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Warm weather causing more heat-related illnesses in Tucson this fall

Hiking in the heat
Posted at 10:57 PM, Oct 16, 2023

CATALINA FOOTHILLS, Ariz. (KGUN) — Walking through Sabino Canyon on Monday during weather in the high nineties, Nancy Debolt used her walking sticks to make her way through the trails.

She’s 82 years old and has been hiking for years. You can find her at Sabino Canyon about once a week and hiking about 4 times a week overall.

As the new member orientation leader or the Southern Arizona Hiking Club, she enjoys making friends with new people who join the club.

“Giving opportunities for people to be outdoors and to enjoy the outdoors with other people,” she said.

She’s been a part of the club for 13 years and has been a guide for about 8 years. During that time she hiked about 150 times in just three years.

However, when she first started with the club, during one hike she felt weak from being out in the sun for too long.

“I knew enough to stop and to rest and took my lunch break then and by the time 20 minutes or so I was ok,” she said.

In September 2021, the Arizona Department of Health Services says there were 35 heat-related illnesses in Pima County. They say in September 2022 that number went up to 49 and in September 2023, it went down to 43.

Keeping her health in mind, Debolt makes sure to protect herself against the sun by wearing a hat and carrying a pack with electrolytes.

“They help us retain some water and give us energy on the trail. We usually have to have a carb with it,” she said.

Doctor Lourdes Castanon with Banner Health said this year they saw a record amount of people come in for contact burns, most of them children and elderly people who have thinner skin.

She said usually they start to see less people come in for heat-related sickness in September, but that wasn’t the case this year. They’re still seeing a lot of people come in this month.

To avoid heat-related sicknesses, she said you should go into the shade which tends to be 10 to 20 degrees cooler. She says you should also wear sunscreen, wear lighter clothing in lighter colors, and shouldn’t go into the sun during peak heat hours.

“Today we started at 6:30 and that’s October and then once we get to next month, we’ll probably go to 7 o’ clock,” club member Jim Hambacher said.

In the summer he said they start even earlier around 5:30 A.M.

He’s 71 years old and has been hiking for years, so he understands the importance of staying hydrated.

“Bring more water than you think you’re going to need. Always,” he said.

Andrew Christiansen is a reporter for KGUN 9. Before joining the team, Andrew reported in Corpus Christi, Texas for KRIS6 News, Action 10 News and guest reported in Spanish for Telemundo Corpus Christi. Share your story ideas with Andrew by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, or Twitter.