This week’s heat wave poses a conundrum for the Seattle-area hiker: You want to make the most of our dry hiking season, but passing out on the trail from heat stroke isn’t exactly how you want your outing to end.
While my instinct when it’s 90 degrees and above is to plop down on the nearest beach for regular cool-off immersions — lake will do, saltwater is even better — here are some suggestions for safely beating the heat if you plan on hiking in the coming days.
First light is around 5 a.m. this time of year, which means there are several early-morning hours of relatively cool temperatures — 60s and 70s — before the heat really picks up. If your hiking aspirations include anywhere with a view (see below), the earliest part of the day is a reliably safe choice for getting up and back down. Even by mid-to-late morning, any section of trail with full exposure to the sky, like an alpine section or open meadow, is going to start baking.
… and skip the view
The surest way to stay out of the hot sun is to seek out the shady forest. Find a trail that meanders through the subalpine — even if the trail eventually goes to an alpine objective, you can always turn around at the tree line. Lower elevation trailheads are your friend. The Taylor River Trail, accessed from Southeast Middle Fork Road off Interstate 90 just beyond North Bend, feels like it could go on forever through cool, shady forest.
Water, water, everywhere
Heat wave or not, our mountain rivers, alpine lakes and saltwater are always reliably cold. Hike along a river valley and feel the cooling effect of a stream draining from a frosty glacier above. Find an alpine lake with a forested approach, then cool off with a dip. Seek out public lands along Puget Sound and embrace the natural air-conditioning effect when a breeze blows in from the saltwater.
While the beach itself is going to feel the full wrath of the sun, there are often forested trails close to the water — and the water itself is a surefire cool-down after working up a sweat. A few suggestions: Check out the new free field guide to 24 trails off the beaten path on Whidbey and Camano islands (st.news/24-trails). Or explore the trails on The Evergreen State College’s Olympia campus that crisscross 1,000 acres of forest and lead to 3,000 feet of beachfront (st.news/Evergreen-trails).
When our region’s great natural AC unit, Puget Sound, falters in the face of a heat wave, it’s time to call in the big guns. Make your way out to the coast, where that blazing hot orb in the sky is no match for the vast chill of the North Pacific. The 73 miles of coastline managed by Olympic National Park are a heat-wave hiker’s paradise. Temperatures along the coast this week may not break 80 degrees. If you don’t want to truck that far, the Hoh Rain Forest, also in Olympic National Park, checks a lot of the boxes above. Heading west is also a way to avoid the unhealthy levels of ozone trapped in the Cascade foothills by this week’s high-pressure system.
Usual cautions apply, and then some
In addition to the 10 essentials: Extra water, extra sunscreen, extra-wide brim hat, extra lightweight breathable clothing. When it comes to packing items that keep you cool, hydrated and protected from the sun, the more the better when hiking in a heat wave.