Camelology with Ranger Jim - Summertime Hiking Tips

Posted by Jes Shapiro on

CamelbackCulture presents Camel-ology

Camel-ology… the study of the Camel

Summer is here!

Summer is here and the temperatures in the Valley of the Sun are getting lit! We know a lot of the Community still rocks hiking all summer long; CamelbackCulture sat down with Phoenix Ranger Jim Sweazy, at the Echo Canyon Trailhead, to talk about the potential hazards of summer hiking and best practices to stay safe and Super!

Rescues are on the rise on our hiking trails, mostly due to heat. Ranger Jim describes how what begins as a heat-related illness can rapidly turn into an injury as well, “if you are getting overheated and losing concentration and not as strong as you should be, you’re gonna fall down harder.” The uptick in our temperatures also changes the habits of the critters of the Camel, creating more chances for getting acquainted with rattlesnakes, bees and even Gila monsters!

critters of the camel

Critters of the Camel

We must respect, and remain cautious of, the inhabitants of the Mountain. While Mr. Sweazy is unaware of any snake bite incidents on Camelback Mountain, they do happen on other trails in the Valley. Recently, the Community has reported and posted snakes sightings on the Camel— particularly at markers 27, 28 and 29. According to this article on PhoenixMag.com, “Early mornings and late afternoons are when rattlers are most active.” The snakes enjoy spending the day regulating their temperature, slithering between hot rocks and cool shade. It is best to keep your eyes and ears open (so maybe rethink exterior noise cancelling headphones) and if you see or hear a rattler, give it a wide berth. As Ranger Jim puts it, “Don’t take a selfie with a snake!”

When you’re making the Rise and hear that ominous hum… watch for Bees. Africanized honey bees, to be specific, out gathering pollen and nectar from all the blooming plants. So what does that mean? Learn more about their origins and behaviors in this article from azcentral.com. Basically, they are more aggressive honey bees. Sweazy breaks it down for us like this: if an average domesticated honey bee hive had 10,000 bees and you kicked it, 1,000 may come out to defend it.  However, with an Africanized hive of 10,000 bees, 9,000 would come out to defend it and much more aggressively. Watch this clip to learn the bee warning signs that you are headed in the wrong direction and please note, there is a large hive close to the trail in the area of marker 12.

bees on saguaro blooms

On much rarer occasions, a Gila monster is seen along our trails. These unusual creatures are one of the few poisonous lizards on the planet; they do not seek to attack humans and will hiss a warning when feeling threatened. If you do make the mistake of getting bitten by one, get medical attention as soon as possible. Gila monsters have a strong bite and will latch on until they no longer feel you are a menace. As we covered before, they are poisonous; while not deadly, it can cause unpleasant side effects. Find more information here.

CamelbackCulture July 4, 2019

Hydrating and Snacking

We are often reminded to hydrate when hiking in the heat, but what is the best way to do this? Mr. Sweazy recommends to “drink a gallon of water THE DAY BEFORE. Get it in the system. Don’t drink a gallon of water before you start!” Having a large amount of water in your stomach while exerting yourself can make you sick— and no one wants to be the person doubled over on the trail. Also, as you hike, it is advisable to only take small sips along the way.

To cool down after a hike, “don’t start gulping ice cold water cause your stomach has to warm it up.” This can cause your stomach to clinch up and expel its contents (seeing a theme here?) He suggests pouring cold water over your forearms first and then your back; explaining we have a lot of blood flow in that area and it will help cool us down.  If you are still feeling overheated, you can try pouring cold water over your head— this is not advisable until you’ve started to cool down because it can shock the system and potentially trigger a stroke.

How about food? Should you slam that big lumberjack breakfast before you make the rise? No, he suggests a light meal before starting. Same rule applies for eating as water consumption: having a lot in your belly in not a good idea before a hike. Carry some healthy snacks if you burn up your energy along the way.

Also, “don’t party down yesterday and go hiking the day after!” Ranger Jim stresses that your body needs at least 2-3 days of good recovery, with lots of hydration and proper nutrition, before your body is recovered enough to take on an AZ summer hike.

CamelbackCulture Community shoes and hats

Clothing and Gear

From top to bottom, what you chose to wear on a hike can greatly affect your experience. Starting with a hat, large brimmed hat is best; covering your face, neck and ears. Bandanas and arm sleeves soaked in cold water can be a nice cool down.  Avoid materials that don’t breathe well and trap heat next to your skin. Ranger Sweazy recommends choosing looser, light colored clothing and “don’t make a fashion statement with a black outfit… cause you’re gonna cook!” How about footwear? Shoes with good tread are highly recommended. “No more flip flops on the trail!” he pleads. Of course, always remember to put on sunscreen!

CamelbackCulture under the sun

Temperatures to watch out for

We see triple digit temperatures in the Valley for much of the summer. At what temperature do things start to get really dicey? “For dogs, its 100 degrees (Fahrenheit),” Jim tells us, “if you’re taking your dog anywhere that’s more than 100, you’re breaking the law.”  (Check out this article from azfamily.com for more on that)  While our furry friends aren’t allowed on Camelback Mountain, its a good guideline to remember. For us bi-peds, 110 degrees (Fahrenheit) is the point the Parks Department starts adding hydration stations at the main trailheads. You can find more information on hiking in the heat on the City of Phoenix website, link here.

Best bet is to go early in the day to beat the heat and stay safe. If you do enjoy hitting the trail later in the day, check this link to learn the signs of heatstroke.

CamelbackCulture summer days

Thank You

Much thanks to Ranger Jim Sweazy for taking time to share this information with the CamelbackCulture Community. We sincerely appreciate all our Rangers and volunteer trail stewards, for all they do to maintain our trails. Remember to stay smart, stay safe, stay Super!

Be sure to check out our CamelbackCulture Community Spotlight Blog too. Keep up with the Community by following us on Instagram and Facebook for more Culture - Clothes - Community

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