Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Death in the Utah Desert

         It’s a glorious summer day, seemingly perfect for hiking among the folds and formations of Utah’s Red Rock deserts.  But the temperature has climbed past 100 degrees and you’ve run out of water on the return to the trailhead.  And the sun—a warm blanket wrapped around your shoulders this morning—has by afternoon become an iron smelter encasing your body in a pot of molten ore.  You feel headachy, your pulse and respiration rise, you lose coordination and your pace slows.  You’re suffering from heat exhaustion and, if your body temperature continues to rise and the body’s cooling mechanism collapses, heat stroke will result.   Delirium, organ failure, convulsions, and coma will lead to death.


       Six people have died while hiking in southern Utah this summer, five of them on trails I’ve hiked and blogged about.  While my blog posts are filled with the wonders these trails have to offer, it’s only fair to point out that Utah's rugged wilderness can be as deadly as it is delightful. 
        Below is a brief synopsis of this summer’s tragedy on the trails:

The Wave (Coyote Buttes) on the Utah-Arizona border. 
         A husband and wife, ages 70 and 69, were returning to the trailhead when they suffered the effects of dehydration and heat stroke.  Their bodies were found 250 yards apart.  One week later a 27 year-old woman, on a fifth anniversary trip with her husband, lost the trail for two hours, then collapsed from heat exhaustion.  Her husband hiked out for help; by the time rescuers reached the woman she had died.

The Wave.  Notice the water bottle at the side of my pack.
I carried two 32 oz. bottles—and it was a January day.

Horseshoe Canyon (Great Gallery) in Canyonlands National Park. 
        A 73 year-old man, hiking alone, failed to contact his family at the designated time and a  search party was launched.  His vehicle was found at the trailhead and his body was found along the trail.  Heat stroke and dehydration were determined to be the cause of death.

The black arrow points to me as I hike into Horseshoe Canyon.
Notice the total lack of shade and water along this trail.

Spooky and Peekaboo Slot Canyons in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
        A 35-year-old woman, hiking with a friend, struggled in the heat on the way back to the trailhead.  According to the Salt Lake Tribune she had packed three liters of water and a 32 oz. bottle of Gatorade.  She and her companion became lost for two hours but eventually found the trail and were within a quarter mile of the trailhead when the woman couldn’t go on.  Her friend ran to the trailhead and called 911.  When she returned to the trail the woman had no pulse and was not breathing.  The friend performed CPR for an hour until medics arrived.  The victim was transported to a hospital but did not survive.

Tim and his friend Mark descend into Spooky Gulch.
Our destination is the trees at the canyon's bottom.
This was one hike we did complete in the summer
—with plenty of hydration.

Brimhall Double Bridge Trail in Capitol Reef National Park. 
        A 56-year-old woman, hiking with her husband, became ill on the trail.  Her husband hiked out for help but by the time emergency personnel arrived the woman had died.  Heat exhaustion/stroke is the presumed cause of death.


Of the four trails mentioned above, Brimhall Double Bridge is the only trail I haven’t tried.  Having previously suffered the effects of beginning hyperthermia I tend to avoid desert trails in the excessive heat of summer.  If summer is the only time you have available to hike Utah’s deserts I recommend drinking at least a gallon of water, and hiking in the early morning or early evening.  
Enjoy the eternal beauty of the desert but please... be careful out there, and prevent a dreamy summer day from turning into a nightmare.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Cruising Lake Champlain with Whistling Man Schooner Company, Burlington, Vermont

          Lightening bolts branch across the lake.  A storm is brewing.  I tilt my head to gaze at the canvas sails reaching to the sky.  
“What are the chances this boat could tip?” I ask.  
“Impossible,”  replies the captain.
Captain Mike and first mate Tyler check the radar on their iphones, then assure me the storm is moving to the south and away from us.

Storm clouds building?  Not to worry.
Friendship sloops are built to handle the weather.
         I’m the only passenger this afternoon aboard the Friend Ship— a Friendship Sloop modeled after Maine sailing vessels first built in Friendship, Maine in the late 1800s.  Our craft was built in 1981.  It’s 46 feet long, weighs almost 19,000 pounds and has a 4,800 pound keel—thus the improbability of being tossed into the water.  
On the Atlantic coast these ships were built for fisherman and lobstermen.  In Burlington, Vermont, shipbuilders fashioned the boats for light cargo and recreation.  And recreation is the purpose of my sail today with Whistling Man Schooner Company, which offers daily cruises on Lake Champlain during the summer.  

My own private tour on the comfortable Friend Ship.
Captain Mike invites guests to bring their own food and drink;
wine and cheese are favored on the Sunset Cruise.

         As we sailed the smooth waters Captain Mike told of the history of Lake Champlain.  This waterway was important to the French and British in Canada as a way to transport goods to the Atlantic seacoast; therefore the lake became a critical strategic area during the battle with the British for control of the colonies.  
        George Washington sent men and boats (precursors to the US Navy) to capture the forts along the lake.  If they succeeded the colonial army would gain control of the lake—the most direct invasion route to British Canada.  However, if the British maintained their presence on the lake they would be able to divide and conquer the colonies.  We all know who won this conflict, but the historical significance of Lake Champlain is interesting none-the-less.

Burlington is the largest city in Vermont.  Views of Lake Champlain
abound in this hilly city.

Looking through the rigging toward New York State.

       Captain Mike also relayed his own history.  He worked for IBM for 29 years and was laid off in 2010.  One year later he landed a consulting job with IBM, but in the meantime he added to his lifelong love of sailing by securing his Captain’s license.  A year after that the Whistling Man Schooner Company went up for sale.  
“Should I buy it?” he asked his wife.  “Go for it,” she said.  
And so, Captain Mike quit IBM for good and began taking passengers for cruises on Lake Champlain.  He has no regrets:  “It’s a wonderful life,” he said.  
        I have to agree.  The storm has moved away and, on a warm July afternoon, there’s nothing better than relaxing on the deck of the Friend Ship while sailing Lake Champlain.

Captain Mike and Tyler, enjoying the sailing life.

The Friend Ship in dock and waiting for the
popular 6:30 p.m. Sunset Cruise.

To learn more about the Whistling Man Schooner Company visit their website: