What It’s Like to Be in 105-Degree Heat for 5 Days

Spanning 80 miles over the screensaver-worthy desert landscape of Canyonlands National Park in Utah, the White Rim Trail features some of the most idyllic vistas in the American Southwest. Most park-goers enjoy the breathtaking scenery from the comfort and convenience of an off-road vehicle because it’s 80 miles long, in the middle of the desert and temperatures average 105 degrees in the summer. As Lauren Steele and Paddy O’Connell set out to walk the trail (in the middle of summer no less), they had to ask themselves and whomever they came across, “are we the toughest or the dumbest?” The answer: maybe a bit of both.

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Both raised in the Midwest, Steele and O’Connell each sought the mountains as adults. Steele, a writer now based in New York City counts ultramarathons in the Alps and bagging peaks in South America as work assignments. Meanwhile O’Connell calls Colorado home and works as a multi-hyphenate creative in the outdoor industry covering everything from writing to hosting a podcast. When the two friends were approached to tackle the White Rim Trail in the summer, it didn’t take much convincing on either side.

Preparing for the Challenge

Each already living for adventure and thriving in what most would consider uncomfortable conditions; Steele and O’Connell were physically primed for the challenge that lay ahead. The most important preparation they could make turned out to be mental.

“I learned how to optimize my water intake by studying the habits of camels and drinking 100 ounces of water everyday for two weeks before we arrived in Canyonlands National Park. Other than that, I just laid on a day bed next to an A.C. unit eating Dilly Bars so I could create a safe space I could mentally take myself back to during the journey,” jokes Steele.

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“Each morning before we started I challenged myself to find the fun. And my fuel is making other laugh so I tried cracking jokes and goofing around every step of the way,” O’Connell adds.

Steele and O’Connell would need the laughs. Almost no one hikes the White Rim Trail in the summer and one park ranger even remarked that in his 15 years there he’d never seen anyone do it. The 100-plus degree heat would demand the pair (and crew documenting their journey) adhere to a schedule that was anything but laidback.

A Grueling Schedule

“We were on a mission to wake up and hike every morning, nap in the afternoon like a pride of lions, and wake up again and walk at night,” explains Steele. Breakfast started around 4 a.m. and in under an hour they were on the trail until 2 p.m. Then it was time to scramble for whatever shade they could find and take a three-hour nap before making a light snack. After another four hours of walking, the crew threw their tents up made a meal and collapsed for a few hours’ rest. After all, 4 a.m. comes early.

Lauren and Paddy would start their hike at 4 a.m. each morning and take an afternoon nap during the heat of the day.

Columbia

“It was a brutal schedule but one we had to keep to in order to complete the hike in our time goal. Midday pit stops to crash out under lonely trees or within the slivers of shade provided by a boulder was essential,” O’Connell says. “We were exhausted and hotter than hell and always thirsty and hungry. That’s when the goofiness would really start pouring out.”

One night one of the crew members suggested running after the sun set to cover more ground. Weary, sweaty, thirsty in a decidedly goofy mood O’Connell considered it for a passing moment. “I responded by pointing out that we were in the goddamn desert in July, which feels like walking around in a convection oven and I would rather mouth breathe in a port-a-potty after dropping a road flare into the brown muck than run in the desert in goddamn July. It was hot. We all weren’t thinking so straight.”

“We were exhausted and hotter than hell and always thirsty and hungry.”

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Those moments of intensity were some of the most rewarding according to O’Connell. Pushing himself to the limits and finding out how he reacts is what keeps him coming back to the wilderness. Identifying as a positive, fun-loving person is pretty easy when everything is going smooth but when the heat sets in and your pack feels unreasonably heavy all of a sudden is when you can really learn about yourself. “I love challenges and doing things that put my character, how I see myself and how I navigate life, under scrutiny,” he adds.

Gearing Up Made All the Difference

Finding those limits with relative comfort (and safety) takes some serious gear and careful packing. Steele and O’Connell called on Columbia’s Solar Ice t-shirts and Titan Peak shorts that feature Omni Shade fabric, a material that actually deflects sunlight away from the body to create a cooling effect. Covering 80 miles of desert terrain over five days takes some serious kicks, so Steele and O’Connell both opted for the Peakfreak XCRSN II. Capable of handling rough terrain but still lightweight, the Peakfreak is the go-to shoe for extreme warm weather adventure missions.

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The gear that made the biggest difference turned out to be the small things. “My favorite piece of gear on this trip hands down was the Bora Bora II Booney sun hat,” says Steele. No longer just for anglers and the AARP-set, sun hats are bonafide adventure essentials in the desert. Steele also swears by an accessory that seems more at home on an NBA court than the trail. “I completely underestimated the boss factor of the Columbia Freezer Zero Arm Sleeves,” she says. “I put them on thinking that they would make me look like LeBron James—which they did—but they pulled double duty and also kept my arms sunburn-free.”

Having the right gear made the difference between having a terrible time and a good time, but ultimately for Steele and O’Connell it came down to the company. “At the end of the Litmus experiment it was confirmed that yes, indeed, fun is more powerful than the sun,” says Steele, “however, a crucial data point determined that friends are the most efficient and effective fun tool.”

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Lifestyle – Esquire

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