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Extreme heat is making Zion National Park dangerous for visitors

It’s still safe to visit, but only if you’re prepared and take precautions.

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Hikers rest on the Angel's Landing trail in Zion National Park in 2009. The park is recommending against making this hike in the current extreme heat.

Staffers at Zion National Park (ZNP) aren’t telling visitors to stay home because of the extreme heat, but they are telling park goers to exercise caution to avoid getting heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

“We’re seeing injuries” as a result of the ongoing heat wave, said Daniel Fagergren, the chief ranger at ZNP. He didn’t have an exact number, but said there have been “about two dozen” heat-related medical calls in the past month — most in the past three weeks. This past weekend, park personnel responded to six heat-related injuries on the West Rim Trail within the span of about two hours, he said.

“When we see temperatures reach the 105 threshold, that’s when we start seeing heat-related illness,” he said.

On Sunday, an Ohio woman died — apparently of heat-related illness — while hiking in the Grand Canyon, where temperatures reached 115. And that could happen at Zion.

“Absolutely,” Fagergren said. “That’s the danger, and it’s very real.”

(Courtesy of Zion National Park) Here are suggestions for how to beat the heat in Zion National Park.

The temperatures in Zion aren’t far off from what they are in the Grand Canyon because the canyon walls “absorb the heat” and “radiate it back into the canyon,” Fagergren said. “So it might be 105 degrees in Hurricane and it could be upwards of 111 or 112 in Zion.”

The combination of heat and “strenuous exercise” are “the recipe for heat injuries,” he said. “That’s when you start seeing people get sick. When their body temperatures reach 103 degrees or higher, they have to be cooled immediately. Otherwise, the brain will eventually succumb to that heat. And, basically, that level of heat starts to cook internal organs and the brain. It can kill you.”

He advised visitors to “shorten the duration of your hike. Instead of completing the loop, maybe only go a little ways.” And “avoid climbs” and other “strenuous activities,” like hiking the West Rim Trail to Scouts Lookout and the chain section of the hike to Angels Landing.

“Those are all elevation climbs,” he said, “and those are the kinds of hikes that you want to avoid in the heat because you are going to get thirsty, you are going to get tired. And if you’re not prepared, if you’re out of shape, you’re likely going to have heat induced injury as a result.

Instead, he said, take the easy hike through the Narrows where “there’s lots of shade and of course, there’s the water. And those two contributing factors limit the exposure to heat injuries.”

(You’ll want to avoid swimming, splashing and putting your head in the water in the Narrows, which is under warning because of the presence of cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins.)

The advice from Zion staff also includes using sunscreen; wearing sunglasses and lightweight clothing; pacing yourself and taking frequent breaks in the shade while hiking; avoiding being active in the hottest parts of the day; bringing water and refilling your water containers at fill stations; and eating salty snacks.

“That’s the secret,” Fagergren said. “Being prepared, knowing your limitations, watching the weather — kind of all of those things coming together to make wise choices.”

Bring water, wear the proper clothes, check weather conditions and be aware that temperatures will rise during the day. “We really want folks to know before you go — really plan ahead of time,” said Zion spokeswoman Amanda Rowland.

They also advised knowing the abilities of each member of your group, not just those of the strongest hikers.

“Is it safe to visit? It is,” Rowland said. But visitors might need to change their plans “because maybe somebody doesn’t feel well. … We definitely don’t want visitors to push themselves because of how heat can impact the park visitors.”

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