Sunday, October 30, 2011

Death and the Grand Canyon 2011

In the summer, temperatures can get to well over 100 degrees on most of the Grand Canyon Trails. The combination of heat and extreme altitude changes can quickly overcome even experienced desert hikers. 2011 has not been an exception for fatalities in the Canyon. In September the body of a man was recovered from Tanner Beach (yes, there is a connection) and the cause of death was ruled as hyperthermia and dehydration due to environmental exposure. Of course, the great number of people that travel to the Grand Canyon National Park has something to do with the consistent number of people that die at, in or near to the Canyon. Some, like the man who died at the North Rim's Cape Royal Trailhead, die from natural causes which means they think he would have died even if he were not at the Grand Canyon. But others die as a result of being involved with the Grand Canyon, like the woman who died in February, 2011 just below the South Rim. Earlier in the year, a kayaker died in the President Harding rapid. Some of the people who disappear into the Canyon are never recovered, like the missing plane in March of 2011. Some of the dead bodies are not recovered for days because of the inaccessible nature of the terrain. The body of a young man, who died from a fall, was discovered on April 25, 2011 but not recovered until May 6th, because of the inaccessible nature of the terrain, and extensive planning and twenty-five personnel were needed to recover the body which was located almost 700 feet below the rim. Another body was recovered in August, 2011 below the Lookout Studio.

The deaths are always a tragedy, but the Canyon claims many more injuries than deaths. Even driving into the Canyon can be dangerous. Eight people were injured in a three car accident at the South Entrance Road in July, 2011. Three people died in an RV fire at the South Entrance in October, 2011 but the Park Service ruled that it was likely a murder/suicide. Two hikers were injured in a rock fall incident on the South Kaibab Trail in March, 2011.

Considering the millions of visitors to the Park every year, it is not surprising that there are injuries and some deaths. The tragedy behind the tragedy of the loss is that some of these deaths were due to disregarding some simple rules of travel in the desert. Others, could think about the exposure to falls that comes from high cliffs. Once, in talking to the backcountry Ranger at the Park, he mentioned that they pull more than one distressed hiker from the Canyon every day by helicopter. This is not your backyard, this is the Grand Canyon. 

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