Visitor Safety

Safety is a very important aspect of our work on Mount Graham. We are all proud of our safety accomplishments and are strongly motivated to maintain our exemplary record. Your attention to "safety issues" will assist us greatly in maintaining this goal.

Thank you for your contribution!

The road from the Base Camp to the observatory site is 29 miles of winding switchbacks. The road is narrow and there are no guardrails. The first 21 miles of roadway are paved and the remaining 8 miles consist of a dirt/gravel surface. Tire traction is amazingly low on the dirt surface. Vehicle speed (yours and the other persons) is an important ingredient for your safety. You must not only drive defensibly but you must continuously watch for the other person who may not be familiar with the roads and is in a hurry to get to/from one of the many campgrounds. Or you may round a very narrow, sharp turn and find yourself head-on with a semi-tractor trailer rig that may be slightly wider than the road. Please drive with the utmost caution.

During the winter the road surface can become extremely hazardous, covered in "black" ice or packed snow. The road is maintained by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the MGIO maintenance crew. Typically ADOT takes care of the paved road surface and MGIO takes care of the last 8 miles to the site. We do our very best to provide site access via a four wheel drive vehicle with tire chains on all four wheels. During the winter, please check with the Base Camp to ascertain road conditions.

All visitors to Mount Graham are asked to read the following documents:

Winter and Mountain Driving

MGIO Safe Driving Policy: mgio_safe_driving_policy.pdf

MGIO Safe Driving Course: mgio_driving_safety_course.pdf

Steward Observatory "Mountain Travel and Habitat" Policy, #42: sosm42.pdf

Snow Chains Installation Video

Whether you are an experienced trekker, a visitor or an observer, altitude does not discriminate. Altitude effects the young and old, fit or feeble. High altitude is defined as 1,500 - 3,500 m (5,000 -11,500 ft) in elevation. MGIO is at an elevation of 10,400 ft. To protect your health at this altitude, we have included some guidelines for acclimation. Keep in mind, acclimation is a slow process and could take as long as two weeks to become fully acclimatized, but normally the process of acclimation is 1 - 3 days. During this acclimation process a number of changes take place to allow the body to operate with the decreased oxygen and they are:

  • Depth of respiration increases.
  • Pressure in pulmonary arteries in increased, "forcing" blood into portions of the lung which are not normally used during sea level breathing.
  • The blood produces more red blood cells to carry oxygen, along with a particular enzyme that facilitates the release of oxygen from hemoglobin to the body tissues.

There are a number of special circumstances that would recommend against travel to high altitude:

  • A heart condition, such as congestive heart failure and/or angina.  The longer you are at altitude, the more your arterial vessels will dilate, increasing the flow of blood to the cardiac muscle. Exerting yourself too much and too quickly could be fatal.
  • A lung condition, such as chronic lung disease.
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Previous stroke
  • Pregnancy
  • Anemia and sickle cell disease

Symptoms of High Altitude Sickness:

  • Shortness of breath, coughing, lack of appetite, nausea and/or vomiting, severe headache, staggering gait, and disturbed sleep. Additional symptoms may include temporary vision abnormalities, eyelid drooping, facial swelling, swelling in lower extremities, and decreased consciousness. 

What to do if I feel I am experiencing altitude sickness?

  • The most important thing is to tell someone, particularly a First Responder!  Do not try to hide the fact that you are not feeling well. Some high altitude symptoms are indicators of a severe medical emergency and you might need help and not even know it! 

High Altitude Treatment and Prevention

  • For severe symptoms, immediately tell someone so that medical assistance can be called! 
  • For mild and moderate symptoms, go to lower altitude if the symptoms do not improve within 48 hours. 
  • Increase water intake prior to and during your visit to altitude.
  • Reduce salt intake.
  • Avoid smoking, alcohol, and sleeping pills.
  • Include complex carbohydrates in diet (>70%).
  • Ibuprofen (for relieving headaches)
  • Breathing oxygen (for relieving symptoms)
  • Antacids (many foods will cause indigestion)
  • Some prescribed medications may provide benefit, such as Diamox or Dexamethasone.

 High Altitude References and Recommended Sites

MGIO (both the Base Camp and all summit facilities) is a Weapons Free Zone in accordance with Arizona Board of Regents policy 5-302 to 303. Visitors must be fully informed of this policy prior to visiting. The UAPD site details this policy. Most items that would constitute a weapon are obvious. Note carefully that knives with blades >5" in length are considered weapons, even if intended for cooking. This is important to persons that are planning to bring their own utensils to the site.

Occasionally Mount Graham experiences severe weather which includes lightning. Below are links for information about lightning safety:

The MGIO Emergency Response Contingency Plan contains information regarding:

  • Emergency Coordinators
  • Medical Emergency Procedures
  • Evacuation Procedures
  • Fire Response
  • Spill Response
  • Emergency Response Information Center
  • Material Safety Data Sheets