Last Sunday I took my nieces climbing outdoors in Southern California so they could earn the new Outdoor High Adventure Girl Scout badge. I had help from their parents and I also recruited climbing friend Christina, and legendary climber and author, John Long. With Southern California going through a hot, humid, heat wave, I had limited choices of where to take my nieces for their first time climbing on real rock. I picked a spot in the Santa Monica mountains, hoping that getting up higher would help. Even so I knew we’d be in for some heat so I went over my hot weather tips with my nieces before hand and thought I’d share them here as well!
1. Adjust your schedule. Start early. For my outing with my nieces I had logistical limitations because of people coming from different directions, but I still made our rendevzous point as early as I could. When going out with my regular climbing partners I tend to shift to an early morning schedule if the weather’s going to be really hot. This is particularly advisable if you are somewhere like the Sierras where afternoon thunderstorms can develop. Locally in Southern California, we’ll sometimes climb early, take an afternoon break and then climb well into the evening. Always having a headlamp in your pack gives you great options.
2. Dress accordingly. Some might think this always means shorts and tank tops (or no shirt if you’re a guy) but if you’re going to have a lot of sun exposure you might think about wearing a wicking long sleeve shirt. I’ve sometimes been cooler wearing my white long sleeve sun shirt than sporting bare arms. Also, don’t forget about a sun hat. You may not wear it while climbing but even short approaches can be made more comfortable if you’re bringing some portable shade with you. Think about your footwear as well. Approach shoes with mesh or Chaco sandals are my top choices for when it gets really hot. I’ll sometimes wear Injinji sock liners with my Chacos on a long approach where I want to be careful not to get blisters. Speaking of blisters, I try to air out my feet whenever I can on a hot day, for example if we take a break from the approach before climbing, I’ll take my shoes off for air. Moisture can mean blisters (and smelly climbing shoes!). Also, I know you know this but… wear sunscreen!
3. Drink lots of liquids. I think we all know how important it is to bring water. When it’s hot it’s best to bring even more than usual and to add in something to replace the electrolytes lost when you sweat. For this reason I like to bring some kind of “sports drink” in addition to water. I also find a flavored drink helps me consume more than if I just stuck to plain water. There are two ways I might bring a sports drink. The first way is to bring a powdered or tablet version of an electrolyte drink to add to water. Gatorade comes in powdered form and Nuun tablets work well. If you do this then you can decide how strong you want to make your drink, and it lets you time when you want to switch away from water. My second, and favorite way, to bring a sports drink on a hot day is to bring it frozen. I freeze a Gatorade bottle and pop it in my pack. You can let it melt a little, drink some of it off and then add some regular water to dilute the drink. You can shake up the bottle to make a refreshing slushy. During the climbing day with my nieces I brought two frozen Gatorades and let them use them while still frozen to press against their face and necks to cool off after our approach hike.
4. Find the shade. This is how I was able to climb in Joshua Tree National Park in August. Do a bit of research before heading to a new place and find out which climbs will be shaded. If you can’t research before you go to a place, ask some locals. A nice waitress in Mammoth steered my friends and I to a new crag with advice for shade. We were quite grateful for it. On the other hand, climbing day with the nieces we did not have any shade during the climbs and we all had to limit our exposure and get shade in between climbs.
5. Keep Water in the Car. I keep an insulated bottle of cold water in the car so I can refresh myself as soon as I get to it. If the car is still hot, I can let it cool off a little while I have a cold drink.
What happens if you don’t follow the tips?
While I have successfully climbed in many very hot places all over the country, unfortunately the day I took my nieces out, I didn’t completely follow my own advice. For one, it would have been better if we had met even earlier than we had to beat more of the heat, being up higher on the mountain did not help as much as I had hoped. Secondly, while I did bring more liquids than usual, I ended up giving one of my Gatorades away, and sharing the remaining one, leaving me with just one liter of plain water. I also didn’t have access to the water in my car because we carpooled some of the way and I had left it in my car at the first rendezvous point. Lastly, we did not get any shade during the actual climbs. As a result, after getting down from the mountains, I found myself with a headache and feelings of nausea. Fortunately by the time it really came on I was already sipping a cold drink in an air conditioned restaurant.
What had likely happened to me was that I was experiencing heat exhaustion, type of heat related illness. What I was already doing (stopping exertion, moving to a cool place, drinking electrolytes) was what the Mayo Clinic recommended and I soon felt a lot better.
Hopefully, you’ll follow my tips better than I did Sunday, and can go on to enjoy your summer!
By the way, my nieces loved climbing outside and want to go again!