August 11, 2023

Preparing for hiking as temperatures rise

A trail marker on the Lincoln National Forest in August 2023.

Nicole Maxwell/New Mexico Political Report

A trail marker on the Lincoln National Forest in August 2023.

Preparing to take a hike has changed as the world warms. Where temperatures top out about 100 degrees for weeks, even months at a time, those who enjoy the outdoors are urged to be careful and prepare for heat-related issues.

These can be everything from heat illness to a wildfire breaking out in the vicinity of a hike as well as hiking near burn scar areas.

“Wildfires, and particularly high severity wildfires, can cause damage to trails and other recreation infrastructure like climbing areas, and campgrounds. This damage occurs during fires themselves, and also through erosion, hazard trees, and other issues that persist in a post-fire environment,” Nicole Brown, a spokeswoman for the Outdoor Alliance, said. “Stay on a designated and well-marked trail. Wildfire-impacted areas may have hidden dangers. If you need to step off the trail temporarily, tread lightly. No matter where you’re exploring, be vigilant about campfires, camp stoves or other potential sources of fire, especially when conditions are hot, dry or windy.”

In 2022, New Mexico federal and state forestry lands reported 772 total wildfires. As of Aug. 8, there have been 837 wildfires in New Mexico in 2023, according to data from the interagency Southwest Coordination Center.

One of those 2022 fires was the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire that burned 341,471 acres on the Carson National Forest.

The fires affected four Carson National Forest trails as well as a few others that were affected by suppression activities. 

“With erosion impacts and hazard tree dangers expected to continue for years, trail rehabilitation will be a long-term process,” a report on the conditions of trails in the Carson National Forest states.

The four affected trails were Serpent Lake Trail which had portions of it “burned to high severity,” Agua Piedra Trail which was partially burned by the fire and will have to be narrowed and restored, Angostura Trail and Rito Angostura Trail both have full ground evaluations coming, according to the Carson National Forest.

The Carson National Forest and its partner agency Rocky Mountain Youth Corps plan to work on the trails for seven eight-day stretches this summer and fall.

“They will prioritize clearing downed trees, maintaining tread, brushing back encroaching vegetation and mitigating immediate erosion concerns,’ the Carson National Forest stated on its Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon trail conditions page. “Staff will also continue to assess trails and make plans for long-term rehabilitation.”

A trail marker on the Lincoln National Forest in August 2023.
A trail marker on the Lincoln National Forest in August 2023.

Brown also asks hikers to consider weather conditions if hiking on or near a burn scar since stand dead trees called snags can fall during high winds also in burn scarred areas, the leafy part of the tree, called a canopy, is reduced and the hiker will experience more direct sun. 

Preparing for heat includes wearing sunscreen, a hat and drinking plenty of water.

The recommended water consumption amount is about a half-liter of water per hour of “moderate activity in moderate temperatures,” according to an article by outdoor outfitters REI Co-Op Expert Advice blog. “You may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the activity rise.”

While out on a hike or other recreational activity, hikers should note any unusual symptoms. These can indicate heat illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

The U.S. Forest Service information page on heat illnesses provides information on these illnesses.

USFS has some tips for those venturing out:

  • Drink plenty of water. Avoid sugary drinks and alcohol, as they can lead to dehydration.
  • Stay in the shade whenever possible
  • Schedule the most rigorous activities for early or later in the day
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing
  • Keep a close eye on older adults, children, and those with chronic medical conditions.

Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms during intense exercise, there is also profuse sweating with heat cramps. 

If you or someone in your party is exhibiting those symptoms, the USFS suggests to stop physical activity, go to a cool place, drink water or a sports drink, wait for the cramps to cease before continuing. However, medical help may be needed if the cramps last more than an hour and if the person is on a low sodium diet or has heart problems.

Heat exhaustion is denoted by heavy sweating; cold, pale and clammy skin; a fast, weak pulse, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps, tiredness or weakness, dizziness, headache and fainting.

If you or someone in your party is showing these symptoms, the best thing to do is to move to a cool place, loosen clothing, put cool, wet clothing on or take a cool bath, sip water.

Medical help may be needed if the person is vomiting, if their symptoms get worse or last longer than an hour.

The most dangerous heat illness is heat stroke.

A person has heat stroke if their body temperature is 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, if they have hot, dry or damp skin; a fast, strong pulse, dizziness, nausea, confusion and fainting.

If a person in your party shows signs of heat stroke first call 911 since heat stroke is a medical emergency, move the person to a cool place, try to lower the person’s body temperature by putting cool clothes on them or give them a cool bath. If a person is suffering from heat stroke, do not give them anything to drink if the person is unconscious, the USFS information page states.

“If the person is conscious, offer chilled water, a sports drink containing electrolytes or other nonalcoholic beverage without caffeine,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Begin CPR if the person loses consciousness and shows no signs of circulation, such as breathing, coughing or movement.”