It’s been a brutal and unfortunate summer for hikers in the Deserts of Southern Utah. So far this year, 3 people have perished due to heat related symptoms in the Paria Canyon- Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness along the Utah/Arizona Border in the Coyote Buttes area. The hikers were visiting the popular Wave formation that has a restricted number of permits doled out each day for visitation. On July 4th, a 70-year-old man and his 69-year-old wife died due to heat symptoms as temperatures neared 100 degrees. Their bodies were found 250 feet apart. Later that month, a 27 year old woman died while on a hike with her husband in the same area. The couple was celebrating their anniversary, and on the return trip from the Wave, lost the trail for two hours. When the victim became ill, the husband left her to try to reach help via his cell phone, but the woman perished before help arrived. “This event once again demonstrates the inherent risks associated with hiking in southern Utah’s desert country,” the Kane County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “Even though the (deceased) had tried to make sure they were prepared for this hike, the elements proved to be stronger.”
In August, a 56-year-old Orem woman died due to heat related causes while hiking the Brimhall Double Bridge Trail in Capitol Reef National Park. Her husband too hiked ahead to seek help, but the woman died before he got back.
While it is not entirely uncommon for hikers to die while exploring remote and dangerous terrain in the southern part of Utah, flash floods, heat, and getting lost are all factors- it’s the 3 deaths at the Wave area that have caused the BLM, which oversees the area, to move ahead with making changes to the trail, and install several measures for safety. Among them are:
-Translate brochures and videos into languages other than English.
-Revise BLM websites for Arizona and Utah to highlight safety, particularly with regard to the difficulty of the hike to The Wave.
-Post a safety sign at the Wire Pass trailhead, where visitors embark on the hike.
-Produce a condensed version of an existing safety video to be featured on BLM websites and shown at the Kanab Visitor Center during the daily permit lottery.
Last year saw more than 48,000 people apply for just 7,300 permits to hike to the formation on a 6-mile round trip that begins in Utah and ends in Arizona. Only 20 permits are issued each day.
Other proposed safety measures include increasing cell phone reception in the area, increasing the number of permits available, and increasing signage.
While the route to The Wave is recognized as a remote and the terrain and hike can be challenging, the Brimhall Bridge trail is known to be steep, but marked well with cairns.
Opponents of the improvements claim that the wilderness and the experience of traveling across wilderness areas should be preserved. That people should be responsible for his or her own supplies and to always be prepared when venturing into remote and harsh climates. If you choose to venture into wilderness, you should take responsibility to be prepared, including map, gps, plenty of food and water, and the knowledge, fitness and stamina to complete your chosen journey or objective, in a self-sufficient manner.
As Rachel Tueller, a public affairs officer for the BLM states, “There’s still always going to be a need to prepare.” However she noted “We’re putting a greater re-emphasis on safety. It does come back to personal discretion, and making choices,” Anytime you go out on public land, it’s a risk. You have to know your own capabilities.”
What’s your take on this issue? Should people be responsible for their own well being when venturing into these rugged lands, or should the Government do more to ensure a safer experience? Go to www.utahadvjournal.com and leave your comments.