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Life in Rural America

Dangers of hot weather hiking

On a hiking trip a couple of weeks ago I experienced some of the first signs of heat exhaustion, which were dry skin, rapid heartbeat, fatigue and muscle cramps. This was the same trip where I found the abandoned hunting camp. I knew that I was getting too hot, daytime highs were near 100 degrees in the shade. My heart was beating so hard I could hear the beats.  While walking up a hill my leg muscles started to cramp; I knew I was in trouble. There just happened to be a small tree that provided a nice shady spot. The backpack was dropped, I laid down, took my bandana off and laid it over my shirtless chest.

My cell phone just happened to have one – two bars of service. I pulled up google earth, took a screen shot of my location and sent it to my fiancee through facebook chat. My location was only about 1 1/2 miles from home, but it might as been 100 miles with my legs cramping.  In case things went from bad to real bad, at least someone had my location.

While laying under that small shade tree I finished off about half a canteen of water. I almost took a nap, but figured it would be safer to stay awake.

Resting under a shade tree

Resting under a shade tree

After relaxing in the shade of that nice small tree I felt better, stood up, put my pack on and continued. At the top of the hill I hit an old logging road. I was disoriented as to the direction I should turn. I knew that was a fork in the road a short distance from where I was, but which way did I need to turn? I turned left. After maybe 100 yards I sat down, looked at my map, double checked with google earth and figured out I had turned the wrong way.

Overgrown logging road

Overgrown logging road.

When timber companies cut timber they make temporary roads through the forest to get the timber out.  Once the timber has been cut and new trees planted the roads are abandoned.  After a few years the roads overgrow.  After a decade or so the roads may vanish, as they are reclaimed by nature.

I rarely if ever use google earth on a hiking trip. Normally I use a topo map, compass and very old Garmin GPS that helps determine my location and the bearing I need to go. I then double check the GPS with a topo map and map compass. Being fatigued and experiencing heat exhaustion I decided to use all of the navigational aids I had at hand. I broke out the cell phone with google earth, determined my location then used a compass at the fork of the road to decide which direction to go.

A short distance after the fork in the overgrown logging road I hit a slightly more permanent road.  This one is driven on from time to time by locals but is still a long ways off the beaten path.

Rural dirt road

Rural dirt road.

Once I got off the abandoned logging road I knew things were still going to be rough. I was in direct sunlight, temps close to 100 degrees, almost out of water, legs were cramping, skin was dry, but I knew every step took me a step closer to home. If things got real bad I was on a road and would be easy to find. There were several times were I almost stopped and used my phone to call for someone to come get me. I kept reminding myself that I started this trip and I was going to finish it. Hardship builds endurance. No matter how bad things get, keep going. However, there comes a point where putting oneself at risk is foolish.

On this hiking trip I made a series of mistakes that did result in heat exhaustion and could have easily resulted in heat stroke.  Let’s talk about some of those mistakes.

The Heat

On the day of the hike forecast said the daytime temps were supposed to be in the upper 90s.  Come to find out the high temperature reached 100 degrees.  Just as the cold, rain, thunderstorms,,,, can be underestimated so can the heat.

The heat is not like a thunder cloud in the distance, it is more like a predator in the night.  It slowly creeps up on you.  Before you realize what is happening sometimes it is too late.

You are a little thirsty, then a lot thirsty, then the sweating stops and the muscle cramps,,,,, then you feel like passing out.

Clothing

I made the mistake of wearing a Carhart shirt, light gray, that is made from heavy weight cotton.  Not just cotton, but a heavy cotton.  As most hikers know cotton kills.  Cotton holds sweat and does not dry well.  This means less evaporation than synthetics.  Less evaporation means less cooling.   By the time I reached the first rest spot I was burning up.  I had to remove the shirt so sweat could evaporate and my skin cool off.

Cotton shirt on a hiking trip

Cotton shirt on a hiking trip. Topo map and GPS on the tree stump.

I “thought” wearing a light color would help with the heat, but I did not know the shirt was almost 100% cotton until after I got home.  Next time I will make sure my shirt is a blend of synesthetic and cotton.  There are some shirts out there that are advertised as having a “wicking” technology, as in they “wick” the moisture away from your skin.  I have not tried these shirts but plan on it in the near future.

Pants were levis.  I have some pants that are probably better suited for hot weather conditions, but I like how levis protect my legs from stickers.

Boots were Brazos task force BR6020.  These boots do not have the zipper on the side.  If I remember right I bought them from Academy Sports and Outdoors in Beaumont Texas several years ago.  They did well in the hike, just as they have done in previous hikes.  It might be time to get another pair soon as they are getting a little wore on the bottom and the arch support is not what it used to be.

Backpack

For this trip I decided to take along a Red Rock Outdoor Gear side sling instead of a two shoulder strap pack.  This is the first time I have used a side sling pack on a 5+ mile hike.  Towards the end I greatly regretted my decision.

With no shirt on the single strap rubbed my shoulder raw.  I took a bandanna and put it between the strap and my skin.  This helped for a little while, then my left shoulder start aching from bearing all of the weight of the pack for several hours.  I had to take the pack off and carry it with my right hand to give my left shoulder a break.  After awhile my right arm got tired, so back on the left shoulder the Red Rock Outdoor Gear pack went, which brought back the aching and soreness.

Side sling packs might be good for short hikes but I certainly will not use another one on a 5+ mile hike.  I was not carrying “that” much gear either.  The stuff that could of been left at home are a Schrade SCHF36 and a snap-on multitool.  Everything else I thought was needed in the given situation:

Red Rock Outdoor Gear Rambler Sling Pack.
Garmin Etrex GPS.
USGS TOPO map.
No name map compass X 2. I like to bring a spare compass.
Schrade SCHF36.
Jack Links small batch peppered beef jerky.
Cliff bars – crunchy peanut butter.
Frito-lay sunflower seeds – original and ranch flavor, 2 packs of each.
Ramen noodles – chicken flavor, 1 pack.
Mountain house freeze dried pouch – scrambled eggs with bacon.
Bandanna.
Repel insect repellent – 40% deet.
Small notepad with 2 ball point pens.
Snap-on multitool.
1 liter water bottle.
Military canteen in MOLLE pouch with stainless steel cup.
PUR water filter – no longer made. PUR outdoor line sold to Katadyn
Bic lighter.
Spool of braided trotline string; cordage for making shelter.
Military grade poncho.
Knife sharpener.
Toilet paper.
Flashlight – uses AA batteries. GPS and flashlight both use AA batteries.

With daytime temps in the upper 90s I brought a poncho, cord and extra food just in case I needed to spend a night in the woods. Why would I need to spend the night? If I got too hot and could not continue. I planned on resting near a creek, making camp and spending the night, then continue home the next day.

Southeast Texas creek with clear running water.

Southeast Texas creek with clear running water.

There are several creeks running through my hiking path. Some with nice clear running water, some were dry and some that were barely moving. If heat exhaustion had set in so that I could not continue I hoped on at least making it to one of the creeks and spending the night.  I knew my location and where the creeks were at.  At every creek I asked myself if I could make it to the next one.  If the answer was “no, I can not make it.” I would have stopped and set up camp.

Hiking alone

I usually make this hike with at least one other person, but on this trip I decided to go alone.  I wanted to have peace and quiet and did not want anyone with me.  The drawback, if I became injured, experienced heat stroke,,,,, or anything else, there would be nobody to help.

Going on a trip by yourself gives one a chance to relax in the peace and quiet of the wilderness.  Being alone however has its dangers.  I was well aware of the danger and took certain precautions in case something happened while on the trip.

Precautions

Now that we have talked about what I did wrong, let’s look at what I did so I could be found.

Someone familiar with the area dropped me off.  In case something happened, someone who knew the back roads would be able to tell search and rescue where I started the hike.

The start point of my hike was also marked on google earth on my home computer.

When I started experiencing leg cramps I just happened to have cell phone service.  I pulled up google earth on my cell phone, took a screen shot of my location and sent it to my fiancee using facebook chat.

Made sure I was not far from a logging road or pipeline.  Old logging roads and pipelines run through the area where I was hiking.  I knew where they were located at and kept a mental note on how to get to one if I ran into heat related issues.  Searchers would be using the logging roads and pipelines to search for me.

What is a pipeline?

A pipeline is an area where a piece of pipe is buried.  The pipe could be carrying oil or some other type of petroleum product.  The area where the pipeline runs through the wilderness is kept cleared by work crews using tractors or other heavy equipment.

Pipeline running through wilderness.

Pipeline running through wilderness.

Brought poncho and cord to build a shelter.

Brought battery pack for cell phone.

Had a USGS topo map and two map compasses. I like to have a spare compass.

Brought a GPS and spare batteries.

Brought enough food to spend the night.

Stuff to build a fire with – dryer lint and bic lighter.

Brought a stainless steel canteen cup, just in case I needed to boil water.

Brought a water filter, canteen and water bottle.

Ate sunflower seeds to have salt intake during the hike.

Wore leather boots with nylon upper.  Copper heads and coral snakes are semi-common in southeast Texas.  The snakes are of no real danger if your feet are covered.

Thoughts

Share your thoughts and comments.  Have you experienced heat stroke or heat exhaustion while on a hike?

If you are a member of the forum, here is a link to the forum thread – dangers of hot weather hiking.

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Kevin Felts was born and raised in southeast Texas, graduated from Bridge City high school Bridge City Texas, and attended Lamar College in Port Arthur Texas. Hobbies include fishing, hiking, hunting, blogging, sharing his politically incorrect opinion, video blogging on youtube, survivalism and spending time with his family. In his free time you may find Kevin working around the farm, building something, or tending to the livestock

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  • Pat Reece

    Very interesting read here. I have read it over a few times. I would never hike in that kind of heat. Thank goodness you had phone service if something bad was to happen. Hiking and heat is not a good combination. You have a fiancee now? I was reading back last year you were writing about your divorce. I am not one to give my opinion much. Isn’t it kinda soon? Thanks for another good article.

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