Recreational deaths soar this summer

Grand Canyon and Colorado rivers have record year for deaths.


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.

Phil Briggs
Phil Briggs
Aug 12, 2014 01:49 PM
Having worked in several western National Park units, I think I can fairly say that some people leave common sense behind, when they go on vacation. My six months at Grand Canyon, rare was the week we didn't have a SAR or a medical issue, when hikers finally stumbled into the Phantom Ranch campground area...
Deb Dedon
Deb Dedon Subscriber
Aug 12, 2014 02:42 PM
I can think of so many times when I could have died - from heat, dehydration, hypoxia - all because I was young (then) and thought I knew what I was doing. And I did - in my native Minnesota, alt. 800 feet. The west is a crucible for the adventurer, a trial by fire. Or frost, wind and icy water. 'Casual' is the wrong approach for the western outdoor life. Perhaps it's like watching an expert saddle-break a horse. It only looks easy.
Gwen Tollefson
Gwen Tollefson
Aug 12, 2014 04:36 PM
Karen Sykes was not hiking ON Mount Rainier, but rather ona trail IN Mount Rainier National Park. The NP contains many trails and mountains that surround Mount Rainier itself and I think it's important to make that distinction.
Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson Subscriber
Aug 13, 2014 06:28 AM
Gwen: Yes, you are correct. Thanks for pointing that out. The text has been corrected.
George Winters
George Winters Subscriber
Sep 09, 2014 08:49 AM
I find the graphics with the shaded people symbols is pretty much unintelligible. It needs more color variation or something to distinguish the categories.