Keeping it Cool in the August Heat

Well we’re in the mountains, we’re at 1,000m of elevation, and we’re surrounded by beautiful shady forest; but there’s no way around it….  August can get warm in Fernie, eh? Not Penticton-in-the-middle-of-an-Ironman. Not Marble Bar, Oz as you check into the Ironclad Hotel… but definitely warm enough to have some thoughts like these.

Refreshing Water
A sweltering hike calls for a cool drink of water, doesn’t it? By this time of the year, however, if you didn’t bring it with you, it can be a little hard to find. Our mountains in the Elk Valley are formed from limestone, which characteristically has a lack of surface drainage. The processes of limestone erosion make for amazing caves and underground creeks but leaves very few surface streams to refill your bottles from. (For more on this, search for Karst Topography.) The solution? Bring it along with you - no less than a litre, preferably two, and plan your route for where there is a lake or creek along the way. Most of the main drainages (Fairy, Coal, Lizard, Hartley, Bisaro, etc.) do continue to flow all summer, but they are generally at lower elevation. The lakes at Hartley, Lizard, Tanglefoot, Cliff, and of course Silver Springs are reliably ‘wet’ not to mention the beautiful and cooling waterfalls on Matheson, Fairy, and Morrissey Creeks.

Closing the thought on water, consider your dog-pals. They’re not as smart as you (in some ways). Notably, they don’t always know about not-running-in-circles-when-it’s-30-degrees. Pease bring water for you AND water for them.

Flora and Fauna
Showy flowers are waning somewhat as the season progresses, but there are still delights to be found, especially in cooler areas at higher elevations, shady spots and riparian (fancy word for along the-water) areas. Those same spots are the ones we hikers are tempted to seek out for a nice break / lunch spot… awesome idea, but remember that Mr. and Mrs. Fuzzy Pants (aka ursus arctos and ursus americanus, aka bears) are also looking to get out of the heat of the day.

As I write this, I don’t know what the fire-situation will be by publication date. Right now (early July) we’ve been really lucky… a couple of smokey days in May, no campfire bans, no backcountry closures. Fingers crossed that it continues, but even so, I’m going to be super careful myself, look at the fire map (download the BC Wildfire app) before heading out, giving a (VERY) wide berth to fires. In addition, if the forecast is for thunderstorms, remember that’s when lightning happens. This is no fun in itself, but especially worrisome in wildfire-season. Be aware too of the hazard of exertion-breathing smoke. On those days maybe head for a valley-floor close-to-the-highway trip, rather than that remote peak where views might be limited anyway.

Berry Roundup
It’s been an early-for-everything summer (snowmelt, freshet, high temps, etc.), and our berries are no exception. As I write this I’m already seeing lots of pickers up in the huckleberry bushes on Roots, and bucket-carrying harvesters getting stuck in to the Saskatoon bushes along Dicken Road. With luck, there’ll still be delicious fruit-flesh to be had in August… find 
the right elevation, the right aspect and you’ll have them: Huckleberry, Saskatoon, Thimbleberry, Oregon grape (don’t eat too many of those at one sitting, and only if you #embracethesour), and of course our amazing-but-tiny wild strawberries.

Big Animals
While you’re out there in the bushes, or hiking generally, think ‘animal.’ It’s hot so animals are resting in the shade during the heat of the day and will be more active in the early morning and evening. (Refer to previous columns mentioning making-noise and not surprising them, especially in thick berry-patch undergrowth, near noisy creeks, and when the wind is coming towards you.)

By the way, don’t let anyone tell you that a  big floppy-brimmed hat is goofy. Big brims are VERY August.