Listen to the Park Ranger, It Might Just Save Your Life

August 7, 2018

We all love exploring and we know how much following the rules can seem lame at times. You know what’s not lame, though? Not dying. It seems like no matter how many signs are posted, or how many times park rangers warn intrepid adventurers of the dangers that lie ahead, there’s always going to be some genius who thinks they know better.

Don’t be that guy. Sometimes, that guy doesn’t make it home at the end of the day, like this Belgian tourist who just died from heat exhaustion exploring one of the world’s most famous geological wonders: The Wave.

Hiking to the Wave requires winning one of twenty daily permits and a six-mile hike with no shade or water.

The Wave, located near the Utah/Arizona border, is a beautiful, swirled sandstone bowl that was formed over millennia by erosion. It has exploded in popularity in recent years, so only 20 people a day are selected by lottery for permission to hike there. To reach these awesome rock formations, you first have to drive eight miles down a rough dirt road, so 4WD is recommended, and then walk a six-mile round-trip hike with no access to shade or water, so you better bring at least a gallon per person.

If you’ve never been to the American Southwest during the summer, I’ll fill you in on a little secret: it’s hot as hell. Temperatures climb up over 100-110℉ nearly every day from May-September, even at the Wave, which is over 5,000 feet above sea level. Even those who are accustomed to the extreme temperatures fall victim to heat exhaustion here all too often.

Leaving from the same parking lot as the Wave trailhead is a stretch of narrow slot canyons called Buckskin Gulch, where a group of nine hikers (one who was only eleven years old) and three dogs had to be rescued this past March. The group was planning on hiking 40 miles all the way down to Lee’s Ferry at the start of the Grand Canyon but sent out a distress signal when the conditions became too much to handle.

The walls of Buckskin Gulch tower over hikers, up to 500 feet above the narrow creek bed.

Hiking through the gulch can be extremely challenging, repeatedly requiring hikers to enter frigid pools of water and repel down 30-foot cliffs. To make matters worse, the high and narrow canyon walls make GPS reception spotty at best and offer only three access points for a 21-mile section of the canyon.

Thankfully, they were rescued without any serious injuries or medical emergencies because they were smart and knew when they needed to stop. But lack of preparation and essential equipment can get you in some serious trouble in this part of the world.

Visitors to Zion National Park shrugged off multiple suggestions from a park ranger to bring repelling equipment on a popular permitted hike called The Subway. According to a Zion press release, when the hikers went to pick up their permits, “the ranger recommended they bring a rope and multiple harnesses for at least one of the rappels, but the leader of the group, who had been there before, said that they could cross the log and find an easier way down.” The ranger then informed the hikers that the log had been washed away and that they really would need the repelling equipment, but the genius in charge thought he knew better, and they went ahead anyway.

As you can probably tell from this photo, ropes are required to repel down into this famous feature in Zion National Park, the Subway.

When they reached the obstacle, the log was gone, as the ranger had told them, so they were left to jump across the 7-foot gap over a 30-foot drop. Needless to say, things didn’t go as planned. One of the hikers injured their knee badly when they missed the jump, and they had to spend an unexpected night in the canyon before being airlifted out by helicopter.

If you’re planning on heading out for an adventure, regardless of the season, know what you’re getting into and never go exploring alone. Research the conditions ahead of time and bring any recommended gear, you’ll thank yourself for it when you’re there. Flash floods are a serious danger when you’re hiking along the bottom of canyons, so always check the weather and choose a different trail if there is rain in the forecast. Even if you’ve been somewhere before, always read posted signs and listen to what park rangers have to say, odds are they’re probably more informed on current conditions. Even if your fears end up being unfounded, it’s much better to be prepared for the worst than to be airlifted to the hospital, or worse.