SPRINGDALE, Washington County — Zion National Park officials responded to six heat illness-related calls at the park's West Rim Trail over the span of two hours this past weekend.
The mixture of record heat and record crowds has created an issue that's kept park rangers busy over the past few weeks. Zion National Park Chief Ranger Daniel Fagergren estimates there have been about two dozen heat-related calls over the past month, especially after a pair of heat waves, including the emergence of a "heat dome" last week.
"Since Memorial Day weekend, we've seen an uptick in those calls," he said. "Really, when we see temperatures reach that 105 (degree) threshold, that's when we start to see heat-related illness."
The rising number of calls is also why the park brought on four new rangers to help out. After dozens of emergency calls tied to heat exhaustion, they want visitors to know they shouldn't overstrain themselves because it can come with dire consequences.
Heat-related illnesses can result in serious injury and even death. For instance, Grand Canyon National Park rangers reported Monday that a 53-year-old Ohio woman participating in a multiday backpacking trip in the park became disoriented and eventually unconscious during the trek. By the time rangers reached her, she had died from a heat-related illness.
They reported that the temperature reached 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the part of the park where the woman died. That sort of heat can be common at parks all across the Southwest such as Zion National Park, which is only about 100 miles north of the Grand Canyon.
"The thing to remember and keep in mind is it's caused when you have extreme conditions and environment, which all of the Southwest falls into that category, particularly in the summer months; and the other issue is strenuous exercise," Fagergren said. "When you put those two things together, you have a recipe for heat injuries. And the Grand Canyon, much like Zion, offers both of those in abundance."
With extreme temperatures expected in the "foreseeable future," he urges park visitors to take steps to be safe and avoid serious heat-related illnesses.
Zion National Park officials said it's important to stay hydrated, have essential sun protection and for people to pace themselves. The park has water filling stations at its visitor center, as well as the Zion Lodge, The Grotto and the Temple of Sinawava.
"You want to be drinking quite a bit of water, and at the same time remembering you're going to need some of those salty snacks too," said Amanda Rowland, a spokesperson for the park. "Yes, you have to stay hydrated, but also you need to be eating."
Officials also recommend that visitors wear hats, sunglasses and lightweight clothing, as well as apply sunscreen often. In addition, they advise that people take frequent breaks in shade, minimize sun exposure, and avoid being active during the hottest parts of the day.
Fagergren said that, in general, there are a few ways people can visit the park safely even on days of sweltering heat. First, visitors can do their hikes in the morning or evening. While those can be the busiest times at the park during the summer months, it can be worth it to avoid the hottest times of the day when people are most at risk of heat-related illness.
Another example is shortening the hike you plan on taking. Instead of completing the full hike or a full loop trail, only take a portion of it. Hikes with climbing or elevation gains can also produce more trouble.
"The West Rim — that's the hike that leads up to Scout Lookout and the chains section of Angels Landing — those are all elevation gains and those are the kinds of hikes 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 and not in shape you're likely going to have a heat-induced injury as a result," Fagergren said.
He added a hike like The Narrows offers a safer alternative during the hottest times of the day, as long as visitors avoid the algal bloom in the water.
The park has signs posted at places throughout the park that help visitors understand the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The symptoms of heat exhaustion are:
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Excessive sweating
- Cool, pale or clammy skin
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid or weak pulse
- Muscle cramps
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Headache or confusion
- Possible loss of consciousness
- Body temperature over 103 degrees
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid, strong pulse
- No sweating
Anyone who experiences those symptoms should call 911. Visitors at Zion National Park can also call 435-772-3322 to reach Visitor Services in case of a medical emergency.
Ultimately, both Rowland and Fagergren believe visitors can stay safe at Zion National Park as long as they know their own limitations.
"If you need to change your plans because maybe someone doesn't feel well or they're not feeling 100% that day," Rowland said, "we definitely don't want visitors to push themselves because that heat — there's a concern there."