August 4, 2017

"Almost routinely... hikers underestimate levels of heat and thirst in the Grand Canyon."

"... despite the canyon’s infamous heat, its lack of water, and its lethal cliffs acting as ramparts to imprison the parched hiker away from the river of life flowing within view so far below..."

From a book, "Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon," quoted in the WaPo article, "'She made a wrong turn’: Grand Canyon officials may have found the remains of lost Texas doctor."

42 comments:

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Poor kids.

Expat(ish) said...

A few years ago, in July (!!) I had the chance to run the Grand Canyon - it's called "Rim to Rim" or R2R. As i was running alone I decided to just run down the Bright Angel trail to the Colorado and then come back up. I left at 4am and when i was back up at the top 7 hours and 18 miles later it was ... 114 degrees.

But there is water every 1.5 miles in the Summer and i was carrying about 10K calories in goo in my running backpack *and* was very well prepared.

Side note: a park employee on her 'regular morning run' passed me both ways - like a slender and very attractive mountain goat. She was nice enough to stop and drop me a few encouraging words as I slogged back up the hill.

I got quite a stern talking by by a fireplug of a ranger who warned me to stay in Indian Wells until dark if I hadn't made it to that point before 10am as the rim trail the last few miles would be 130+ from reflected heat.

It's a beautiful and dangerous place.

-XC

rcocean said...

I can't believe that anyone could "Run from rim to rim"!\

I hiked it, and it was a killer.

Frankly, you have to be a real dummy, or wander off the marked trails and get lost, to die of dehydration. Carry lots of water.

If things get too bad, don't try to make the rim, head back down to the river, at least you'll have water.

mockturtle said...

This sort of thing happens a lot in Death Valley, too. Gee, I wonder how it got its name?

JML said...

Albuquerque, NM is at the base of the Sandia Mountains. Each year, one to five people die hiking there, and several more have to be rescued. People are lulled into a false sense of security - they think the mountain is just like their back yard. They see it every day and think it is a friendly playground. But the mountain doesn't care about and is just as happy to let you die as to let you live.

DKWalser said...

Each year tourists die in the Arizona heat. (Travelers never do.)

Rusty said...

Another one of Rusty's rules.
As good as you think you are.
You ain't.
Nature has more ways to fuck you up than you can prepare for.

stever said...

I grew up in the SW. I've done plenty of hiking along with being a geologist (field work doesn't follow trails). I've been to the Grand Canyon a dozen times. Never had any desire to hike the Canyon. Too many people basically.

Fred Drinkwater said...

About 25 years ago I hiked down the Kaibab trail to the river and back up Bright Angel. South rim to river to south Rim in one day. My wife and I were with another couple. It was late spring, IIRC.
The hike down was a bit rough on my knees, so the hike out, especially from Indian Garden to the top, was painful. (Also the trail was trashed - it was like hiking up a long staircase where the treads are irregular and way too wide. Very awkward.)
On the way out, we got to Indian Garden about 3 PM, and rested for an hour. There were a LOT of day hikers there, who had mostly come down Bright Angel. Most looked unequipped, some drastically (e.g. flip-flops, no apparent food or water, etc.)
About 4 PM we started up. It was quickly obvious that lots of folks were not going to make it out before dark, or even at all that evening. (Google "bright angel trail above Indian Garden" for images of what they were facing.)
At one point, my wife called down to me from the next switchback up-trail, "Can I have another cookie?" The guy immediately in front of me whipped around and said "I'll give you $20 for a cookie!"
We ended up giving away all our remaining food (a few pounds), water (maybe 6 liters), and several spare flashlights. The crowded trail, plus mercy-mission pauses, meant we got to the top about an hour after dark. Folks were still streaming up the trail more than two hours later, when we left the area.
The Bright Angel-Indian Garden round trip is the most popular trail at the Canyon. About 50 yards down the trail from the rim trailhead is (was) a big sign, in many languages. It has clear advice about water, food, clothing, schedule, etc. Emphasized by a large Death's-Head.
But just like at the Vernal Falls trail in Yosemite, where the signs caution against leaving the trail by listing the recent deaths, some folks know better.

mockturtle said...

Rusty asserts: Nature has more ways to fuck you up than you can prepare for.

And, as pleasant as Nature can be, she can turn malevolent in a hurry. All the features you were admiring only hours before can turn on you like evil beasts.

mockturtle said...

I've seen people starting a tough hike wearing flip-flops and often wonder how far they get.

joshbraid said...

Also hiked Kaibab down and Bright Angel up in one day forty years ago in July. I had hiked down and back from Indian Wells the weekend before and met so many people who were so terribly unprepared that I was educated quickly and well prepared. It was the hike of my life and well worth it and I see why people attempt it. Amazing. And, deadly. I really don't think anything short of armed guards screening the trail will stop the unprepared--flip flops, no food, no hats, little water. Amazing. And, deadly.

Michael said...

Coming down from a hike to Cathedral Lake in CO I was in a rush to get to the car before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. There, ascending, at 2:00 pm was a Japanese couple with their five year old. The father was in black dress shoes, the mother and child in flip flops. The father carried a paper grocery sack.

William said...

The plus side of old age is that you know with absolute certainty that you will not be cut down in the flower of youth because of one bad decision.

mockturtle said...

William says: The plus side of old age is that you know with absolute certainty that you will not be cut down in the flower of youth because of one bad decision.

Very true! Since I've been older I've taken more risks and been less concerned about death because I wouldn't be letting anyone down who depends on me. And dying while rock climbing is more romantic than dying of cancer.

Caligula said...

"Albuquerque, NM is at the base of the Sandia Mountains. Each year, one to five people die hiking there, and several more have to be rescued."

But, the Canyon is a sneakier threat because the easier part (downhill) is done first (and usually earlier in the day, when it's cooler). In the mountains at least some realize before they get too far up that they're nowhere near as physically fit as they thought they were.

~ Gordon Pasha said...

"Nature doesn't care if you're having fun." ~ Larry Neville

'TreHammer said...

I've flown over the Grand Canyon a couple of times in a commercial jet...that was enough for me...

traditionalguy said...

I guess that dry heat ain't so great after all. But it's the water stupid, not the heat.

chuck b. said...

That is an outstanding book that would be required reading for all American junior high or high school students if I were in charge of such things. In addition to the many fine discussion points about questioning authority, self-reliance, the arbitrary nature of fate, etc., etc., I eapecially appreciate the cold, numerical summaries at the end of every chapter.

The Yellowstone version is also good. Have not read the Yosemite.

Expat(ish) said...

@rcocean - there is also a R2R2R ultra that gets run by some really amazing athletes. Usually at night (spring/fall) or daytime (winter). I can't imagine.

-XC

California Snow said...

@Freddrinkwater I did almost the exact same thing as you about 12 years ago when I went down Kaibab and back up Kaibab. We got down to the river about noon but didn't get back up until after 6 or 7. This was in October. It was nice at the top when we started and warm at the bottom but when we got to the top it was clouding over and starting to get cold. I had plenty of water but I was still exhausted. That's the most exhausted I've ever been. I realized that plain old water just wasn't cutting it. Something like Gatorade might be better next time.

I was amazed at how many people were heading down in the late afternoon.

When we got to the top after the hike is when I first saw the warning sign telling us not to do exactly what we did. I agree. It is a TOUGH hike.

The Godfather said...

In August 1960, when I was 17 (gee! I hadn't thought about it, but that was 57 years ago), a friend and I set out to hike across the Grand Canyon. I don't remember the names of the trails, but we did the North Rim to the River on the first day, and then planned to go up to the South Rim the second day. This was because we saw that the elevation of the North Rim was 6,000 feet above the River, whereas the South Rim is only 5,000 feet above the River -- go down the long way, come up the short way, right? But from the North Rim the trail is steep, with switchbacks etc., for only maybe half of that 6,000 feet, and then it's just a gradual descent for maybe 10 miles or so, that seems flat. From the River to the South Rim is all steep.

My buddy's new hiking boots let him down, so he had to ride a mule up the next day, but I walked. It sounds as though the Canyon is more crowded now, but after my buddy's mule train passed me early in the morning, I didn't see a soul on the trail. I was carrying enough water, but there was NO water on the trail (I think I took the shorter trail, because I'm smart, see). Switchbacks are very frustrating when you're tired: You slog and slog and slog, come to the turn, and slog and slog and slog, and then you look down and see that you've climbed a vertical distance of 10 feet -- out of 5,000!

But God Almighty it was a beautiful place!

Yes, I did make it to the top. The last mile or so I had some help from a tourist family who had strolled down from the Rim to take pictures. Bless them.

sodal ye said...

Blogger William said...
The plus side of old age is that you know with absolute certainty that you will not be cut down in the flower of youth because of one bad decision.
....
You nailed it, in a way. I have a few rules for travelling solo in extreme places or in extreme circumstances. Rule #1 is don't do ANYTHING stupid. "Anything" includes anything cultural, for instance, or being unprepared for the heat talked about in this thread, or a suddenly developing circumstance. It's easy to see what went wrong in retrospect. The regret felt provides the clarity you didn't have at the time. Thinking about possible regrets generally eliminates stupid decisions. It seems like a fine point but isn't. Young people can do this almost as well as old.

Owen said...

"Extreme Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why," by Laurence Gonzales. Great little book that explores the mix of luck, discipline, training, and gear that (sometimes) work to keep us idiots breathing.

The Canyon is a furnace. I don't know how people can carry enough water for that trek down and up. Crazy.

mockturtle said...

I have that book, Owen. It is interesting and has a few surprising conclusions.

Paul said...

We have become so soft, so ignorant, as a society we have no clue on how to survive. Our 'real world' now days is the internet when right outside our windows is THE REAL WORLD.

Watch such shows as 'Life Below Zero'. It's pretty interesting to find out there are people who live where a mistake can kill 'em in a second.

Chipotle said...

Years ago I hiked many of the trials in the Grand Canyon. You had to get a permit to hike the unmaintained trails (e.g. Grandview, Hermit, Bill Hall). The office which gave out those permits had a bunch of photos of people who had made bad choices. Those photos were a gruesome warning...

Owen said...

Mockturtle: yes. The story that sticks with me is the author's chat with the lifeguard on Waikiki Beach. We are often just that close to a fatal move. Inattention, distraction, false confidence, misjudged speed or strength or stamina --and suddenly things are going very very wrong, all the expected options are closed, and there is no time to imagine new ones.

Michael K said...

"Each year, one to five people die hiking there, and several more have to be rescued."

This week in Tucson, we have had one death and two hospital trips from bee stings. Lots of bee stings.

Don't fuck with mother Nature.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Not as dangerous as a CR500 the way I used to ride: drunk, angry, and wanting to hear the roar of that big old thumper.

And if you didn't chop up and carry an elk out of than canyon, big whoop.

D.D. Driver said...

We did the hike last year in July. Spent two nights at Phantom Ranch so we could get a rest day in before the hike out. We started the hike out at about 3am. There were four of us including an 8 year old and an 11 year old. None of us are particularly athletic, but we were very cautious and well prepared. It was a great experience.

William said...

Danger was never my middle name, but in recent years I have become increasingly risk adverse. I prefer to explore the far extremes of torpor and lassitude rather than the depths of the Grand Canyon. You might think that it's impossible to take an afternoon nap after having slept until 10am, but it can be done. The secret is preparation, discipline and playing Mozart on the stereo. I pity the poor fool who ventures into nap territory without packing Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp.

Fred Drinkwater said...

William:
Haiku by Kobayashi Issa (tr. Robert Hass) on his 50th birthday:

From now on,
It’s all clear profit,
every sky.

Larry Day said...

Even smart people make mistakes. Big mistakes.

hawkeyedjb said...


"It's a dry heat" is one of those fun-but-informative phrases that are important in the southwest. You often do not notice how much body water you have lost because you don't feel yourself sweating. The Canyon is deadly but we lose some people every year in the middle of the urban area. They think it's only a local hike - how dangerous can that be? It's surprising how quickly dehydration can kill you.

mockturtle said...

"It's a dry heat" is one of those fun-but-informative phrases that are important in the southwest. You often do not notice how much body water you have lost because you don't feel yourself sweating.

Exactly! It evaporates off instantly. Actually, that's something I really love about the desert, as I hate being sweaty.

rcocean said...

BTW, ten years ago, i had a business meeting in Phoenix. Raced up after the meeting and stayed at a hotel in Williams (?) Arz. Raced up to North rim at crack up dawn. 299 yards down the rim, I had a Calf Muscle Tear, and went down like a shot.

Had to hop on 1 leg back to the parking lot. No one helped me. No one even said "hey guy, need some help?". Maybe I should have asked for help. Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men?

Anyway, iced it down, drove back to Phoenix. Got it examined. Doctor was like, "Hey dummy, you should have got this examined the minute you went down. Could have been more serious".

Moral of story: Don't ever count on strangers to help you out. And don't be an idiot.

rcocean said...

Death Valley story. Drove thru Death Valley in late 80s - in middle of August. Had a ton of water and food. Thought hey, even if car breaks down ((1000-1 chance) i can wait it out for 48 hours.

Did same trip with family in 2007. Reliving old memories. Problem: had to stop at Ranger station and join a "convoy" which escorted us through Death Valley.

Bummer. Not the same. But massive increase in Cali population due to immigration - made it necessary.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

We are not often killed by one big mistake. It is usually a concatenation of ill chances. Pay attention to details.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Tyrone, yes! Tom Wolfe covers this in The Right Stuff:

A fighter pilot soon found he wanted to associate only with other fighter pilots. Who else could understand the nature of the little proposition (right stuff/death) they were all dealing with? And what other subject could compare with it? It was riveting! To talk about it in so many words was forbidden, of course. The very words death, danger, bravery, fear were not to be uttered except in the occasional specific instance or for ironic effect. Nevertheless, the subject could be adumbrated in code or by example. Hence the endless evenings of pilots huddled together talking about flying. On these long and drunken evenings (the bane of their family life) certain theorems would be propounded and demonstrated—and all by code and example. One theorem was: There are no accidents and no fatal flaws in the machines; there are only pilots with the wrong stuff. (I.e., blind Fate can't kill me.) When Bud Jennings crashed and burned in the swamps at Jacksonville, the other pilots in Pete Conrad's squadron said: How could he have been so stupid? It turned out that Jennings had gone up in the SNJ with his cockpit canopy opened in a way that was expressly forbidden in the manual, and carbon monoxide had been sucked in from the exhaust, and he passed out and crashed. All agreed that Bud Jennings was a good guy and a good pilot, but his epitaph on the ziggurat was: How could he have been so stupid? This seemed shocking at first, but by the time Conrad had reached the end of that bad string at Pax River, he was capable of his own corollary to the theorem: viz., no single factor ever killed a pilot; there was always a chain of mistakes. But what about Ted Whelan, who fell like a rock from 8,100 feet when his parachute failed? Well, the parachute was merely part of the chain: first, someone should have caught the structural defect that resulted in the hydraulic leak that triggered the emergency; second, Whelan did not check out his seat-parachute rig, and the drogue failed to separate the main parachute from the seat; but even after those two mistakes, Whelan had fifteen or twenty seconds, as he fell, to disengage himself from the seat and open the parachute manually. Why just stare at the scenery coming up to smack you in the face! And everyone nodded, (He failed—but I wouldn't have!) Once the theorem and the corollary were understood, the Navy's statistics about one in every four Navy aviators dying meant nothing. The figures were averages, and averages applied to those with average stuff.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Tyrone, Bad Lt.:
Back in about 72 there was a mid-air between a Navy P-3 and a NASA CV-990 on final to NAS Moffett Field. The chain of proximate events and errors leading up to the crash included at least 6 separate items involving both flight crews and the base crew, extending something like 45 minutes back before the collision.
One of the very first items in the timeline was someone driving a car on a taxiway in a non-standard manner.