at risk because they cannot adequately replace the lost fluids.
At some point the body loses the ability to regulate its temperature. This is when it becomes heat stroke. The person will be confused, disoriented, combative, hallucinations, seizures.
This is a medical emergency.
Medications taken for common conditions, such as high blood pressure, can worsen heat illness.
If one discovers they may be having a problem, the standard advice is call for help, or call 911. If you can’t hike out, find a shady place and get help.