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If it gets bad, 'turn around': Hikers make fatal mistakes around Las Vegas, southwest each year

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red rock
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, file

FILE - This May 6, 2006 file photo shows two cyclists riding along the 13-mile-long scenic drive at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada.

About a week ago, a 16-year-old Las Vegas high schooler died hiking in the Red Rock area near her home. That same weekend, a woman drowned in the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon; a week before that, another woman died while hiking out of the Grand Canyon.

And late last year, just as the cold settled into the mountains, an experienced hiker from Europe froze to death near the peak of Mt. Charleston.

Unfortunately, none of these stories are rare. Almost every year, someone dies in a fall while hiking in the mountains around Las Vegas.

Many more are rescued by members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police search and rescue unit.

The question is why: why does the mix of people and the outdoors lead to death? What don’t people prepare for, or realize, when they are about to embark on a hike in the desert?

Author Michael Ghiglieri has researched and written about deaths in national parks for years. With Thomas Myers, he co-authored “Over the Edge, Death in the Grand Canyon.”

He now lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.

He’s been a professional guide since 1974. Parks like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, he said, saw more deaths per visitor in the 1970s and ‘80s compared to today. The rate of visitors has doubled since then, but there’s been an overall drop in deaths.

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“Things have improved. They just haven't improved to the point where tragedies are still not happening all too frequently,” he said. 

Decades ago, many of those dying in parks were teenagers. Now, he said they’re adults who have invested time and money in equipping themselves and driving or flying longer distances for hikes or river trips. 

“It’s easier to spend money,” he said. “It’s much more difficult to be introspective and prepare yourself mentally.”

He said there’s more heat-related deaths these days. 

“It's a little bit like pilots, what pilots are taught is ‘you don't have to get there.’ If weather or the conditions turn bad, turn around. And people in recreational settings rarely make the decision,” Ghiglieri said.

He cited George Steck, a well-known Grand Canyon hiker: “He who hikes by himself has a fool for a companion.”


For more safety tips, Ghiglieri put together a list of rules for survival and survival essentials

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Michael Ghiglieri, hiking expert and author, “Deaths in the Grand Canyon"

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