Last year the Friends received a call from the Red Rock Ranger District asking for volunteers to assist staff on a special project to help visitors to Bell and Bruce Brockett Trails avoid heat related injuries. With record breaking number of days exceeding 100+ degrees many visitors sought relief in the Coconino National Forest waterways of Oak Creek Canyon, Verde River and Wet Beaver Creek.
One area in particular located on Wet Beaver Creek known as the “Crack” saw an increase in usage and heat related emergencies by ill-prepared day-trippers. These novice hikers put a huge strain on the local fire department and search & rescue personnel. Forest Service (FS) staff developed a Preventive Search and Rescue (PSAR) program to provide educational information at the Bell and Bruce Brockett trailheads with support from Sedona Friends of the Forest (FOF) volunteers. During the hottest part of 2020, this PSAR program called “Trail Ambassadors” was successful with 30% of encounters seeing people going to other more suitable locations for their family and hiking skills or into town to purchase more water and salty snacks. This effort helped decrease the number of emergency calls due to heat related issues.
We spent multiple days at the Bruce Brockett Trailhead greeting visitors who were unfamiliar with the heat, local trails, and were looking for places listed on social media as an “easy hike” to a great place to swim. When giving the true nature of the hike and the effects of the heat, many chose to go elsewhere to spend the day. A warning to people bringing their dogs was to feel the ground to realize what their pups’ paws were feeling. There were several instances of burned and bleeding paws caused by the extreme heat of the trail.
If you are planning a visit this summer to beat the 100+ degree weather, here are some things to know before you attempt the “Crack”. It is 3.5 miles (7 miles round trip) and has no water access until the end with full exposure to the sun and heat. This hike is not recommended for young children or dogs. The last 1.5 miles has a significant elevation gain. If starting from Bruce Brockett, do not miss the junction to the parking lot on your return hike. Consider starting at dawn or in the late afternoon to avoid dangerous heat. A normal walking pace for most people on a sidewalk is about 3 miles per hour. Expect to be hiking for about 2 to 2 ½ hours before you get to the water. Remember that you have to do the same thing on the return to the parking lot.
Be Prepared with ONE GALLON of water per person, balance hydration with salty snacks, bring a first aid kit and know how to use it. We met a family of five who said they had enough water, each one held up a 16-ounce bottle of water (one young boy had already drank half of his) they were surprised when we told them one gallon EACH. They decided that they really were not prepared and left to come back another day. If using a water filter or iodine tablets to treat creek water it is best to go above the Crack to obtain your water.
Proper footwear and sun protective clothing is highly recommended. One hiker came off the trail holding the sole of her sandal which had delaminated.
Wear plenty of sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat, and sunglasses. We saw many arrive ready to swim but not prepared to hike the 7-mile round trip in full sun.
Cell coverage can be sketchy when hiking in the wilderness. Always let someone know where you are going when you are intending to return. That way, if you are not back when you say you are, people can start looking. Stay on the designated trails. Water is not enough, if you are sweating a lot, you also need salty snacks to avoid dehydration.
Know the signs of heat illness, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, cramping, decreased urine output.
The FS and FOF plan on continuing the Trail Ambassadors program this summer with the help of their volunteers. If you see them at the trailhead, stop by and say hello. They are there to help you have an enjoyable visit by offering wilderness hiking information, making sure you have adequate water, and helping you avoid unexpected weather changes. A group of dedicated volunteers assisted the FS staff members last year and will be returning this summer.