Monday, July 5, 2010

Heat Hike

At noon on July 5, you can always get a good parking spot at Camelback Mountain. It was 98, according to my iPhone.

Ninety-eight isn't so hot for a summer hiker around here. It was like a warm, spring day, (I'm talking about a normal spring, which it wasn't this year). I've certainly hiked Camelback in far worse conditions, in terms of temp, humidity and lack of wind.

Yet the sun was strong -- the temp later topped out at 105. To be sure, it was a hot hike. The incredible June we've just had lulled me into the delusion that the summer might not include a hellacious heat wave. I knew all along it would, of course, and when the normal weather finally arrived I figured there was no use fighting it. I needed a mid-day hike to set the tone for the next few weeks.

A few short years ago, almost no one would be on the mountain at this time, but the recession is keeping a lot of people in town. More Phoenix residents than ever in the last couple of years have discovered that Camelback -- and Piestewa, South Mountain and other mountain parks -- are wonderful diversions if you can't afford San Diego, Flagstaff or elsewhere. That's meant more people in nice weather and "bad."

I sweated my butt off and was grateful for the breeze that whipped up every few minutes. My pace is always slower in the heat -- so is everyone else's. Today, maybe half the folks seemed to be suffering. I didn't do too badly, but I took two water breaks.

For some reason, I often get passed at least once when it's warm, though usually not at all during un-hot days. Why is this?

Well, as I've mentioned before, it seems like the heat brings out the more hardcore people. These are folks who, like me, enjoy the challenge of the intense Phoenix heat. Perhaps it's the higher ratio of hardcore hikers that explains why I get passed more often. Or maybe it's that I almost never stop on the way to the summit, but on hot days I'm willing to take a break or two and not push myself. (That makes sense to me, because when the air temperature is higher than your body temperature and you're working out in direct sunlight, ignoring what your body tells you can be dangerous. Heat exhaustion can come on suddenly. When I know the weather will be extreme, I take at least one water bottle packed with ice-water, with lots of ice -- enough to have a couple of pieces of ice still floating in the water when I reach the summit. I also wear a hat. Noticed a few people today without one. I don't know how they do it).

The final possibility is that I hike more during the cooler seasons and, therefore, I'm in better shape.

Whatever it is, it's just one of those things I think about as I'm hiking. I don't mean to imply I feel I'm in a race, though I'll admit to a sense of competition among other hikers. If passed, I don't put on speed and try to retake the lead. I suppose on occasion I've increased speed, slightly, when it's clear the person who passed me is a poseur who isn't able to hold the pace. Then, when the poseur stops because he's overestimated his abilities and gets pooped, I'll have a solid pass. The mental competition helps me move up the slope and measure my climbing shape against others. (There is a prize for great performances, though -- I get to hike even tougher mountains!) Most of the time, if you started after me and you pass me, you win. I never attempt to race anyone. That would be lame. And since my cruising speed is a fairly high RPM for me, I'm unlikely to redline for very long.

Going down, I never worry about these things and can be passed by some of the folks I passed on the way up. I've gotten hurt falling while running down Camelback as if I was on a ski run, and I've also seen a guy break his arm doing it. I'll come back to those stories some other time.

Back to the hike:

At the summit, I took refuge under a palo verde I've used before for just such heat breaks and sipped the icy Gatorade I had brought. A bee began buzzing around my sweat-soaked shirt, so I poured a bit of ice and water on the ground to divert its attention. A minute later, a cute little fence lizard appeared out of nowhere and acted like it had been given a gift from heaven. I lingered in the semi-shade of the palo for a bit, watching it lick the ice and sit among the cubes like he was in a Palm Springs spa.

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