“It may seem ridiculous for an experienced walker to feel ill at ease about routine matters almost every time he starts on a major journey. But more is involved than experience. Whether you like it or not, the occasion tells: most people, I think, suffer some degree of stage fright on their first day at a new job. The sidecanyon up and away from Supai had been in a sense the real beginning of my journey, and I had duly suffered stage fright. Within a mile of the village, traveling too fast over rough ground and moving about as nimbly as a no-toed sloth, I twice stumbled and almost sprawled full length.
But I must not mislead you into believing that even in those first days of earthbound effort I was totally imprisoned by the brutal immediacies of the physical world. The Canyon, as I have said, had its moments. Deep in a sidecanyon, a Sphinx overhang, massive with hints of wisdom, brooded above a seep spring. A torch cactus, angling out from its crevice, cocked a slyly humorous snook. I lay on naked rock, sipping nectar that an hour earlier had been snow, and all around me the sun distilled voluptuous scents. A whiskered ground squirrel bounced onto a rock, froze, blurred, and was gone. Beyond shadow that still belonged to the night, a day’s incoming sunlight streamed across the rock reefs. Noon pressed down onto the Esplanade, hotter each day, more ponderously silent. Evening came, and a softer, richer silence.”
-- Colin Fletcher, The Man Who Walked Through Time (Vintage Books, 1967)
* * * * *
Many years we’ve already had a major heat wave or two by now, but so far it has been cooler than usual on average -- with just a couple of brief hot spells, like right now.
No one can predict what kind of summer lies ahead, and we should be prepared for sweltering conditions anytime, which could last for days or longer (or not).
Less experienced hikers sometimes ask me if it isn’t too hot for hiking during the summer months. Aren’t we risking discomfort or worse?
It’s true that there are places where summer hiking may not be a good idea. Locally that includes areas at low elevations where there’s lots of sun exposure.
But the fact is that most of our summer hikes take place at higher mountain elevations, and mountains are the perfect places to head during heat waves.
If temperatures are in the 90s (F) in NYC or other low-lying areas, they’ll often be in the 70s or lower in the Catskills (where we’re typically at elevations of 3,000-4,000 feet) or in the Shawangunks (where we usually hike at 1,000-2,000+ feet).
And in the Adirondacks, where most of our camping trips take place, temps tend to similarly be much cooler than at home -- daytime highs usually run in the 60s-70s, and lows are typically in the 40s-50s. Sound appealing?
In addition, as mentioned in the 6/4 Update, which discussed swimming, all of our summer hikes include visits to cool-water lakes, ponds, streams, or rivers.
The air temperature next to waterways is usually a few degrees lower, and along with the possibility of taking a refreshing swim (or wading in), we have the option of wetting down our clothing to provide another kind of air conditioning.
Also, the deep shade provided by many mountain forests helps keep things cooler, and wonderful breezes and winds blow regularly across mountain terrain as well.
There are even some summer days when it’s actually downright chilly in the mountains, when we may need to put on fleece or a sweater to be comfortable!
But that can feel delightful after spending some weekdays uncomfortably hot back at home. And it’s another reason why summer hiking can be utterly refreshing.
-- Charlie Cook