On August 2, Marc Buckhout, a 36-year-old from Glendale, Arizona, went hiking on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. He never came back. Four days later his body was discovered near where he was last seen, hundreds of feet below the rim (cause of death was not yet available). It was the 21st death recorded in the national park’s boundaries this year, already nearly twice the average of 12 deaths annually.
It is the season of play, when folks get out into the great outdoors to raft rivers, hike, climb mountains, swim in reservoirs and BASE jump. It's also the season of dying while at play. They’ll fall off a cliff, or their parachute won’t open. They’ll get struck by lightning or have a heart attack on the trail. Heat will kill some; others will succumb to the cold in an alpine storm or a river. Many will drown. Friends and family will inevitably seek comfort in that old platitude: At least they died doing what they loved.
This summer’s tragic tally of outdoor recreation fatalities has grown daily, and in the Grand Canyon, on Mount Rainier and on Colorado's rivers, it's been an especially fatal season. While there are databases that keep track of climbing accidents or whitewater deaths, there is not one that tracks recreational deaths in general across the region, so it's impossible to know whether the Western death toll is higher than normal. But there's no doubt that Western outdoor playgrounds have seen their share of death this summer.
And for every fatality, there are deaths avoided, sometimes narrowly, often thanks to search and rescue teams putting their own lives on the line to rescue someone who has fallen, collapsed or got himself stuck on an exposed ledge. Here are some of the fatal lowlights and rescue highlights, of the summer. Hopefully we can all learn something from them.