https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/grand-canyon-hiker-dies-trail-during-extreme-heat-n1271786

 

This is a news account of a recent fatality within Grand Canyon.  I believe we were discussing how to hike in the heat (or not) just recently.

Grand Canyon National Park has a very active and proficient Search and Rescue operation, but outside help can only do so much individual actions and decisions can avert tragedies like this and render outside assistance unnecessary.

Of course, Federal legislation should be enacted, making dying within a National Park a severe criminal offense, with appropriate penalties....

 

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The tragedy of that death is compounded by the fact that it likely could have been prevented. Having never hiked the GC myself (yet), I do know that it's no joke and Summer is when I would least want to hike it. Even outside of higher than expected heat waves, triple digit temps for the canyon are the norm.

But on a bigger picture, I think one of the greatest issues ("dangers" maybe?) that new people face is the "happy happy joy joy YouTube channels". I wrote something akin to this yesterday on a Facebook group talking about a hiker who was rescued from Mt Katahdin.

There's an underlying problem of YouTubers only posting positive, happy sentiments about their treks and never addressing just how challenging it is. You may see someone as they're catching their breath on top of a summit but you'll never see them struggling to make it up. They won't show you how they stopped several times to get their heart rate lower or to sit down because the heat was causing them to be lightheaded. You will just be shown how great it is; mentioning how hard something is tends to be frowned upon.

So a lot of people who are new to the activity see these videos and don't realize that they're being shown a very select amount of clips with an overly positive spin put on it. Then they think it's much easier than it is and that's when SAR gets called and everyone hopes it's a rescue and not a recovery.

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“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)

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We just got back from backpacking rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon (5-8 June).  With the exception of the first day when we descended the north rim on the North Kaibab trail, we started the next three mornings, as in on the trail, no later than 5 AM so we were moving through the canyon before the sun entered the canyon deep enough to reach the trail.  In fact we were either finished our hike or extremely close to finishing each day's section before the trail got hot.  Then we set up camp and spent the rest of the day in the Bright Angle Creek which flows from the falls near the North Kaibab trail down to the Colorado River or on the day we were at Indian Garden, we played cards under the trees.  It got to 110 deg at Bright Angle campground across from Phantom Ranch the day we were there.  I was also drinking in excess of 4-5 litters of water each day and adding salt to my food.  It was a really great hike but we researched and knew the conditions we were heading into and we heeded the warnings of the rangers and took lots of precautions which also included sun screen, hats, long sleeved shirts and soaks in the creek.  We hadn't wanted to go in June but it was when we could get permits.

I totally agree with @Dad_Aint_Hip , people are leaning too much on things like YouTube to get their information (I've personally backed out of a trip when the trip leader kept saying that this and that person said this or that on YouTube, and the trip leader was clueless and had never backpacked before and wouldn't listen to those of us who had as we were contradicting YouTube) and when inexperienced and excited, they don't think things through to realize they are only being told one side of the story.  Rangers and SAR can't hold their hands but I also think people think if anything goes wrong the Rangers and SAR will be there to save them so they don't have to take care of themselves.  I've heard those sorts of sentiments expressed while in our Parks.

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Found Myself Outside

There is a lot of bad stuff on utube, but it didn't begin there.  A lot of visitors to the Great Outdoors are entering an unfamiliar environment, clueless about basic measure that will keep them safe.  After all, there are Rangers, right?  They will keep us safe from harm, won't they? How can there be hazards in a National Park?

These attitudes have been around for a long time, and probably have been supported by news and media accounts of successful rescues (the body recoveries get a lot less space).  Rarely is it mentioned that there is an inevitable lag time in any rescue operation, people may not be handy for any number of reasons, bad weather may be a problem, etc.  This doesn't happen in the movies, but is very frequent in Real Life.

For that matter, most, if not all, parks are understaffed, especially when it comes to field personnel.  SAR operations often depend on assistance from other organizations, not always a bad thing.

The uninformed will always be with us, but we can try to get the word out.  One of the nice things about REI is that it is a positive factor in this effort, by providing generally good gear and good info along with the goodies.

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The other thing that is not widely publicized is the background number of people who die in our National Parks every year. 

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Found Myself Outside

For that matter, who tracks accidents and fatalities in the various outdoor recreational pursuits - hunting, fishing, sightseeing, rock climbing, caving, etc.

There should  be some objective way of determining the relative hazards of all these activities, including visiting National Parks.   Frankly, I'll beet that the fatality rate of various recreational pursuits will be less than that of driving a vehicle, statistically the most hazardous pursuit for most of us.....

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Call me wrong, but for years I've hoped I would die on the trail. One of my best backpacking buddies almost pulled it off. He got an aortic aneurysm on a backpacking trip we are on and died a few months later after multiple unsuccessful surgeries.

My father, a fit hiker in his mid-60s at the time, had a medical condition climbing out of the canyon in temperatures under 100°. He had been on the river for a few days and they climbed out of the canyon from Phantom Ranch beginning after breakfast, probably too late.

My sister and her two sons had no problem walking out. My father said go on ahead. After 4 hours on the top my sister finally went down the canyon to find my father in a version of heat exhaustion.

I have had versions of nature induced stress that have nearly knocked me out as well. I have had problems with heat, altitude, and other weather conditions that have nearly dropped me.

This hiker did not take on a very ambitious hike. That route is commonly walked by hundreds of people every year. I bet this hiker was in very good condition too.

It's a series of compounding mistakes that usually bring even the most prepared down. The thing you can control the best is your decision making.

Here's a great tip I heard repeated this morning: I bring the gear just to make sure I won't need it.

Like a shade umbrella. "Nah - weighs too much." 

"This hiker did not take on a very ambitious hike. That roue is commonly walked by hundreds of people every year. I bet this hiker was in very good condition too."

Quite true, but this is also a trail on which the park concession will ring down a mule or horse to drag you out if you request - ther are MANY of these each year.  I don't eleven they are even totaled as rescues.  I also believe there is a fee.

Grand Canyon is weird.  Th N/S Kaibab - Bright Angel Trail system is superbly built and maintained, the best I have ever seen.  It is used by large multitude every year, so much so that capacity limits are in place.

The parks are places to commune and bond with unspoiled nature.  When they do this well, they attract people.  Eventually this leads to overcrowding and all the associated problems, thereby lessening the ability to see unspoiled nature.....

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They control the number of people on the trails only if you are in the group that is backpacking as in staying at the camps within the canyon.  What is not controlled is the number of people "day hiking" rim-to-rim or even rim-to-rim-to-rim.  And many of these people are more interested in filming the trip than paying attention to what is around them.  I don't know how many times we, backpacking, were almost run over by these individuals.  They have actually had to reduce the number of people staying at Bright Angle camp by 50% due to over flowing sewage treatment plant due to the large number of "day" hikers stopping to use the restrooms on their way through the canyon or so we were told by a ranger during a ranger program.  Because the rim-to-rim in a day hikers/runners aren't using a campsite, they don't need a permit so anyone who wants to try can anytime they want.

The upper mile of the Bright Angle trail was also so overrun with day hikers only exploring the upper reaches of the trail that we could barely get up.  Most don't bother reading the sign that says hikers coming up have right of way.  I actually stood face to face with hikers that were expecting me and my big backpack to get out of their way on the narrow trail so they could walk down the middle with their phone and bottle of water in their hands.  I was not the only backpacker telling people that hikers going up had right of way.  There were two other groups doing the same hike as Brian and I that were having the same problems and doing the same thing.

Grand Canyon was totally overrun with people while we were there.  There was no place to park (the blue village bus was not running due to COVID cleaning requirements) and hiking along the rim trail was more like walking in line.  It has become more of a tourist attraction than a National Park.  It is still beautiful but there is little communing with nature.  Just way too many people and kids running everywhere.  So many were climbing on the rocks on the edge of the canyon it's a wonder that none fell in.

We did see four California Condors at a rest stop on the Trans-Canyon Shuttle!

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Found Myself Outside

Thank you for the correction; I was under the impression that even day hikers needed permits.

Yet Grand Canyon is a very big place and there are lots of opportunities for solitude, away from crowds - like caves.  You rarely hear of them, but the Redwall Limestone is full of them, the vast majority undocumeented and unexplored.  One night in camp, while exploring caves at the behest of the NPS, we calculated that, given the length of Redwall cliffs in the Canyon, and estimating about 1/2 mile of cave passage per cave, there was perhaps more total cave passage in Grand Canyon than in Mammoth Cave.  Speculation, true, but quite reasonable....

There are plenty of "unmaintained" trails in Grand Canyon - basically they are the equivalent of normal trails elsewhere, and I have never had to fight for right of way on any of them - Grandview, New Hance, Old Hance, etc.

And there are less visited NPs - like Gates of the Arctic.  Last I looked, it got 28,000 annual visits.  I suspect it has no entrance fees.  There are lots of hidden gems tucked away in the NP system that are off the beaten path, tricky to access, without a local Chamber of Commerce beating the drum.

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