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Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

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azbackpackr
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Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by azbackpackr » Jul 10 2015 6:01 am

Is it my imagination, or is this year so far worse than previous years? There have been at least two heat-related hiker deaths in Grand Canyon that I've heard of (one on BA, one on NK). How many on Camelback and in other Valley areas? And then this latest awful tragedy out in Gila Bend.

Am I just paying attention to this a lot more, or is it actually worse this year? Are there a lot more hikers out there these days, or is the temperature hotter?

Here are some questions I have for general discussion, for those who are concerned and would like to help prevent these tragedies:

1. What more can we as hikers do to prevent these tragedies happening to others?
2. What more could the authorities do? There are many governing agencies involved where hiker deaths are concerned: local, state and federal branches. Too many to count, in fact. I know they do put up signs. What else could they do?
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by joebartels » Jul 10 2015 6:44 am

Good topic.

Preventive Search and Rescue has proven effective at Grand Canyon according to this article.

The above approach is key in my opinion.
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by RowdyandWidowmaker » Jul 10 2015 7:31 am

One of the issue I have seen is when you have drink half of your water it is time to turn back. Maybe a sign at the trailhead telling people to turn back when half of your water is gone.
Also hikers need to let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. This was the main reason for my purchase of my Spot3. No so much for me but for my family peace of mind. I know hikers out may plan a hike then before you know it something catches your I and you have to check it out which means you will be late getting back. That's where my Spot has been great as I have used about 6 times so far. As we all know cellphones are limited.
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by chumley » Jul 10 2015 7:52 am

I'm sure there are agencies that gather statistics on all these incidents and eventually the data will be publicly available to look at. In the meantime I think you have two major factors contributing to the perception that more are occurring. :M2C:

1. Today's media landscape. With social media and the reality that almost everybody now has a camera/video camera in their pocket, many incidents that previously never made the newspaper are now instantly known and widely distributed due to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even HAZ!

2. Population increase. There aren't just more people than there were 20 years ago, but there are more people hiking and/or visiting parks and forests. Is the number of incidents going up? Quite possibly. Is the percentage of visitors involved in incidents going up? That's the statistic I'd like to see.
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by tibber » Jul 10 2015 8:42 am

I was one of those ignorant hikers when I first started. Really didn't have much of a clue about a lot of "hiker" stuff like taking enough water, leave no trace, don't take anything (like rocks or pottery shards), what to carry or not carry, what to wear.... all of it really. And even with the knowledge I now have, I still make mistakes as I think most of us do.

However, I have read and read and so the chances of getting out of trouble are much higher. I also think the social media and FB have afforded the opportunity to learn more so that in the future, other hiker wanna bees who were like me, might not be like me for so long. Don't know if that makes any sense...
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by azbackpackr » Jul 11 2015 6:59 am

I was lucky when young to take Sierra Club Basic Mountaineering course. However, as anyone else, I make mistakes and learn from them.

Most people who don't hike a lot don't know what their limitations are. People with no experience often don't know how inexperienced they actually are because they have no experience to compare it with. That is why getting information to the public as much as possible is important.

However, the amount of trash I see on the Bright Angel Trail testifies to the fact that many people just simply are not paying attention to directives from the Park.
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by RowdyandWidowmaker » Jul 11 2015 10:55 pm

I think part of the problem is that a lot of these people really don't care about hiking. Hiking for me and I would say most Haz Hikers is we enjoy hiking and have respect for mother nature. I know that when I hike I get frustrated when I see trash, orange arrows on the trail. My guess its from people who are just there for exersice or like Camelback. I went to Phoenix and I hike Camelback just to say they did and left their trash on the trail.
I have never left trash on any trail and would like to believe neither has any Haz Hiker.
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by azbackpackr » Jul 12 2015 6:09 am

@Widowmaker
Yes, there are many levels of ignorance, I guess you could say. There are some with stars in their eyes because they read a glowing account of a hike in some magazine and they see themselves having a spiritual experience of some kind. We've all been there.

I started out young, reading those kinds of books and articles. I soon found out that achieving bliss or a spiritual experience on the trail did not occur overnight for me. Even just gaining a comfort level on the trail took time. It took persistence in fitness training and also learning about gear selection. Back in the early 70's I remember going backpacking for the first time and taking way too much stuff. I had a lot of blisters and bruises. But it didn't make me want to quit. I knew I had to learn a better way to pack and also gain more fitness. I started doing a lot of pool swimming, even took lifeguard training, and body surfing in the ocean, and riding my bike to work, plus hiking on the weekends. It sure made a difference next time I tried backpacking, a couple of months later. I was only about 19 or 20.

But most people just don't have that level of passion, I don't think. What are their motivations? At Grand Canyon, those unprepared people, are they checking off a bucket list? Why are they way down there on the Corkscrew in the middle of summer? What made them think they were ready for that?

At Camelback, are they just trying to get some exercise and lose weight? If they are from out of town, did they see a visitor's pamphlet or magazine article that says to hike Camelback? PSAR is needed on Camelback in the middle of summer.

I am not sure how you could stop something as ill-advised as what the grandfather and grandson were doing. I don't know where to go to warn the next grandfather. The newspapers are always publishing stories of hikers dying in the heat. Seems to me they are doing their part warning the public. You can't put thousands of signs up everywhere out around Gila Bend and thousands of other places. Just not practical.
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by big_load » Aug 07 2015 10:22 am

In a place like White Sands, unfamiliar people can't properly correlate air temperature with the true thermal load induced by all the direct and reflected sunlight.

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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by ddgrunning » Aug 07 2015 3:57 pm

@joe bartels
Nice article, and sounds like an effective approach.

We were approached by a PSAR at Hermit's Rest before our hike a few weeks back, when we set off for Dripping Spring. She was very pleasant in suggesting we consider Santa Maria Spring as an alternative, if the cloud cover didn't hold up.

Then, a couple weeks later, when we were back for an overnighter at Indian Garden, our two kids (11 and 12) got ahead of us on the trail down Bright Angel. A PSAR approached the two seemingly "alone" young backpackers and asked if they were hiking alone. They told the PSAR that their slow-poke parents were coming along. And the PSAR touched base with us as we passed a few minutes later. When my kids told me about the encounter, I suggested that they should have told the PSAR: "Haven't you ever heard of the Boxcar Children"?

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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by azbackpackr » Aug 08 2015 8:44 am

Hmmm...I wonder if it would be considered illegal or child abuse if a parent actually allowed a couple of kids of that age to go backpacking in the Canyon? Or in other areas? I remember as a kid riding buses all over the place, even in a foreign city (Copenhagen). No one thought anything bad about it, but remember a while back when there was a big fuss about some 9-year-old riding the subway in NYC? I thought it was so odd because I had always thought that's how kids get around, on buses and subways, because they can't drive. It never occurred to me that it would cause a fuss. I took a train to LA from San Diego when I was 8. No big deal. What is with people these days? Too much media bs about stolen children (a phenomenon which is actually quite rare, but gets played up in the news.)
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by kingsnake » Aug 08 2015 10:52 am

big_load wrote:In a place like White Sands, unfamiliar people can't properly correlate air temperature with the true thermal load induced by all the direct and reflected sunlight.
Indeed, most people don't realize that just because the air temperature may be 100, they do not realize that the surface temp may be 140+ ...
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by hippiepunkpirate » Aug 08 2015 11:55 am

The unfortunate reality is that there will always be people that have no idea what they are getting themselves into by attempting a hot desert hike. The book "Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon" is a great source for illustrating the factors for heat-related fatalities. Of course, Grand Canyon is a remarkably different beast compared to a desert peak like Camelback, but a lot of the factors leading to a heat-related death are similar. Like most deaths related to risky behavior, males are more likely to be victims simply out of machismo, and young fit males in their teens and early 20s are prone to suffer heat exhaustion as their young bodies are able to perform at a superior level remarkably close to the point of their core temperature sky rocketing. Middle-age and elderly men are show a higher rate of heat-related hiking deaths due to potential cardiovascular health issues combining with heat exhaustion.

However, all heat related deaths can be attributed to poor decision making or ignorance of the serious nature of summer desert hiking. Most victims of Grand Canyon heat exhaustion are either unaware of how hot the Inner Canyon can be (due to milder temperatures experienced at the rim), or drastically overestimate their body's ability to perform in such heat. I don't have the book with me so I have to recall from memory, but "Over the Edge" states that an adult male hiking in typical summer desert temperatures of 100+ degrees will sweat out something like 3-4 liters of water per hour. Even persons on this website that hike in the desert heat every day would likely be appalled to hear such as statistic. Not bringing enough water for a planned hike is obviously a problem (stated by others in this thread), and can be a deadly mistake, but often this mistake is combined with poor planning in terms of when to hike. Most Grand Canyon heat victims made the mistake of starting their hikes in the middle parts of the day when temperatures were highest and sun exposure was most direct. While some people may suffer heat exhaustion in part due to overall poor physical shape adding time to their hike an d increasing sun exposure, many victims are people of good or even immaculate physical fitness that simply do not gather all the important facts and adjust their plans accordingly.

I think that prevention efforts in order to educate people only go so far, for hiking in the heat or anything else. Some people are stubborn and nothing can be done to stop them from doing what they are going to do. I do believe in putting more rangers on the trails to convince folks to alter their plans if they are unprepared or simply doing something downright stupid. It's a lot easier to get through to people once they are out in the heat of the hike that what they are doing is dangerous, but before it's experienced firsthand, a gung-ho attitude is usually hard to break.

One thing I did notice at the Phoenix parks, was a lack of signage warning of the dangers of summer. The information was often small print buried mong other info on a large sign, while the most prominent signs containing large print tended to make statements about hikers locking and securing vehicles before heading out. I would like to see more prominent warnings at the Phoenix parks about heat danger, and was able to personally notify a representative of the Phoenix parks as such earlier this year at a meeting I attended concerning hiking safety in the Valley. Prominent signage can not be relied upon to change the minds of every potential heat victim, but it's definitely a factor that is neglected in the Phoenix parks that, if done properly, may actually save a life or two.
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by joebartels » Aug 08 2015 12:29 pm

hippiepunkpirate wrote:"Over the Edge" states that an adult male hiking in typical summer desert temperatures of 100+ degrees will sweat out something like 3-4 liters of water per hour.
Very realistic depending on body weight and sun exposure. The scary part is that same adult male can only process about 1 quart per hour.
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by azbackpackr » Aug 08 2015 12:30 pm

Nicely written. Thanks, Jake!
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by azbackpackr » Aug 08 2015 12:33 pm

@joe bartels
"Very realistic depending on body weight and sun exposure. The scary part is that same adult male can only process about 1 quart per hour."

I hadn't thought of it that way although I knew you "can't drink as much as you sweat."
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by JasonCleghorn » Aug 08 2015 6:21 pm

The mrs. and I gave our non-Camelback water to two German tourists on the Bell Rock hike in Sedona today. We asked them if they had any water and they just gave this look like A. "I need water?" and B. "Water is not provided on this desert hike?"
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by SpiderLegs » Aug 09 2015 5:22 am

Jason Cleghorn wrote:The mrs. and I gave our non-Camelback water to two German tourists on the Bell Rock hike in Sedona today. We asked them if they had any water and they just gave this look like A. "I need water?" and B. "Water is not provided on this desert hike?"
Don't know what it is about German tourists. Had to talk a couple of them into turning around the last time I did R2R. Both were dressed head to toe in black (like Dieter in that old SNL skit), wearing thin leather sandals and carrying about 5 ozs of water.

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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by azbackpackr » Aug 09 2015 5:39 am

@SpiderLegs
Sheesh. How far down had they gone?
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Re: Heat-related hiker deaths this year--more than usual?

Post by JasonCleghorn » Aug 09 2015 7:53 am

I think ppl from massively urban areas just don't understand the concept of the wild. The fact there isn't a faucet every block, or a Starbucks. The fact whatever you need you have to bring. I don't know. It's just crazy to me. I also saw an AA family of about 8 starting at the TH with one gatorade bottle of water total for the 8 of them...
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