This week’s heat wave poses a conundrum for the Seattle-area hiker: You want to make the most of our dry hiking season, but passing out on the trail from heat stroke isn’t exactly how you want your outing to end.
While my instinct when it’s 90+ is to drop down to the nearest beach for regular cooling dips – the lake will do, salt water is even better – here are some suggestions for combating the safe heat if you plan to hike in the future days.
First light is around 5am at this time of year, which means there are several early morning hours of relatively cool temperatures – 60s and 70s – before the heat really heats up. If your hiking aspirations include anywhere with a view (see below), the first part of the day is a reliable and safe choice for getting up and down. Even mid to late morning, any section of trail that is fully exposed to the sky, such as an alpine section or open prairie, will start to bake.
…and skip the view
The surest way to stay out of the scorching sun is to seek out the shady forest. Find a trail that winds through the subalpine – even if the trail ends up reaching an alpine goal, you can always turn around at the tree line. Low-altitude trails are your friends. The Taylor River Trailaccessible from Southeast Middle Fork Road on Interstate 90 just beyond North Bend, feels like it could go on forever through a cool, shady forest.
Water, water, everywhere
Heat wave or not, our mountain rivers, alpine lakes and salt water are always reliably cold. Walk along a river valley and feel the cooling effect of a stream flowing from a frosted glacier above. Find an alpine lake with a wooded approach, then cool off with a dip. Seek out public land along Puget Sound and enjoy the natural cooling effect as a breeze blows in salt water.
While the beach itself will feel all the wrath of the sun, there are often wooded paths near the water – and the water itself is surefire cooling after sweating it out. Some suggestions: Check out the new free field guide for 24 trails off the beaten path on Whidbey and Camano Islands (st.news/24-trails). Or explore the trails at Evergreen State College’s Olympia Campus that criss-cross 1,000 acres of forest and lead to 3,000 feet of waterfront (st.news/evergreen-trails).
When the great natural air conditioning unit in our area, Puget Sound, falters in the face of a heat wave, it’s time to call in the big guns. Head to the coast, where that burning orb in the sky is no match for the vast cold North Pacific. The 73 miles of coastline managed by Olympic National Park are a paradise for scorching hikers. Temperatures along the coast this week may not exceed 80 degrees. If you don’t want to go that far, Hoh Rainforest, also in Olympic National Park, ticks many of the boxes above. Heading west is also a way to avoid unhealthy levels of ozone trapped in the foothills of the Cascades by the anticyclonic system this week.
The usual precautions apply, then some
In addition to the 10 essentials: Extra water, extra sunscreen, extra-wide brim hat, extra light breathable clothing. When it comes to packing items that keep you cool, hydrated, and protected from the sun, the more the better when hiking in a heat wave.