Environmental Hazards


  • Field camp activities occur at elevations ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 ft (1,500 to 3,000 m). The reduced amount of oxygen at altitude may adversely effect pre-existing medical conditions. Symptoms such as shortness of breath and rapid pulse may develop. Blood pressure may increase transiently and some may develop swelling in their feet and ankles.
  • Expect a wide range of temperatures. During June and July, typical daytime temperatures range from ~50 to 90 °F (10 to 32 °C). Evenings are generally mild, but be prepared for nighttime temperatures from 30 to 50 °F (-1 to 10 °C) when camping.
  • Dehydration develops quickly at field camp because of the very low relative humidity and intense sunshine.
  • The thinner atmosphere at high altitude filters less UV light and thus predisposes one to sunburn. Similarly, the sun is very bright in the mountains so bring a good pair of sunglasses.
  • Expect high winds. The Wasatch Mountains and the Colorado Plateau are known for high-winds – especially at the end of the day as temperatures begin to drop. Blowing dust is VERY common. Be prepared with a suitable windbreaker... wind can be exhausting and annoying for the unprepared. 
  • Precipitation is rare, but brief, intense snow and thunderstorms are possible. 
  • Vegetation comprises a typical high-desert/steppe assemblage (sage, pine, cactus, greasewood), so expect to encounter thorny brush and cacti.


Associated Safety Hazards

  • Altitude sickness is a syndrome with potentially incapacitating symptoms. Although it generally only occurs when one sleeps at altitude above 8,000 ft (2,500 m), students may develop symptoms. Frequent symptoms are headaches, nausea, insomnia, extreme fatigue, listlessness, lack of appetite, and light-headedness. Generally, symptoms will improve with rest and fluids in 24 to 48 hours. Report any persistent symptoms to the Director. Alcohol, tranquilizers, sleep medication, and antihistamines may make altitude sickness worse.
  • Dehydration can cause fatigue, severe headaches, and result in heat exhaustion & sunstroke.
  • Exposure can result in sunburn, windburn, cold-related illness (hypothermia & frostbite), heat-related illness (heat exhaustion & sunstroke), and snow blindness (sunburn of the eyes).


Mitigation of Hazards

  • To prevent altitude sickness and dehydration, always drink enough water to cause the need for urination at least every three hours while at camp. While in the field, students should drink a minimum of two to three liters of water per day. Drink small amounts of water at a time throughout the day. Hydration packs (e.g., Camelbacks) are great investments.
  • Sunburn and heat exhaustion are common and unnecessary camp ailments. Sun block is mandatory for those with sensitive skin and should be used by all. People who do not usually burn are more apt to get caught because they do not take necessary precautions. Wear wide-brimmed hats, pants, and light shirts to keep cool and prevent sunburn.
  • Wearing UV filtering sunglasses will protect your eyes from snow blindness. Contact lenses can be troublesome in the field because of dust and low humidity. If you prefer contact lenses, bring lots of lens solution and a backup pair of glasses. It is important to wear eye protection (glasses, goggles, sunglasses, etc.) in the field to protect your eyes when you (or those around you) are breaking rocks.


Last revised January 2013