Tuleyome Tales: Enjoy some summer hiking in the Berryessa Snow Mountain region
This area gets hot in the summer. Every year, in the extreme heat of summer, there are rescues of hikers in our region. Heat and dehydration can be life-threatening, but rescues, which put our emergency personnel at risk and keep emergency resources occupied, can be avoided with just a little planning and common sense. Hiking in the midst of summer is possible, although COVID-19 makes it even more complicated.
Below are some recommendations on how to hike safely.
Check the weather. Don’t hike on high temperature days. Take lots of water. Know your route. Be prepared to turn around when temperatures increase and water runs low. Remember to physical distance from other hikers
Get out early. If you can be on the trail at sunrise, all the better. Take lots of water because you will be sweating it out. Perspiration is essential to keeping your body temperature regulated. In this area, very few of the trails have water nearby. Some no-water trails, like the difficult 14.5-mile Berryessa Peak trail, should simply not be attempted on a hot summer day unless you plan to carry a couple of gallons of water with you. Getting out on the trail extra early has the added benefit of avoiding most other people who start on the trail at 9 a.m. or so. On the hottest days, plan to be finished with your hike and off the trail by 11 a.m.
There are two main ways to keep cool while you’re out on a hike: shade and evaporation. You can get shade from a tree, but you can also get it from a hat. Wear a hat! A lot of the trails around here are lacking in trees, but you will always have shade if you wear a nice broad hat. You don’t see it here very often, but an umbrella can also be helpful. The best evaporative cooling is natural perspiration and a little breeze. However, a nice trick on an extra hot day is to carry a mister spray bottle for extra cooling from time to time.
Hopefully, COVID precautions are second nature to us all now, but please don’t forget them when you are hiking. Have your mask ready if you cannot maintain a good physical distance. The guidelines say 6 feet, but many places on the trail it’s not hard to find a place to step aside and make it 10 feet or more if someone needs to pass. Don’t talk while passing and look outward at the view.
One way to learn about hiking and the hikes in our region is to first go with others. Tuleyome, the Sierra Club, and many “Meet Up” groups may offer physically distanced hikes. Check them out. You will learn to enjoy the outdoors safely and you will meet fellow hikers.
Sometimes accidents do happen. We are truly fortunate to have dedicated public-safety men and women who take time away from their families and incur personal risks to aid those in need. But let’s be sure that we take personal responsibility to avoid unnecessary rescues and do our best to let them enjoy their time at home.
Top 12 safety pointers
- Know where you are going — and let others know. There are maps online and trail books at outdoor stores. Plan your trip and let your family and friends know your plan. New hikers can first take trips with hiking groups in the region.
- A whistle? Signal mirror? Cell phone? It’s nice to be able to call for help when really necessary but keep in mind that often trails can be well out of cell phone range. Before you make that “rescue me” call, ask yourself: Is somebody injured? Is this a life-threatening emergency? Do I really need help or can I figure this out for myself?
- Take a hat, dark glasses and sunscreen with you — and use them.
- It is good to have some basic first-aid supplies. Superglue and duct tape are invaluable but you can also purchase small first-aid kits at outdoor stores.
- Keep up your energy level. A sandwich, nuts, dried fruit and energy bars can give a quick boost and make for a happier hiking experience.
- Be aware of the natural dangers in our area.
The two most common dangers around here are poison oak and ticks. The best way to keep away from both of them is to stay on the trail. If you’re not brushing up against vegetation, you should be fine. However, it’s always wise to shower with plenty of soap and check your skin for ticks after a hike.
There are also rattlesnakes. Watch where you put your hands and feet. They don’t always rattle. If you see a snake, just avoid it. It will be trying to avoid you too. Most likely, it’s a harmless gopher snake and not a rattlesnake.
And, there are mountain lions and bears: Yes, they do live around here. Attacks are extremely rare but it’s wise to be particularly aware at dawn or dusk to keep your dog and children close to you.
- Take a flashlight. Starting your hike late and getting “be-nighted” is not a reason for rescue. Flashlights or headlamps can allow you to hike during those unplanned nights out.
- Take lots of water — at least two quarts for a day hike. Also, drink it! Your goal should be to end the hike with an empty (or nearly empty) water bottle.
- Weather can change dramatically on the trail so be prepared for everything. Thunderstorms are rare here, although they can happen. Fire is a real danger. If a strong summer wind kicks in, you might want to think about heading home, and if you smell smoke, get out fast.
- If you hike with your dog, be aware that dogs can overheat even if you’re offering them water. Dogs cannot sweat the way humans do. They can cool themselves somewhat by panting with their tongues out, but that can only go so far, especially without shade and rest. I will always remember passing a very sad couple on the exposed ridge overlooking Cold Canyon carrying their unconscious 70-pound dog in the 100-plus-degree heat.
- Stay on the trails. Trails are built through careful planning and with the landscape in mind. Cutting switchbacks causes erosion and habitat destruction — and ultimately someone has to do the work to repair the damage caused by inconsiderate hikers.
- Google “ten essentials” for serious outdoor preparation, with one caveat for our area. Ten essentials lists always contain supplies for making a fire. Please do notmake a fire in the inner coast mountains in the late summer and fall. It takes very little for these mountains to go up in flames.
Everyone can enjoy our region and to do so safely. Our first responders want to help when really needed but let’s avoid all unnecessary call-outs. When hiking, have fun, be smart and keep safe. And, as always, don’t litter; pack out what you take in.
— Tuleyome is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that engages in advocacy and active stewardship with diverse communities to conserve, enhance, restore and enjoy the lands in the region. Bob Schneider is one of the founders of Tuleyome and has climbed and hiked over much of the planet. He now focuses much of his exploration in the Berryessa Snow Mountain region. Bill Grabert (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an activities coordinator for Tuleyome, a Certified California Naturalist and a long-time hiker and explorer.
Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise
Published online on August 12, 2020 | Printed in the August 12, 2020 edition on page A10