There’s no argument that the lack of cold winter weather has many people flocking to Valley area mountain trails.
Unfortunately, too often, hikers soaking in sunshine and attempting a bucket list adventure find themselves in precarious situations that require a call to 911.
[SPECIAL SECTION: Weather blog]
According to data released Sunday from the Phoenix Fire Department, there have been roughly two dozen mountain rescue incidents since January 1, 2018. While it may seem like a lot over a span of about a month, this is actually a pretty typical number this time of the year. Sadly, at least one case ended in tragedy this past Thursday.
“The most significant mountain rescue to date this year was a death of a 43-year-old man at Camelback. The person was from Florida and hiking with family when he suffered a cardiac event. He also was not feeling well the day before, per family, but wanted to hike with them,” said Phoenix Fire Captain Larry Subervi.
The top four Phoenix area trails known for notoriously catching hikers off guard are Camelback’s Echo Canyon trail, Piestewa Summit trail, Camelback’s Cholla trail and South Mountain’s Pima Canyon trail.
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Most commonly, hikers reportedly get stuck on these mountains after slipping, falling, rolling an ankle, becoming dehydrated, suffering from breathing problems like asthma, and even having heart conditions.
“Injuries are difficult to avoid and are part of the calculated risk when a hiker decides to take on a trail. We encourage people never to jog or run on uneven terrain. Jogging down a trail is when we see the most significant trauma injuries,” said Subervi.
Warm weather woes
In some cases, spring-like Valley temperatures that desert-dwellers are accustomed to, are proving to be detrimental for people vacationing from chillier parts of the country.
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“Even though we may feel the weather is perfect here, visitors need to understand that our bodies naturally acclimate to our permanent residence. If it is 80 degrees here in January but that’s summer weather in Idaho, then the person is actually hiking some of the most difficult urban trails in the country during their summer,” said Subervi. “Even experienced hikers from cold weather states will struggle on our trails. We see more serious medical emergencies from hikers that are not native to the Valley.
Avoiding a mountain rescue
Emergency responders encourage people who don’t hike often to start on a flat or mild to moderate trail before attempting Camelback and Piestewa.
One day prior to the hike, proper nutrition is key. Eat a variety of proteins and healthy carbs, along with drinking plenty of water. Like a car with gasoline, if your body doesn’t have any fuel, you aren’t going to successfully make it to your destination.
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“Hikers should listen to their bodies and immediately stop, rest, and then head down if they feel fatigued. Over three-quarters of our responses happen after a hiker has reached the summit and are on their way down. Hikers will push and use every bit of energy to make it to the top and then collapse on the way down,” said Subervi. “Injuries are also more likely as people come down.”
Keep an eye on friends and family
Those of us who call the Valley home have a responsibility to keep our out of town guests safe. It’s a bad idea to challenge visitors to hike Camelback if they are not experienced and have not gotten used to the warm weather.
“The eye test does not work. Never look at someone and think ‘they look fit. They can do it,’” said Subervi. “We have fatalities every year from people that made it to the summit, but never made it down.”
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