Why did two hikers die in
Autopsies pending: N.J.
man in survival course carried no water; Boston teen, party got
July 20, 2006
By Christopher Smart
Two East Coast
hikers died Sunday and Monday while participating in organized
programs under scorching temperatures in southern Utah's redrock
The question is why?
Autopsies scheduled for Wednesday may reveal the physical causes of
death for Elisa D. Santry, 16, of Boston, and Dave Bushow, 29, of
River Vale, N.J.
But other questions will linger.
Why were they hiking in such extreme heat? Had they consumed enough
water and electrolytes? Did their guides have experience in
recognizing heat exhaustion?
Circumstances surrounding their deaths were ripe for tragedy,
according to veteran desert hiker and backpacker Steve Lewis.
"The jump from heat exhaustion to heat stroke can be very quick. I
call it the 'silent stalker.' It can grab the most resilient hiker,"
he said Wednesday. "But an experienced hiker knows you don't plan
hikes for the middle of the day when temperatures are that high."
Santry was on the 16th day of a 22-day Outward Bound "multi-element"
course that included hiking, backpacking and rafting. On the day of
her death, she was hiking in temperatures of up to 110 degrees in
the Lockhart Canyon area near Canyonlands National Park, according
to the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.
By contrast, Bushow was on the first day of a 28-day survival course
offered by the Boulder Outdoor Survival School. Temperatures were in
the mid-to-high 90s as he climbed through the rugged Cottonwood Wash
of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. He carried no
State regulations for wilderness-therapy programs disallow hiking in
temperatures above 90 degrees and demand consumption of at least
three quarts of water when temperatures top 80 degrees. But
volunteer programs, such as Outward Bound and Boulder Outdoor
Survival School, are not regulated, according to Ken Stettler,
director of the licensing office for the state Department of Human
Both victims were in areas where heat is reflected off sand and
canyon walls, and high temperatures are intensified, Lewis said. If
they were unfamiliar with desert hiking, they might not have
recognized the peril they were in.
"If you're in sandy or rocky areas, you get the furnace effect," he
said. "People who don't have experience [with heat exhaustion] can't
relate to what is happening to them. And then, a truck just hits
Santry became separated from her party, as the group of six hiked
toward rafts waiting for them at the Colorado River, according to
Mickey Freeman, Outward Bound Wilderness.
Her colleagues noticed her missing about 6 p.m. Her body was found
about 11 p.m. There was water remaining in her bottle.
"We've never had a heat-related death, or a water-dehydration death,
in 45 years," Freeman said.
Bushow was at the end of the first day of what is called "impact
days," where participants are not allowed to carry food or water,
according to Diane Nagler of the Boulder, Colo.- based survival
"Although you don't carry food and water with you, the instructor
guides you to food and water in nature," she said. Participants
"don't carry water bottles, but they do carry cups."
Bushow, who had complained of muscle cramps and fatigue, sat down at
7:30 p.m. to rest and apparently passed out. A few minutes later,
his companions could find no pulse.
Survival school guides are certified through the Wilderness Medicine
Institute of Nols, Nagler noted. The 10-day, first-responder program
extensively covers heat exhaustion, its warning signs and treatment,
Outward Bound instructors receive extensive first-responder training
and are always looking for warning signs of heat exhaustion, said
Lewis said backcountry hikers and guides must be flexible enough to
modify hikes when temperatures soar to the mid-90s.
"The leadership of those groups should have had enough sense to
change plans, to get in the shade and stay there. People who don't
change plans walk into a trap," he said.
"That's what happens. They roll the dice and people die."
Precautions for hiking in weather above 90 degrees
* Seek protection under a wide-brimmed, ventilated hat.
* Keep body temperature down with lightweight, loose-fitting
* Wear sunscreen on exposed skin.
* Drink enough water to cause urination.
* Keep electrolytes up by drinking sports drinks.
* Stay in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.