Hot

Hike with me today–

Hot as soon as we stepped out of the truck, sun gluing the synthetic fabric of my uniform shirt to my back. Not much talking as we arranged tools and packs, and started walking. Felt grateful for the sound of mountain water rushing through the creekbed, and the patches of shade as we passed alders and cottonwoods. Little pieces of coolness. The heat has come on so suddenly that bodies haven’t had time to adapt. Sweat dripped into my eyes before I had hiked a half mile.

The creek tumbled and frothed white in its narrow canyon, and the trail climbed. We had to cross, and I went dry-footed over rocks and a slippery log. Then more up to find a patch of shade. Pace yourself, we told each other. We’re not used to this. We all carry some form of hydration system in our packs–a bladder filled with water, delivered by a tube to the mouth. Consistently drinking water is so important while working in hot weather, a fact that escaped me for about the first 20 years of my outdoor career. I’ve recovered from heat exhaustion more times than I can remember and it seems that a person is a little more vulnerable to it afterward. It doesn’t matter how strong or fit you are. Anyone can succumb. Prevention is the key.

So we move slowly up, sipping water and working. There are short breaks in the shade. We take turns using the chainsaw to clear down logs from the trail. Drainage dips are cleared of debris and reshaped. Running water is the mortal enemy of trail tread, and these small structures divert runoff away at strategic spots.

To our right, the creek is still noisy. A day or two ago, this water was semi-solid in the form of snow. Now it is completely liquid, following the law of gravity. Plants are lush with new growth–purple lupines, graceful sweeps of pinegrass under the trees, some kind of hawkweed sending up hairy stems with tiny buds. Birds are busy with a complex symphony in the conifer crowns, and I catch glimpses of butterflies at the periphery of my vision.

But mostly I feel how hot the air is, how my body is making an extra effort to keep going. I let it slow down and linger in the shade before I push it back out into the sun.

People came down the trail, having made better time than us because of traveling lighter and not stopping to work. A group of six older guys were delighted to stop and chat with us as we finished cutting a log. They’d been up to the meadows in the basin and showed us photos of pink masses of blooming shooting stars (Dodecatheon spp.) They told us how old they were (79! 84!), as if in complete amazement that they are still getting to the mountains. Accept joy where you find it, don’t give up, watch out for your friends, laugh, and don’t pass women on the trail without a smile and a good word.

By midafternoon, we had climbed as high as we are going to go. The last log of the day had been cut and we trooped down to the creek to wade through cool water above our ankles. We refilled our water bladders by filtering water at this crossing. We’d been watching thunderheads build to the south, big billowing piles of white. Towering cumulus grew anvil tops and bruised blue bases. Down, down to the final creek crossing of the day. The water was higher. There was no resisting the urge to splash hands and face, and some of us dunked the tops of our heads in the creek and flung back dripping hair–the pause that refreshes.

At the trailhead, I unlocked the truck and opened the doors. Hot breath woofed out in a rush. We rode most of the way home with windows rolled all the way down, water bottles near to hand.

A little bit of thunder growled over head as I walked home this evening, but the dark clouds moved off. The sun has slipped behind the western ridges now, and the air is blessedly cool and moving. Last night’s clouds turned into a lightning fest to the east of here.

Hot weather is predicted for the rest of the week.

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