As the temperatures heat up and the summer season arrives, Grand Canyon National Park’s preventative search-and-rescue rangers have started to venture up and down trails in search of possible problem hikers.
PSAR ranger Amy Martin chats with Linda Engleman and son Evan, 4, of Arlington, Texas, Friday on the Bright Angel Trail. Mom and son were on their way out after a short walk. Engleman was waiting for her husband and older son, who were hiking up from Phantom Ranch. The family is familiar with Grand Canyon — the couple was married at Yaki Point — and was prepared.
The program, which began its seventh year earlier this month, features four full-time paid rangers and about 25 volunteers. They keep a lookout for hikers who may not know what they’re getting into when descending into the Canyon.
“We look for the unprepared hikers, those with no food, no water, no backpacks,” said Bonnie Taylor, who is in her second year as a PSAR ranger. “When we see no backpack, that’s a red flag.”
PSAR rangers look for things on hikers like appropriate clothing, including a hat and good footwear, and of course, food and water.
“The program came into existence because of an overwhelming number of heat illnesses and heat stroke,” Taylor said. “You definitely have to develop a way of knowing the kind of people you have hiking out there.”
The program draws the interest of between 50 and 75 volunteers on an annual basis, although Taylor said they see only about 25. The PSAR season got started on May 4 and will continue until Sept. 15. At least one ranger and one volunteer will be on foot during that four-plus month timeframe.
“The big thing for people is being underprepared and underestimating the Canyon,” Taylor said. “You’ll find a lot of fatigued hikers coming up the trail. They get tired and it’s harder coming back up.”
Since the program began in the summer of 1997, PSAR rangers have seen just about everything. There are the common problems, such as underprepared people heading down the trail with a young child tagging along. But there have been some memorable sights.
“We’ve seen people wheeling luggage down the Bright Angel Trail, thinking there’s a hotel at Indian Garden,” Taylor said. “One thing I’ve seen was this Asian gentleman at Indian Garden, he was wearing a suit and tie with no jacket in his Oxford wingtips carrying a briefcase.”
PSAR rangers and volunteers patrol the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails on a regular basis, although Taylor said they will venture over to the Hermit Trail from time to time.
On occasion, PSAR rangers find they need to become cheerleaders, encouraging hobbled and fatigued hikers to work their way up to the rim. Early last week, PSAR ranger Amy Martin helped a 72-year-old man up the South Kaibab Trail.
The elderly man suffered a sprained ankle in the Mauve formation, was helped up to the Supai layer by a Phantom Ranch ranger and then escorted out to the South Rim by PSAR rangers. Martin said “he was a real trooper,” just one example of the type of work PSAR rangers may need to perform.
Grand Canyon, the first national park in the country to begin a PSAR program for heat-related illnesses, has a new public information slogan this year with “Hike Smart.” This past Friday, rangers were putting up “Hike Smart” posters around the village, the new campaign replacing the “Heat Kills” materials.
“It’s very simple, it outlines exactly what people need to do for a memorable experience,” Taylor said. “We hope to incorporate concessions folks (in the new campaign) through orientations, for example.”
An example of information being put out on the street through the “Hike Smart” campaign:
“Over 250 people are rescued from the depths of Grand Canyon each year ... most of them look like him,” reads an informational brochure, referring to a young man. “A surprising majority of victims rescued from Grand Canyon are young, healthy males between the ages of 18 and 40 attempting to hike to the river and back in one day.”
The postcard-sized brochure goes on to give tips for hikers:
• Stay hydrated (drink plenty of water and electrolyte drinks).
• Eat often (carbohydrates and salty foods).
• Avoid hiking in the heat of the day (10 a.m.-4 p.m.).
• Rest often (sit in the shade).
• Get wet (wet your shirt, hat and wear a wet bandana around your neck).
• Do not attempt to hike down to the river and back in one day.
PSAR rangers also have several other types of detailed advice and information available through the “Hike Smart” campaign. For information or copies of “Hike Smart” materials, visit Canyon View Information Plaza.