Dressed in sandals and armed with just one canteen of water, two young men were about to hike into the Grand Canyon on a steamy afternoon.
The trip down Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point, which overlooks the Colorado River, will take about four hours, they tell a ranger.
Forget about it, the ranger says. The hike is really 12 miles, and it’s the hottest day of the year. The pair decide to walk the paved trail about the canyon’s rim instead.
The conversation is an example of this summer’s Park Service campaign to cut back on heat exposure deaths and injuries. Last year four people died in the canyon as a result of the heat - two were children - and half of the 400 rescues were heat-related.
“Sometimes they didn’t eat breakfast. They have no water or no food. They probably underestimate what bad shape they’re in,” said supervising ranger Chris Fors. “Everybody wants that adventure … So they say, ‘Let’s go,’ and they don’t realize there’s not much cover down the path.”
Last year’s deaths and the high rescue toll prompted an educational program with a forbidding slogan: “Heat Kills.”
The motto is plastered on bright yellow posters at the top of trails and on fliers. Rangers at the Bright Angel and Kaibab trailheads prod hikers to bring water, the right clothing and shoes, and to stay out of the afternoon sun.
“We tell people from Phoenix, ‘Would you consider hiking 10 miles in 105-degree heat?”’ said Andrea Lankford, supervisory park ranger. “So why do it here?”
Temperatures inside the canyon are like Phoenix’s in the summer - often in the 100s. While it can be cool and breezy in the rim’s pine trees, the inner canyon is like the desert.
On this day, this group included the Peterseim family from North Royalton, Ohio. Planning to hike 3-1/2 miles, they didn’t bring enough water and Tana, 14, wound up getting hot and clammy and her head and stomach hurt. Her brother, 24, eventually hiked ahead and got some crackers and water from rangers for her.
The teen, looking flushed and tired, eventually climbed out of the canyon with her father William and brother, Stewart.
While park officials are not yet ready to claim total program success, he said the number of rescues is down, and it looks like their efforts are paying off.
Lankford said about half the hikers really take her advice seriously. But those who disregard the rangers’ warnings and later have to be rescued will be cited for endangering themselves and rescuers.
The following fields overflowed: DATELINE = GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, ARIZ.