10 Tips for Safe Hiking around the Phoenix Area

The trails in and around Phoenix are a great places to hike, but every summer, a number of folks over do it and have to be rescued from the trails.  In just the last week, several people were rescued from Camelback Mountain and more from other Phoenix area trails.  Including a teenage boy who was hospitalized when he became so dehydrated that he ran out of sweat and collapsed with cramps.

Worse, with an average cost of over $7K — more if a helicopter is needed — these rescues are not cheap.  Which is leading many to wonder if we need a “stupid hiker” law, similar to the “stupid motorist” law that charges motorists with the costs of rescuing them when they ignore “road closed” and “flooded” signs to cross obviously flooded washes.  You don’t want to be one of those people!  Neither does your family.

So with several weeks of triple-digit weather left to go, here are some tips to help you survive your summer hikes:

  1. Go early in the morning or late in the afternoon/evening.  The coolest time is early morning just before the sun comes up, but you’ll want to complete your hike as soon as you can, before it gets truly hot.  Second best is very late in the afternoon, just before sunset.  It will still be quite hot, but at least you won’t have the sun beating down on top of your head while slogging along.  Don’t forget your flashlight — the sun tends to set much faster than most people expect.
  2. Wear a hat.  Hat’s provide crucial protection to your head, neck, and face from the sun’s rays.  Floppy, wide-brimmed hats are the best.
  3. Wear a long-sleeve cotton shirt.  It may be uncomfortable at first, but the sleeves will protect your arms from direct sunlight and will also trap sweat.  This helps to keep you cool by evaporating in the hot, dry breezes we tend to get.
  4. Freeze a 3/4 full water-bottle before your hike and top it off with water just before you start.  The ice will melt fairly quickly, but the water should stay cooler for much longer.  Cool water helps to reduce your core body temperature and simply feels better than drinking hot water.
  5. Acclimate.  It’s best to start taking hikes early in the season before it gets hot and keeping it up even as the temperature rises.  This teaches your body to react to the heat and improves your fitness level for the stresses of the late summer months.
  6. Don’t take young children or pets on mountain trails when it’s hot.  Their small bodies don’t regulate temperature as well as adults do.  This goes for pets of all sizes, too.
  7. Stick to the clock.  In triple-digit weather, it’s important to know how long you can hike in the heat, not how far.  It doesn’t matter if you reach the summit or not, turn around when you’ve hiked for half the time you allotted.
  8. Take an extra bottle of water.  When it’s really hot, it’s recommended to take more water than you think you need.  Be sure to take a drink every few minutes.
  9. Don’t hike alone.  You should always take one or more hiking partners.  This allows each of you to keep a healthful watch on the other for signs of stress or heat exhaustion.
  10. Take your cell phone.  Although you may prefer the solitude of leaving it in the car, a cell phone will ensure you have a means of calling for help if the heat or some other disaster does get to you. 

Should there be a ‘stupid hiker’ law?
Crews rescue 8 hikers from Phoenix mountain
Boy in Serious Condition After Hiking Camelback Mountain in Severe Heat
Dangers of Taking Pets Hiking in Heat

Hiking Prescott National Forest Trail #114

Last Sunday, a friend and I hiked Trail #114 in the Prescott National Forest.  The trailhead is located about 4.5 miles west of Highway 260, at the end of Ogdon Ranch Road, just south of Cottonwood.  This was a 14 mile (round trip) hike with about 2300 feet of elevation gain, starting in the high desert and ending among pine trees.


We arrived shortly after day break.  The temperature was in the mid-sixties, and the morning sun was at our backs — perfect for hiking.

Using the trail map and description from Todd’s Desert Hiking Guide, we followed the trail as it climbed a few steep rises, gaining about 500 feet before coming out on the north side of the Black Canyon.  Roughly 600 feet above the canyon floor.

For the next several miles, the trail climbed gently until making another series of moderately steep climbs over the crest of a hill at about 6100 feet.  From here we had excellent views up and down the canyon.  We could even see the red rocks of Sedona way off in the distance to the northeast.

From the hilltop, we quickly descended about 200 feet to the canyon floor and followed along a small running stream up canyon through pine trees. After a while, we left the stream behind and, after another short climb, found ourselves at a small campground at the end of an old fire-road.

We weren’t sure if we had actually reached the end of the trail or not.  Todd’s guide mentioned that there would be a “Trail #114″ sign at this end of the path.  We wandered around a bit looking for the sign, but couldn’t find it.  But from the map and the trail description, we were pretty sure this was the end.

After a brief lunch, we turned around to head back and discovered the sign was a vertical marker stapled to the back side of a tree.  To be fair, it was probably on the front side of the tree — we were probably walking the trail in reverse from what the forest service may have intended.

We hadn’t realized it at the time, but the temperature at the top was probably in the high-sixties.  Very comfortable for relaxing a few minutes before turning around.  When we arrived back at the trailhead, the temperature was in the low to mid-eighties.  Warm, but not yet unbearably hot like it will be in just a few short weeks.  This might be a fun hike to make earlier in the season, when there’s a chance the mountain tops still have a bit of snow on them.

I didn’t see any of the animals I would have expected to find.  No lizards.  No rabbits  No small rodents.  But at one point, as we rounded a corner, we startled three javalina.  They scrambled up out of the ravine they had been sunning in and quickly trotted off down the trail ahead of us.  I snapped a picture of them before they went around the next corner, but didn’t think to zoom in for a closeup.  I kept my eyes open as we hiked on, hoping to catch another glimpse of the javalina, but we never saw them again.
More pictures (click for larger versions):