Safety First with the Sedona Westerners
September 08, 2023
By Sara Stiffler
The summer sun casts long shadows on hikers along the Courthouse Butte Loop Trail. Hiker safety is one of the key points of focus for the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club, which has more than 400 members hitting the trails in organized hikes four days a week. The
What do you call it when someone exaggerates an injury? A Champagne! (a sham pain) All right, sorry. Corny dad jokes aside, hiker safety is one of the key points of focus for the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club.
The Westerners is a popular social hiking group in the Sedona area – with more than 400 members – hitting the trails in organized hikes four days a week and their motto is, “Keep it safe.” From the simple task of taking a head count before (and after) each hike to make sure no one is left behind, to tracking and scouting the hikes days ahead to be sure the trail is easy to follow and conditions are good, the Hike Bosses are prepared for the day’s hike. The Hike Bosses are keen to remind hikers to wear proper shoes, to use hiking poles, and above all to bring plenty of drinking water. The old adage, “Bring twice as much water as you think you’ll need, and you’ll have half as much as you want,” proves true more often than you’d think in our dry, desert climate. Too many times we’ve seen inexperienced hikers not carrying their own water or backpacks – assuming they are just out on a short hike unaware of the potential for trouble should they get lost or injured on the trail. We keep an eye out for these hikers and, occasionally, offer them extra water if we have it.
There’s no doubt about it, it was hot in Sedona this summer. It was reassuring to drive past the trailhead parking lots and seeing the lots empty of cars when it was 90 degrees or 100 degrees (or more out) – proof that visitors and residents were being cautious during the peak temperatures of the day. But the high temperatures didn’t mean that hiking was out of the question. Common sense and taking the necessary precautions still allow for hiking in the summer and early fall. The Westerners hiking season ends in early May and begins again the day after Labor Day. With hot weather precautions in mind, many members continue to hike privately over the summer months to share in the practice of safe summer hiking.
First and foremost when it comes to hot weather hiking is knowing what time the temperature will get to the more dangerous highs – the goal being to finish before the temperature exceeds 85 degrees. During the early part of the summer, we made sure to get on the trails by 7:30 a.m. In July and August, hikes began as early as 6:30 a.m. – challenging for night owls like me, but completely necessary. Shorter hikes were planned so that we could be off the trails by 9 a.m. Shaded trails (what there are of them in Sedona) were inviting as well and several days we chose hikes along Oak Creek Canyon, Flagstaff, and even the Mingus Mountains south of Jerome.
In addition to water, electrolytes can help reduce the risk of dehydration – a common cause of hiking-related emergencies in the desert. Symptoms of dehydration include thirst, headache, and fatigue. These mineral supplements come in many forms: gummies, chewables, and powders you can add to your water and are available to buy in local drug stores and supermarkets. Keep them on hand and take them before, during, and after hiking as needed. Another dietary option when hiking is mustard. No hamburger necessary. Mustard can help alleviate muscle cramps experienced while hiking. Oh, and speaking of food, it’s best to eat a small meal before a hike. Hiking on an empty stomach can reduce your energy and stamina. Snacks like dried fruits or trail mix are great fuel for your system and help maintain your muscles while hiking.
The Westerners’ hiking season is now underway. While we look forward to the cooler temperatures that will hopefully arrive with the change of the season, morning hikes have been carefully planned – many of the hikes will be in the Canyon of Oak Creek and Flagstaff until the arrival of Fall.
Another step in keeping hikers safe on the trails is the defined parameters set for each hiking group. As a member of the Westerners, hikers can choose to participate in any of the six hiking groups. The Rustlers and the Amblers hiking groups are ranked as Easy to Moderate with hikes as short as 3 miles and some as long as 6 miles. These hikes can last between 3-4 hours and are completed at a leisurely pace. Drovers do more complicated hikes up to 6 miles, which are generally rated Moderate. New members and folks whose hiking skills are a little rusty (because they didn’t hike over the summer or are new to the Sedona area) are encouraged to start the season with one of these groups. The pace of each of these hikes is adjusted to fit the group.
More experienced hikers are encouraged to join the Dogies, Mustangs, and Rough Riders on their hikes – which range in difficulty from Moderate to Challenging. These hikes are longer and can be physically challenging but offer scenic views at elevations of up to 2,000 feet above the trailheads. Details about each hike can be found on the Westerners’ website on the Hiking Schedule page (www.sedonawesterners.org/schedule.php).
Westerners’ Hike Bosses and Hike Leaders look forward to seeing you on the trails this season. You can trust that not only will they guide you on a fabulous hike, but they will also keep your safety and the safety of your fellow hikers at the forefront as you traverse the beautiful and inspiring landscape that makes the Red Rock Country so special.
To learn more about the Sedona Westerners, view this season’s hiking schedule, and to become a member or renew your membership, go to www.sedonawesterners.org/membership. There are more than 200 hikes scheduled through May 9, 2024, and the membership fee is only $30 for the whole season. Just be sure to sign up before your first hike with the Westerners. We’ll see you on the trails.