Wildfire in Yosemite

Feeling the Heat?

Remember when you only needed to check the weather bulletin for rain before heading to the hills? Air quality reports, heatwave warnings and wildfire maps are becoming a must in recent summers, scorching the enthusiasm of any would-be outdoor enthusiasts.

Yet another record-breaking July has seen heatwaves dominate the east and wildfires the west of North America in what the New York Times has dubbed the “New Normal.” Indeed, since the year 2000, nearly every other year has witnessed a record-breaking wildfire season in the US in terms of acreage burned.  This year, the affected areas are extensive and have resulted in park and national forest closures, camping stove bans, reduced air quality and health officials urging people to avoid going outside and engaging in strenuous activities – effectively calling on resident outdoor enthusiasts to let their hiking boots sit this summer out.

The month already started off with a bang when just as Americans were preparing for the Fourth of July holiday to the east, the National Weather Service issued heat warnings of up to 110 F (43 C) and recommended people limit their outdoor celebrations to an absolute minimum. Out west, California is dealing with a particularly nasty wildfire season – again – with 16 major fires burning an area greater than the size of the sprawling city of Los Angeles. Thus far, this has resulted in numerous deaths, destruction of property and the evacuation and closure of the nation’s most iconic park, Yosemite; a closure that remains in effect as of press time. Similarly, the trekking mecca and new home to the Outdoor Retailer industry fair, Colorado, is battling numerous fires following a 30-year low winter snowpack, one being the second-largest wildfire in its recorded history.

While numerous reports show this trend is already spelling trouble for affected local economies, outdoor recreationalists can always go someplace else, right? Well, what about when there’s no place left to go within reasonable range? Last year’s wildfire season, for example, choked much of western US and Canada with a thick smoke haze from July to mid-September – aka summer. Head to Europe? Nix. Here too, unprecedented heat waves and wildfires are roasting the usual trekking magnets in the Alps, Scandinavia, and the UK.

Some people are just coming to terms with the possibility that a proper winter may soon become a fond but distant memory. Yet where outdoors folk will go – and what exactly it is they will all be doing – if summer’s “new normal” looks like an excerpt out of Dante’s Inferno are questions the outdoor community might no longer have the luxury of ignoring.

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Jonathan Fraenkel-Eidse

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