Palo Duro Canyon Hiker Dies From Heat Exhaustion – How to Be Safe in the Heat
This past 4th of July weekend, a 53-year-old woman died from apparent heat exhaustion in Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, a popular destination for hikers and campers.
Officials at Palo Duro Canyon have safety measures in place. However, many folks do not realize how quickly extreme heat and exertion can cause severe injury or death.
Many people overestimate their physical capabilities and underestimate the amount of water and food they need. Furthermore, canyons are hotter the deeper you go, so it's important to remember that 100 degrees at the top of the canyon could be significantly hotter at the base. Not to mention the rocks. Stand next to a brick wall after its been in the sun for a few hours and you'll feel that it's very much like an oven.
In addition to limiting your exposure to the heat if you have medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, back or knee problems and heart conditions, here are a few tips straight from the National Park Service about hiking safely in the heat:
- PLAN AHEAD Your descent marks your entry into a world in which planning and preparation, self-reliance, and good choices are crucial. Don't hike alone. Know what your destination will be and how to get there. Know where water is available. Get the weather forecast. Don't overestimate your capabilities. Hike intelligently. You are responsible for your own safety as well as that of everyone in your party. Stay on the trail and never shortcut switchbacks.
- BE KIND TO YOURSELF You will be hiking at high elevation in hot, dry desert conditions with a steep climb out at the end of the day. Everyone who hikes in the canyon for the first time reports that it was more difficult than they expected. Be conservative in planning your hike!
- BE A LIGHTWEIGHT Travel as light as possible. The heaviest items in your pack should be food and water. Use hiking sticks to take stress off your legs. Wear well-fitting and broken-in hiking boots. Bring a small lightweight flashlight and a change of batteries and bulb. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Bring a map, compass, signal mirror or whistle, first aid kit, and water purification tablets. Keep in mind that all trash (including biodegradable) needs to be carried out of the canyon.
- AVOID HUFFING AND PUFFING If you can talk while you are walking, you are walking the perfect speed.
- TAKE A 10-MINUTE BREAK AT LEAST ONCE EVERY HOUR Take a break at least every hour. Sit down and prop your legs up. Eat some food, drink some fluids, and take this time to enjoy and appreciate the view. These efficient breaks can recharge your batteries.
- DRINK FREQUENTLY AND EAT OFTEN Eat and drink more than you normally do. Eat before, during, and after your hike. Eat before you are hungry. Drink before you are thirsty. No matter what the temperature, you need water and energy to keep going. For every hour hiking in the canyon, you should drink ½ to 1 quart (liter) of water or sports drink.
- WATCH YOUR TIME Plan on taking twice as long to hike up as it took to hike down. Allow 1/3 of your time to descend and 2/3 of your time to ascend. As a courtesy, give uphill hikers the right of way. Bring a small, lightweight flashlight in case you end up hiking in the dark.