August 11, 2015

"A French Couple’s Love for the American West Ends in Tragedy."

The NYT reports.
[I]t was at the White Sands National Monument of New Mexico... that [David and Ornella] Steiners’ new trip took a terrible turn.... Their 9-year-old son, Enzo, was the only one to survive, found alive by park rangers.... [T]wo empty 20-ounce water bottles were found with the bodies but that the boy told investigators the bottles were full when the family started the hike.

“The father and mother would take one drink while they made the child take two swallows of water,” Sheriff House said...

45 comments:

Ignorance is Bliss said...

...a region where beautiful landscapes can conceal dangers quick to surprise even the most prepared visitor, that the Steiners’ new trip took a terrible turn.

How, exactly, does heat and dehydration surprise even the most prepared visitor to a fucking desert?

The Drill SGT said...

1 p.m. on the Alkali Flat in July. What could go wrong? The Park Service recommends 64 ounces of water per person, they had 13 ounces.

Phil 3:14 said...

Living in Phx, we see this often. Just had a British hiker die on one of our city mountains: high heat, little water and sharp drop-offs.

I've hiked White Sands, beautiful (and not as hot as Phx) but so easy to get lost

Big Mike said...

Europeans aren't used to the sort of temperatures that we routinely face here in the United States. Megan McArdle discussed this very point in a recent post. And, of course, the Southwestern desert regions are even worse than east coast cities.

Stupidity will kill you faster than just about anything.

MayBee said...

Because things are so accessible to us these days, many imagine they can't possibly be dangerous. Danger is for the olden days, with people in covered wagons.

We see this in the people who crossed a barrier at Yellowstone to take a picture, people who open their car windows when on safari, and this sad situation.
The world is accessible, people. But nature is also still real.

Brian said...

This is depressing. People wildly underestimate their water needs under all circumstances. 40oz for three people --- about 1/8th of what can fairly be called a minimum standard for the conditions --- is negligent. But I just don't know what there is to be done --- the Park Service already more or less beats you over the head with warnings about this kind of thing.

Rusty said...

Nature is always out to get you.

Bay Area Guy said...

It's a sad story, but frankly the parents were stupid and unprepared. A bit mystifying why NYT chose to seize the narrative on this one.

Memo to adventurers: in the summer, the desert is hot.

Virgil Hilts said...

Agree with Phil 3:14. One thing we see in Phoenix is that younger people seem to think their youth/fitness makes them less vulnerable. We had a couple 30 year-old in shape guys from Ohio hike South Mountain (an easy hike in the middle of the city) a few years ago on a Sunday in September. They started around 9 am, had too little water, went off the trail, were too embarrassed to use their cell phones (until too late), and 4 hours later one of them was dying. On a nice Sunday morning, with bars within 2 miles where they could have been drinking cold beers and watching football.

Coupe said...

Ration your sweat. Counter-intuitive, you have to have more clothes on.

Think of Arabs who live in the desert year round. They are covered head to foot with white fabric, and they have multiple layers of clothes underneath.

P.S. You still need water. Lots of it. Best also to have a camel.

Schorsch said...

We hiked halfway down Bright Angel trail in August. We took more than 60 oz per person, and hiked out after sunset. We saw rangers evacuating dozens of people like the family in the article, some in flipflops with one Aquafina bottle (20oz). Ths despite many, many signs warning people the desert heat can kill you.

EMD said...

I saw "American West" and was hoping for a shootout.

Darn.

Coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fernandinande said...

Phil 3:14 said...
I've hiked White Sands, beautiful (and not as hot as Phx) but so easy to get lost


They must've gotten lost -
Length of Alkali Flat Trail: 4.6 miles (7.4 km) round-trip

Having grown up in the desert and also having had a daily run of 10-20 miles at > 100 degrees, I probably wouldn't have brought any water for that short hike.

The Drill SGT said...

"There is no shade or water along the trail, and summer temperatures can exceed 100 degrees F (38 ° C). Heat-related illness is common in warm weather and can be fatal. Hike during cool times. Carry food and at least two quarts of water. Rest, eat and drink when tired. Drinking water is available only at the Visitor Center. The white sand reflects sunlight. Protect all exposed skin from sunburn. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses. We recommend that you do not hike alone."

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Kind of weird that I did my Walkabout (1971) comment before getting to this blog post.

A mere coincidence, almost certainly.

Paddy O said...

When I was doing a lot of hiking in my 20s, often with groups or friends who included people who didn't do it very much, I always brought extra water, sometimes double what I would need. Invariably, it was used up by the end of the hike because others didn't bring enough water.

I sort of understand the French couple. A person really can't conceive of extreme temperatures until they've experienced it. When I went to college in the Chicago area, I had no idea what cold was and was very unprepared my first year, even though I had grown up watching all sorts of media about cold weather.

The West is hot.

But how did the pioneers do it then?! Well, a good many of them died. We read about the people who made it, but there was a huge amount of people who just didn't.

mikee said...

A discussion of helicopter parents might include this example as a pro-rotary-wing argument, but despite their folly, these parents did right by their child.

Bill said...

I never go without water even when hiking in Death Valley in January. Arid is arid.

SteveR said...

The conditions are severe by most standards, the brightness of the surface and absence of shade can act quick. I worked a couple miles from there on the missile range, we factored heat exhaustion/dehydration at the top of job hazard analyses, even that relatively "short" hike would not have been done without a lot better prep, if at all, at 1pm in August. I expect it will be a more restricted activity in the future. Federal employees are risk adverse when it comes to taking chances and possibly getting blamed.

T Rellis said...

If only there were a device where you could access a storehouse of knowledge like say type in a line "how much water should I take for a day hike in the desert?" If something like that existed these smart Europeans would still be alive.

The Drill SGT said...

Bill said...
I never go without water even when hiking in Death Valley in January. Arid is arid.


To some extent "too hot" and "too cold" are relative to what one is used to.

The coldest apparent night I ever spent was in Vietnam.

as for the California desert, it's often cold at night. The high desert can be hot in the day and very cold at night. I remember getting snowed on at Ft Irwin.

Scott said...

Of course these are the same sort of silly EUnicks who think Americans use too much air-conditioning

The Drill SGT said...

SteveR said...
The conditions are severe by most standards, the brightness of the surface and absence of shade can act quick. I worked a couple miles from there on the missile range, we factored heat exhaustion/dehydration at the top of job hazard


Not mentioned by anybody... Locals never go anywhere by car out there without two gallons of water in the trunk.

stuff happens.

Tank said...

One of the odd things about dehydration is how fast you can go from feeling normal to ... I don't feel so well ... to ... why am I looking up at the sky?

Sigivald said...

... turns out the desert is not your friend.

(I wouldn't hike five miles in an alkali flat in summer at all, let alone with only 40 oz of water for three people.)

Coupe said...

It's a dry heat...

Nichevo said...

Phew I keep 4 gallons in the vehicle at all times, this in NYC. Not even a bottle per person? What were they thinking?!

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

The Drill SGT said...

stuff happens.

The sad thing is that you can't get anyone to believe that any more.

Capitol Report New Mexico said...

The people commenting seem to appreciate the problem. Modest addition: White Sands is special. I've been there on a sunny noon hour at 100 degrees. The reflection from the sand, which is gypsum rather than the usual silica, turns the environment into an oven. It is perhaps the opposite of a midwestern blizzard at midnight at zero degrees. The inland west, while beautiful, is not benign.

Paco Wové said...

When I travel to France, I am always charmed by how little and cute their country is.

Char Char Binks said...

Les imbeciles.

Greg Hlatky said...

One more thing for one of those periodic Things-Europeans-Find-Annoying-About-the-US articles: "Your deserts are too hot and dry."

exhelodrvr1 said...

BlackLivesMatter!!!

Skeptical Voter said...

That's a shame. Outdoors; In The Desert; No Water; No Shade; In The Summer = fairly quick death.

Rusty said...


Memo to adventurers: in the summer, the desert is hot.


And dry. It's dry in the winter and in the fall and for a very brief time in the spring. It rains.

Freeman Hunt said...

I feel bad for them. I don't think I'd call them stupid. I don't think they accurately assessed the danger and thought, "Who cares? We'll be fine." I imagine they did not understand how different the climate would be from what they had experienced before. Sometimes having a lot of experience makes a person overconfident. I bet that's what happened here.

R.A. Crankbait said...

Heat stroke and dehydration can hit fast, as Tank said. A few years ago my 12-year-old daughter and I were playing golf on a little executive course in Minnesota. Temps in the low 90s and humid (it's Minnesota) - so nothing out of the ordinary. We each had a bottle of water but six holes in she started to feel faint and nauseous. She didn't think she could keep any water down, so I poured the water on her head and walked her the 100 yards back to the air-conditioned clubhouse where she was able to rest and re-hydrate and started to feel better. It was more than a little scary, especially when conditions seemed "normal".

Diamondhead said...

Reminds me of the Jack London story To Build a Fire. How awful to imagine the creeping sense of panic and regret.

Drago said...

Paco Wové: "When I travel to France, I am always charmed by how little and cute their country is."

The Germans, and earlier than that English rulers, have always seemed to have little difficulty in crossing vast swaths of French territory in a single bound.

TML said...

They were never more than 2.3 miles from the car/parking lot. Something's not adding up here. Unless they set out already almost dead and dehydrated.

Diamondhead said...

TML, how do we know how far they got from the parking lot?

The Drill SGT said...

Diamondhead said...
TML, how do we know how far they got from the parking lot?


The magic of advanced maths. (specifically geometry).

They were on a 4.6 mile loop...Thus at no point were they farther following the trail than 2.3 miles from the start. Less across country...

Diamondhead said...

Ah, well I didn't know if they left the trail they were on. I guess I fassumed they must have been lost and not on the trail.

David Hampton said...

Too many Europeans are not accustomed to the amount of fluid the body requires when traveling in the U.S. I recall a German Family dying on a dirt road because they got stuck miles from the asphalt in Death Valley. Took years before someone stumbled across their bodies and the rental car. In the American Southwest, summer or otherwise, we travel with 60 gallons of water, including our RV, before we venture out for a few days in the desert. If you stop sweating, you are in trouble. If you stop urinating, you are in trouble. We can easily drink 100 ounces of water a day doing any hiking at all in the heat and low humidity. Hottest we ever experienced in Death Valley was 118 in August. The desert is deadly beautiful. She requires respect and we carry extra water for the uninitiated who hike what looks like a short trail in sand but is actually several miles. Distance is difficult to measure in the wild desert which is long on mirages, depth perception fading in the distance, and forgetting that however far you hike you have to traverse the same distance on your return when you are tired and dehydrated. Only landmarks are measured in miles not big city blocks with high rises and street signs. Be careful out there and remember the military folks who live on similar terrain in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Don't be a statistic.