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Take Heat Seriously When You Travel; It Can Kill

May 26, 2023

TOPSHOT - Clint Johnson, of Pleasant Hill, Calif., (L) and Melanie Anguay, of Las Vegas, stand for a ... [+] photo next to a digital display of an unofficial heat reading at Furnace Creek Visitor Center during a heat wave in Death Valley National Park in Death Valley, California, on July 16, 2023. By the afternoon of July 15, 2023, California's famous Death Valley, one of the hottest places on Earth, had reached a sizzling 124F (51C), with Sunday's peak predicted to soar as high as 129F (54C). Even overnight lows there could exceed 100F (38C). (Photo by Ronda Churchill / AFP) (Photo by RONDA CHURCHILL/AFP via Getty Images)

“People are responsible for their own safety,” National Park spokesperson Abby Wines told CNN. She was referring to this summer’s killer heat at Death Valley and elsewhere, but ultimately, this is true for every traveler. As the security experts at Global Guardian noted in a Forbes story on the world’s most dangerous countries, “When in doubt, don’t go.” Or if you’re hiking in a hot climate, go early, go hydrated, or don’t go.

Unfortunately, common sense isn’t always so common. Summer is when most people travel, especially those with work or school schedules. More than 300 million people visit US national parks each year, and visitation is by far the highest in the summer.

Wherever travelers go this summer, it seems like many are getting into trouble, with incidents that range from tragic to tawdry. But for average travelers, the major issue this summer has been the record-breaking heat. Scientists have proclaimed June the hottest month on record.

Still, the warmth of the Greek islands makes them a popular destination for British tourists. But this summer, massive wildfires in Greece have led to the evacuation of 19,000 people from Rhodes and 2,400 from Corfu, leaving up 10,000 tourists stranded at airports and makeshift shelters.

British airlines and tour operators like easyJet, Jet2 and Tui canceled most incoming flights into Rhodes, instead using the empty planes to repatriate stranded travelers. But some tourists still insisted on flying into the affected area.

26 July 2023, Greece, Kiotari: In the village of Kiotari, two burnt-out cars are standing on the ... [+] beach, in the sky the wind is driving a huge cloud of smoke towards the northeast. (Photo by Christoph Reichwein/picture alliance via Getty Images)

On one flight to Rhodes with just 37 people, an easyJet pilot told passengers, ‘As far as I’m concerned, this flight is being operated on an emergency basis. ‘I don’t know in what capacity you are travelling, but if you are travelling to Rhodes for leisure, my sincere recommendation is it’s a bad idea.’

Eight passengers got off. The rest went on, presumably flying for essential reasons, not as “danger tourists.”

Heat is also a major problem in the United States, particularly in the oven-like Southwest. Only three National Parks, Death Valley, (California) Grand Canyon, (Arizona) and Big Bend (Texas) have accounted for all eight heat related deaths so far this year.

There have been three deaths in Big Bend this season, including a 14-year-old boy who died on a trail in 119-degree heat, while his father died seeking help to save him. A 57-year-old woman died on a hike in Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park.

And shockingly, two young women, just 29 and 34, passed away on a hike in Nevada’s Valley of Fire state park. A sign on the road near the entrance reads, “Heat Warning: You Might Die.”

They two women left on a hike on the park’s 4.6-mile Prospect Trail in the morning. When they did not return by 10AM, a search began. Both were found dead, one just a quarter mile from the parking lot. They apparently ran out of water as the temperature reached 118 degrees. A state parks official said that if you plan to hike in such high temperatures, you should plan to go as early as possible, try to pick a day that’s cooler, and start hydrating days in advance.

Another piece of advice is to bring at least a liter of water for every two hours of hiking and wear light clothing. A hat and sunscreen are recommended.

What to look for and what to do with various heat-related illness, from the US Centers for Disease ... [+] Control (CDC.)

Death Valley was proclaimed the hottest place on earth due to a controversial temperature reading in 1913 of 134F. This year it is attracting more “heat tourists” than ever before, despite the risks. Park rangers encourage people to visit safely by taking short strolls from their air-conditioned vehicles or hiking at higher elevations where it’s cooler. Hiking at low elevations after 10:00 am is not recommended.

But so far this year, at least two hikers have died in Death Valley. On July 19 71-year-old Steve Curry, 71, of Los Angeles, collapsed shortly after 3:30 p.m. amid temperatures that had soared to 121°F. Hours earlier, Curry told a Los Angeles Times reporter at Zabriskie Point that he was “accustomed to the heat.”

Also in Death Valley, a 65-year old man was found dead in his car on July 3. Heat at the park’s appropriately named Furnace Creek trail reached 126 degrees Fahrenheit that day.

I was in Death Valley in April last year. Temperatures were already in the 80s. On the way back I gave an older man some water. He looked exhausted, even though he was just steps from the parking lot.

This year, Death Valley has experienced 28 days of temperatures in excess of 110 degrees. The CDC’s recommendations on heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses are here. Symptoms range from headache to muscle weakness to disorientation, seizures and unconsciousness.

Still, awareness of what should be obvious is sadly lacking among some tourists. A British tourist was caught on video using a key to etch "Ivan+Haley 23" into the wall of the Colosseum. His defense? He didn’t realize the Colosseum “was that old.”

The graffiti artist could face up to $16,000 in fines and five years in prison. Yet the publicity didn’t stop copycat incidents this summer. On July 15, a Swiss teenager traveling with her parents was caught on camera carving the letter “N” into the structure. The next day a 17-year-old German student was caught carving into a wall on the structure's ground floor.

Fortunately for these young people, they face only legal or financial consequences for their actions. Ignoring dangers like blazing summer heat can have tragic consequences, and there may well be no one to help you if you haven’t helped yourself.

Death Valley, CA - July 17: Thomas Valentine Jr., (left-right) Thomas Valentine III, 6, Penelope ... [+] Valentine, 4, and Nicole Valentine, of North Canton, Ohio are visiting Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park, on Monday, July 17, 2023, in Death Valley, CA. After minutes of being outside, the children asked their parents if they could return to the hotel after taking a few photographs. The temperature is 120 and climbing at today 10:00 am. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

In Death Valley, it’s so hot that medical evacuation helicopters can’t fly because they can’t get enough lift. A stretcher team may not show up either. National Parks Service spokesperson Wines told CNN, “We don’t want to put our own staff at risk of heat fatality by doing a physical carry out in extreme heat conditions.”

So get informed, take warnings seriously, and use common sense. The life you save may be your own.