NewsNationalThe Now


Experts warn hikers about air quality

Posted: 6:14 PM, Aug 10, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-11 03:27:07Z

With fires spreading throughout California, the haze is also impacting the hiking community.

That's why on a new episode of Tori's Trail's The Now Bakersfield took a closer look into the toll the air is taking on hikers in the valley.

According to the online Cal Fire map there are 17 fires burning across the state of California as of August 9, 2018. That smoke is keeping some hikers indoors, while other more experienced hikers are simply just altering their route.

The Now Bakersfield reporter Tori Cooper spoke to professionals to help the hiking community better understand the risks they may be taking by hitting the local trails.

Glenn Gregory has over 50 years of hiking experience and not just in Kern County, “I've hiked in Colorado, some of the 14'ers up there, 14,000 foot peaks, I’ve hiked in Canada three different hiking trips up through there, Banff and Jasper and places like Lake Louise."

However, the fires are also impacting his normal hiking routine, "It's very frustrating because one of the things that we enjoy about hiking is the vistas, and its clear and it's pretty and you have your fresh air, but right now everything is on fire."

Gregory  also said when it's like this outside he still doesn't let it completely sideline his hiking regiment, "In the summer time we go up anyway because it's too hot down here, so we'll go to Mount Pinos out of Frazier Mountain and hike through there because now you are up over 8,000 feet."

Gregory said that by hiking above the inversion layer, which usually keeps most of the pollution locked into the valley hikers have a better chance of escaping most of the haze. Mount Pinos is not the only location in Kern County where Gregory hikes during days like Friday, "Usually you know you are only looking at having to get above four or five thousand feet and your good so we'll hike Mount Tehachapi."

Heather Heinks of the San Joaquin Valley Air District said the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups but if you decide to go hiking you should make adjustments, "Take it easy back off on the duration of time you are outside and the intensity in which you push forward in your exercise."

Chief Pediatric Physician Dr. Fernando Fran of Kaiser Permanente told The Now it's unhealthy to be outdoors when the air quality is bad.


-It’s not healthy to be outdoors when the air quality is bad.  When it’s air from fires, for example, there are lots of particulate matter in the air as well as burned carbon in the air. For people with lung problems, prolonged unprotected exposure will definitely cause flare ups with their chronic conditions: asthma, COPD, etc. It’s a good idea to wear a mask when outdoors.  If can be avoided, don’t go outside.  For people who don’t have lung problems, although there may not be an official recommendation, it’s still better to take precaution and be indoors or wear a mask to minimize long-term problems.  Well fitting N95 masks should filter out some of the problem, but it’s doesn’t remove all the problems.

-Symptoms include irritated nose and congestion or “allergy” like symptoms, coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, burning sensation with breathing in the chest area.

-Lungs are primary organs affected but nasal passages and throat areas are also exposed.  Additional congestion can lead to sinus or ear problems because these areas are closely related. You can feel irritated throat or sore throat.  For those with heart problems, they should be cautious as well.  When the lungs and breathing become a problem, heart starts to work harder.

-For those with asthma, they should be on their controllers and maybe even following their asthma action plan in the “yellow” range.  This usually means doubling the dose of the controllers, depending on what controllers they are using.  If people are not sure, they should be consulting with their doctors and work out an asthma action plan. If the people have asthma symptoms, they should be aggressively treating with their rescue medications to make sure they are in the “green” zone in their asthma action plan.  This may prevent an exacerbation in their asthma. Try to avoid hiking, especially near areas with fires.

-Pack  allergy medication like anti-histamines and nasal steroid nose sprays can help, but it doesn’t remove the risk of having breathing problems completely.  Be honest with how the body is handling the situation and take it slower if you must hike.  If the body isn’t handling it well, be ready to stop and turn back early.  Extra water always helps.  Mask may make it better, especially for sensitive individuals (those with lung or heart problems). Extra water always helps but you need balance that out with how much weight or load one is hiking with.  How much water: A good rule of thumb - Start with two liters of water per person for hiking but you may need more if the terrain is strenuous, the trip is longer than two miles, or it’s a hot day and there are no shade.

Heinks also said even though experienced hikers may have all of the essentials, there is a another tip they may want to consider if they want to limit the amount of exposure to unhealthy air, "Should pick a time period when maybe it's hotter outside, it sounds crazy but when it's hot outside the air tends to mix at a higher level which keeps particulate matter hopefully out in the atmosphere up a little higher versus at ground level."

Despite what professionals said Gregory and his hiking clubs are not letting the air impact their plans, "The Kern Valley Hiking Club has their hike this Saturday and the southern up at Slate Mountain above Ponderosa on the Western Divide and the Southern Sierra Club again another meet up club, they're hiking Sequoia National Park they're hiking up the Lakes Trail to Pear Lake that's a gorgeous trail," Gregory said.

The Valley Air District also recommended that you visit their website before heading out to make sure you are hiking in the healthiest areas in Kern County. If your area is not on their radar you can also contact the U.S. Forest Service.