Safety Guide for Phoenix Summer Hiking

With the recent tragic death of a 23-year old on Camelback Mountain, safety on the trail has been on my mind.

I never want to discourage anyone from hiking. But in the summer, it’s tricky business. Doable…but you have to know what you’re doing.

In addition to the general safety tips hikers should practice (carry a first-aid kit, map, etc.), these are the rules I recommend following when hiking in the heat:

This is what one liter looks like. In the summer, it's good for about 2 miles. That's it, no more.

This is what one liter looks like. In the summer, it’s good for about 2 miles. That’s it, no more.

Rule #1: Water, Water, Water, Water…

Water! So I generally bring one liter for every two miles. And I always, always have an extra liter in my pack. How much is a liter? Excellent question. It can be answered easily by checking the label on your water bottle. I’m making you work for this answer because checking your water is an important part of your preparation for hiking safely.

(Or you can look at the picture to the left.)

Regardless of how much you bring, the general rule is to turn back when your water supply if halfway gone.

It’s important to note that one-liter-to-two-miles ratio is NOT sufficient for a hike in mid-day summer. Which brings me to my next rule…

Rule #2: ONLY hike at sunrise or sundown.

For evening hikes (my preference), I get to the trailhead about 30 minutes to one hour before sundown. This way, I’m catching the serenity of sunset as I watch the desert come alive. Depending on your fitness level and the hike’s difficulty, you can potentially fit in 2-4 miles.

For morning hikes, I’d follow the same timeline and hit the trail about an hour prior to sunrise if you can. If you do the morning hike, keep this in mind: unlike a sunset hike, weather conditions increase in intensity the longer you are out. So make sure you know what you’re in for.

Rule #3: Know Your Trail

This is a rule that is downright critical to follow in the summer. Stick with the trails you’re already frequenting so you don’t accidentally make a wrong turn or get in over your head.

Know the mileage. Know the elevation gain. Get familiar with what 2 miles with an elevation gain of 1200 feet feels like to you (that’s Piestawa Peak, btw). Google, read, buy a hiking book. Start with easy hikes and gain an understanding of your body. Know yourself, know your trail and you’ll know safety.

Rule #4: Stay in the Shade

If you follow rule #3, you’ll know where to go for good shade.

During the winter months, I scout trails that have excellent evening shade potential. Relying on vegetation for shade is a joke so take note of trails that trace the appropriate side of a mountain or canyon wall for the time of day you plan to hike.

Example: For evening hikes, hit a trail that follows the east side of a mountain or canyon wall (blocking the sun when it sets in the west).

I’m partial to the Phoenix Mountains so my favorites are the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A, North Mountain, and Trail 100 from the North Mountain Visitor Center. If I’m in the South Mountain area, the Kiwanis Trail also does the trick.

Glorious shade (and quartz)!

My pre-pregnant body celebrating the glorious shade (and quartz) on Trail 8A in the Phoenix Mountains.

Rule #5: Be Self Aware

I have been a total MORON on the trail many times. I”m almost ashamed to admit that it took many frightening moments of almost overheating on the trail for me to finally know how to swallow my pride and cut a hike short.

Don’t be like me. Accept that some days, things are just off. Maybe you had too many beers the night before or not enough protein in your breakfast or the moon is pulling at your chakras wrong…whatever!

If you’re not feeling it, you’re not feeling it. Turn around and head back to the car while your brain is still working well enough to make good decisions. Then resolve to redeem yourself when you’re feeling 100%.

Rule #6: Avoid Exploring New Trails in the Summer

Unless you are a super-pro survivalist who excels at reading trails, maps, and a compass, just save the exploring for better weather. And if you’ve never hiked before in your entire life, summer may not be the time to try out this hobby (unless you have a trusted, experienced friend to guide you).

Rule #7: Don’t Rely on Your Cell Phone

Dead battery, lack of reception, or a drop down the side of a mountain can turn that lifeline into a hunk of useless plastic. Bring one, sure, but assume that you’ll have to survive without it.

Rule #8: Help Tourists

A few summers ago, we had cousins visiting from Ohio. They mentioned they were planning to hike Camelback Mountain the next day, starting around 10 a.m.

Uh, no.

We convinced them to hike with us. Start time was 6 a.m. and we chose a less challenging trail. We also insisted they borrow our extra hydration pack.

“When we started, I thought I was going to die!” my cousin said when the hike was over. They both drank all the water in their packs. Just imagine what would have happened on Camelback at 10 a.m. Scary!

It’s your responsibility as a Phoenix hiker and host to visitors to provide the right guidance. When possible, do the hike with a visitor so they start early enough, bring enough water, and stay on the correct trail.

Safety aside, your dog deserves to look this adorable.

Safety aside, your dog deserves to look this adorable.

Rule #9: Pay Attention to Other Hikers…Including Dogs

If you see someone on the trail who is flushed, dazed, or looking ill, approach them. Tell them they look like they’re overheating and ask if they are feeling okay. Offer water. Offer to sit with them in the shade until their mind clears. You may have to insist.

Overheating messes with your brain BIG TIME. So if a person is in that state, they will often lose the ability to make sound decisions. This is why it’s a good idea to have a hiking partner. I don’t think that hiking alone shouldn’t be an option but know that you’re much safer if you have a pal looking out for you.

When it comes to dogs on the trail, please know that your dog is less capable of regulating his body temperature. Whenever you are thirsty, your dog is, too. And be mindful of how hot the trail is on their paws! Those things can blister, burn, and bleed if they are out too long on hot surfaces.

Consider buying dog paw booties. I mean, they’re adorable anyway so why not?

Rule #10: Buy My Book

I couldn’t think of a 10th tip so here’s a link to buy my book which has an entire chapter dedicated to hiking safety.

Did I forget anything? Want to add your advice? Leave a comment!

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Phoenix Summit Challenge: What You Need to Know

What a treat! This was taken on Summit #1 Holbert Trail in South Mountain.

What a treat! This was taken on Summit #1 Holbert Trail in South Mountain.

If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, you are well aware that my husband and I completed the Phoenix 4 Summit Challenge this past weekend.

This was the first year I participated in this event. And I must say, IT WAS AWESOME!

The City of Phoenix, along with their sponsors, runs this event every year. For 2013, participants could sign up for the 4, 5, or 7 Summit Challenge (the All Access Challenge was also available and includes wheelchair-friendly trails).

Naturally, I picked up a few tips along the 16 miles and 3,543 feet of elevation gain we completed (yes, I’m bragging here). So if you want to sign up next year, here’s what you should know.

Registration Begins in August & Sells Out Immediately

Be sure to follow the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association to stay in the loop for next year’s event and take note that you have to be Johnny-on-the-spot with that online registration. There are only 250 available spots in each challenge. This year, the registration for the 7 Summit Challenge sold out in 14 freakin’ minutes! The 2014 event will be the 10th anniversary of the Summit Challenge so mark your calendars now and plan to stay up until midnight the day that thing goes live. I know I will!

Dude, they had hot chocolate waiting for us! Summit #1: Dobbins Lookout from the Holbert Trail in South Mountain.

Dude, they had hot chocolate waiting for us! Summit #1: Dobbins Lookout from the Holbert Trail in South Mountain.

Try to Sign Up for the 5 Summit Challenge (At Least)

I don’t know about the other 4’s out there but I sure felt like a big ol’ wuss when I was on the trail. My friends and family may be impressed with my hiking the 4 Summit Challenge but when I was crawling up those trails with the 5’s and the 7’s, I felt like a heel. Of course, it didn’t help that when Lou and I asked a fellow hiker to take our photo on the final summit, she said, “Are you a 5 or a 7?” We had to sheepishly admit that we were “just” 4’s.

Registration Costs Money

In 2013, registration cost $75 for the Summit Challenges. All proceeds benefit trail maintenance and repair. Considering that I get to hike the City of Phoenix trails FOR FREE whenever I want, I say this is well worth it.

Kablammo! This one was the easiest of the day. Summit #2: Lookout Mountain.

Kablammo! This one was the easiest of the day. Summit #2: Lookout Mountain.

The Event Organizers Will Take Care of You

I’m a bit of a stress cadet when it comes to planning (What time should I show up? What if I can’t find parking? What if I have to pee real bad and too many people are around???) The communication from the City of Phoenix and the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association was top-notch. I signed up for their e-mail list and on the day of the event, I knew where to go, when to show up, and what to bring. Parking was a dream and each location had restrooms complete with stall doors and running water! These people seriously know what they’re doing.

Be Sure to Train

Even though we did the wimpiest of the Summit Challenges, we took the training seriously. Weeks prior to the event, we were sure to hike each of the 4 trails to familiarize ourselves with the location. The weekend prior, we hiked 3 out of 4 of the summits. Armed with practice and preparation allowed us to start the challenge feeling like capable, strong hikers. Until we were shamed for our measly 4 summits, of course.

Watch the Weather

When I started training for this, I was hiking in the heat. Then that crazy storm system rolled in and I had to reach to the back of my closet for my rarely used and  ill-fitting cold weather hiking clothes. As unattractive as I was, the rain gear, layers, and turtle fur kept me cozy and dry the entire day. Weather forecasting is a wonderful thing.

I had a super big smile for summit #3. The toughest of the day. Piestewa Peak!

I had a super big smile for summit #3. The toughest of the day. Piestewa Peak!

Pack Heavy, Travel Light

I’m no novice when it comes to all day hikes. But I’m usually on one trail with all my essential items strapped to my back. This time around, we had the luxury of hopping in and out of our car between each trail. Which meant we packed that thing with extra gear, food, drinks, clothes, and other maybe-I’ll-want-this hiking items. It was glorious. But we still managed to forget our most-needed item: extra bandanas (eye roll).

Go to the U Rock Festival

Under normal circumstances, my shyness would encourage me to skip the post-hike U ROCK Festival. This year, however, I was determined to attend so I could do a little face to face marketing for Take a Hike Phoenix. Of course I chickened out with the marketing but we had a blast at the party! We, along with other jolly hikers high from completing the challenge, stuffed our faces with delicious food from the local food trucks, cheered at the raffle give-aways (I didn’t win the $1400 REI backpacking gear prize, grrr), and drank the most delicious beer I’ve ever tasted in my life. YUM.

Embrace the Crowds

I’ll admit that the idea of hiking with 750 other people was not my idea of an ideal situation. But once I dropped my introverted attitude, I found that I was in total appreciation of my fellow hikers. The stream of folks doggedly pursuing each summit was downright inspiring. I ran into a friend from high school, a pal from work, and an old friend who now volunteers for the Central Arizona Mountain Rescue (seriously, what a badass!). I summitted Shaw Butte while chit-chatting with a dude in his 70’s, took photos of other hikers at the summits, and witnessed a blind woman (a blind woman!) climb the mountains with her two guides.

I love hikers, I really do. And I love the Phoenix Summit Challenge.

Managing a smile in spite of feeling like a wimp. Also I HATE the way the bandana in my pocket makes my stomach look all bulg-y. Ew! Summit #4: Shaw Butte.

Managing a smile in spite of feeling like a wimp. Also I HATE the way the bandana in my pocket makes my stomach look all bulg-y. Ew! Seriously, though, it was an awesome moment. Summit #4: Shaw Butte.

The National Trail

The National Trail in South Mountain is featured in my upcoming book, Take a Hike Phoenix, which hits bookstores November 19th and is now available for pre-order at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

This was just the beginning. On the west side of South Mountain Park, peering into the Estrella Mountains.

This was just the beginning. On the west side of South Mountain Park, peering into the Estrella Mountains.

I’m cuddling up on the couch with my blanket, laptop, and favorite cat right now.

My mind keeps wandering, however, to the National Trail.

The National Trail travels the South Mountain Park from end to end. It’s like walking from 40th Avenue to 40th Street. Except that you have to walk up and down a bunch of mountains to get there. It’s 14.7 miles total. I haven’t yet calculated the elevation gain but it felt like 2,000 feet (cumulative).

This is Lou.

This is Lou.

IMG_1997

This is Stephanie (she’s the best).

Lou, our friend Stephanie, and I met before sunrise at the park’s Central Ave entrance Sunday. After searching for scorpions with a black light, cramming bagels in our mouths, and taking a final bathroom break with the luxury of running water (in most cases), we set out from the west end of the park.

Within the first few miles, we started climbing. And climbing. And climbing some more. It wasn’t until mile 9 when the endless pattern of steep ascents, descents, and then ascents to climb back up the elevation we had just trekked down finally let up.

This was unexpected. I had told my hiking companions that I anticipated just one major climb that would last 2 miles. Oops.

Close to the Kiwanis Trail.

Close to the Kiwanis Trail.

We took it like a bunch of pros. Especially Stephanie. She has joined us on a few hikes throughout this book project and though she’s in great shape, she hasn’t had the 70+ hikes Lou and I have enjoyed to refine her endurance. In spite of this, she pushed on without complaint and stayed at our heels the entire time. I feel funny saying this (because I’m not her parent), but I was so dang proud of her.

In fact, I was proud of all three of us. No one freaked out. No one got angry. No one even got grumpy.

Instead, we joked and chatted (between heavy breathing) for the entire 7.5 hours.

There aren’t very many people who can pull off 7.5 hours of constant exercise with such finesse. I feel lucky to know at least two.

Seriously...what is IN THAT HOLE?

Seriously…what is IN THAT HOLE?

“I almost want to say that hike on Sunday was spiritual,” Stephanie texted to me today.

I completely agree.