Tips to Beat the Heat: How to Stay Cool and Healthy on a Grand Canyon Rafting Adventure
by Sharon Hester
Every summer, temperatures at the bottom of Grand Canyon will reach triple digits and temperatures between 110-117 F are expected at some point in June, July or August every year. Even in April, May, September and October, you can see temperatures over 100 at times. During some summers in the past, temperatures have even reached 120! But even with these very high temperatures, rafting trips are down at the bottom of the canyon and folks still have a great time! How can that be, you may wonder? Read on, for all the tips on how to stay cool and beat the heat!
It’s super easy to stay cool while rafting. There is a saying about rafting on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, “If you’re hot you’re stupid”. This is because the river water is always COLD. It doesn’t take much to cool down when on (or near) the river. You can jump in if it is a safe location, you can get your shirt, hat and/or sarong wet by dunking them in the river. You can pour a bucket of water over your head. You could even start a water fight! The main key to staying cool is to remember evaporative cooling here in the dry southwest works great for beating the heat! Cotton shirts work best as they retain water longest and that means the cooling effect of water evaporation will last longer. Cotton is preferred in the heat; a quick-dry clothing material means one will have to get wet more often. Some folks have even brought small travel umbrellas for instant shade. Sarongs are life savers; don’t go without one on your trip!
If heading out on a hike on a hot day, it is a good idea to immerse oneself in the river (in a safe location) to get your clothes soaked before heading out. Stay in the water as long as you can too as this will bring your body temperature down before you start the hike. Bring a zip lock bag and put your wet sarong in it and bring on the hike. Later on into the hike, when your clothes have dried out, you can cover yourself with the damp sarong while hiking. Wonderful insta-cooling! Drink some water before the hike, then refill your water bottle(s) for the hike!
Hang out by the river as much as you can. It can be 5 degrees cooler by the river. Try and hang out in the shade as well. Limit the activity you do in camp until the shade has hit the camp. For example, don’t set up a tent in the sun, wait until the camp is in the shade! Go take a bath instead or drink a river cooled beverage in the shade. Place your chair right in the river to sit and cool down your feet!
Most of the time, your guides will try and get to camp after the shade created by the cliffs has descended, or when they know camp will soon be in the shade after mooring, but sometimes this is not always possible. The guides have a lot of active camp set-up duties, so they like to do that in the shade if possible.
It is always better to camp closer to the river if you can, as it is much cooler there than by cliffs or rocks that will retain and radiate heat for most of the night. Keep in mind, the river does have power generated fluctuations, so you do want to be sure you are camping in an area that won’t be flooded during the night. Ask your guides if the spot you chose is likely to be good for the night. Take a late evening bath or dunk in the river (in a safe place) to cool down. Stay in the water as long as possible. Get your sarong (or even your provided sheet) damp and cover yourself with it after you lay down. Put a wet bandana or buff on your head or neck. You can even wet the sand around or under your ground cloth to cool off the sand and promote evaporative cooling around your sleeping spot. Any of these tips will do wonders and will make it easy to drift off to sleep! NOT sleeping in a tent will also keep you cooler. Sleeping in the tents is really warm, so if you can (which we recommend at least trying out), sleep under the stars to help beat the heat.
Remember being hydrated is key to staying healthy in a hot environment so always make sure you have water on hand and are drinking it consistently. Add the Vitalyte or Gatorade mix AzRA provides to your water. Also keep up on salt intake by eating plenty of food. Especially salty snacks. Feel free to add salt to your food when it’s really hot and you are drinking lots!
Keep in mind one’s body does start to adjust to high heat, and over the course of a few days, it will start to adapt and retain water and salt more effectively.
What NOT to do
Do NOT start your trip a quart low, meaning dehydrated. Folks traveling to their river adventure are usually already dehydrated due to air travel. During the excitement of packing and getting ready for the trip, they may forget to drink plenty of fluids. Rafting participants arrive before their trips to dry Northern Arid-zona at almost 7000 feet elevation! Although temperatures are cool at that elevation, those environmental effects continue to suck away moisture from one’s body. So, make sure during pre-trip travels and the night before the trip you drink plenty of water!
Do NOT leave your rain jacket behind because you see high temperatures forecasted. You can still get freezing cold on any trip even mid-summer. Rain and hail can occur during the hottest of trips and prolonged exposure to that especially combined with cold river water can make one very cold. Or you could fall into the river and be immersed long enough to get hypothermic. A rain jacket retains your body heat as well as repels water so always have it handy.
Partial Rafting Trip Tips
These tips are only for those folks on a trip that requires a hike to/from the South Rim of Grand Canyon at one of their trip or the other. For expert tips from one of our hiking guides on generally preparing for hiking in or out of your Grand Canyon rafting trip, read this blog. It’s chock full of excellent advice!
Hikers IN Tips
An AzRA hiking guide/escort meets the night before with the folks hiking into a trip, at the South Rim Village Grand Canyon. The hiking guide will determine the exact time of the meeting the next morning to begin the hike down the trail, but the hike usually starts at 5am. On a hotter day, it could be even earlier. Start the hike well hydrated and well fed. Do not drink, or at least limit, alcoholic beverages the night before and eat breakfast and drink plenty of water that morning. (See above What Not to do). Bring salty snacks for the hike down. Be on time for the morning meeting.
Don’t worry about the hike. It is very doable for folks in decent shape and who have prepared. Worry can create stress that could contribute to dehydration or other metabolic issues. Start the hike with pacing yourself, and do not rush down the trail. It will be cool to start, but as the day progresses, the temperature will rise. Make sure you wet your clothing or sarong when you get to the water stations and at Havasupai Gardens about 4.5 miles down, and farther down the trail wherever the trail crosses a stream. Consider the Ziploc baggie/sarong tip mentioned earlier in Hiking Tips. Always take breaks in the shade, never in the sun. Drink water and eat salty snacks every time you take a break. Pack as light as possible. Let your hiking guide, who hikes with the last person, know right away if you are experiencing any issues.
Hikers OUT Tips
The night before the hike out, the trip leader will go over details about the trail and the next morning’s plan. The guides will also return the backpacks that have been stored away on the trip for the hikers out. Hikers will also pack a bag lunch in the evening to take with them on the next day’s hike out of the canyon.
Folks hiking out have a lot of things working in their favor. By now, folks on the upper section will have started to physically adjust to the heat. They are usually well hydrated as the guides have reminded folks repeatedly to drink their water. Still make sure to start the day well hydrated and well fed and don’t skip breakfast. Do not drink, or at least limit, alcoholic beverages the night before.
The guides will get the whole trip up early the morning of the hike out. Earlier than previous mornings on the trip, which is already early at around first light. On the morning of the hike out, it will be even earlier. Raft trips cannot camp at the trail head, so that last morning will have some rafting time before starting the hike. This means the time one gets to the trail head can vary depending on how far upstream the group had to camp, as well as how fast the group, as a whole, can get organized and out of camp. Those two factors most affect the time the rafts get to the trail head. So, being as ready to go and as efficient as possible on that last morning is important. The arrival time to the trail head is usually between 7am and 9am, but on really hot trips and with an efficient camp departure, it could be earlier.
Don’t fret that it may not be as early as you might have wished. The majority, if not all, of the trail for the first 2 miles, will be in the shade, as long as the trip is there before 9am. Also, as you gain elevation the high temperatures of the day will be cooler than at the river. The rim is 25-30F degrees cooler than the bottom of the canyon! This means hikers out will never see the hottest temperatures of day at the canyon’s bottom as they gain in elevation.
Don’t worry about the hike. It is very doable for folks in decent shape and who have prepared. Worry can create stress that may contribute to metabolic issues that can affect hydration. Start the hike by pacing yourself. Do not rush up the trail. Make sure you wet your clothing and/or sarong before you start the hike, at stream crossing and when you get to Havasupai Gardens about 3 miles up, as well as at the other water station stops. Consider doing the Ziploc baggie/sarong trick mentioned earlier in hiking tips. Always take breaks in the shade, never in the sun. Drink water and eat salty snacks every time you take a break. Pack as light as possible. Let your hiking guide, who hikes with the last person, know right away if you are experiencing any issues.
It is warm and toasty in the summer in Grand Canyon! It’s a very hot place, in general! However, we have been running this river since 1965, and have experience in how best to handle it. We help our guests every step of the way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before your trip, or while you’re on your trip. We are all happy to help! We want you to have an enjoyable adventure in Grand Canyon, and know it’s possible even in the hottest months of the year.