Rangers set for summer<br>
While Canyon rangers look out for and advise ill-prepared hikers year-round, the PSAR program supplements that effort with about 40 trained volunteers who serve four or five day stretches. Many are repeat volunteers and through word-of-mouth, the park gets many requests from those interested in taking part in the program. About 90 percent live in Arizona, Taylor said.
While PSAR rangers and volunteers assist in search and rescue operations and minor medical cases, their chief responsibility is education.
“People underestimate how harsh, long and difficult hiking the Canyon can be,” Taylor said. “We contact visitors and advise them of the hazards and how to avoid them.”
During peak season, three or four rangers and four volunteers are usually on the trails at any given time. They cover the South Kaibab, Bright Angel, Hermits Rest and Grandview trails, and they make as many as 500 visitor contacts in a nine-hour shift, about six hours of which are spent in the Canyon, Taylor said.
While PSAR teams don’t force people to change their plans, they will call in law enforcement rangers if they believe someone is truly at risk.
“If we feel that someone is in danger, if they’re pregnant or have an infant, we’ll strongly advise them to change their plans,” Taylor said. “We will call law enforcement if there’s a possibility of endangering others.”
In most cases, however, people generally respond to suggested itinerary changes.
“We just tell them, you might have a better experience if you did this itinerary. We promote a different itinerary. People almost always take the advice,” Taylor said. “They come here with other plans, but they can take a smaller hike and see the same amount and feel better for it.”
The most common scenario, she said, is the unintentional day hiker who comes to sight-see but decides to take on more.
“A typical thing is that people come to Grand Canyon to take a picture and buy a postcard, and then they decide to hike in,” she said. “Sometimes they go with just a water bottle, or flip flops or other inappropriate shoes, and they start in the middle of the day. They go into the Canyon and decide they want to go to Plateau Point but they don’t know how far it is and they’re under time constraints. But Plateau Point is six miles one way.”
The Internet has made their job easier, but PSAR teams still find many hikers who are misinformed. One common unrealistic goal, she said, is to “see the waterfalls on the Bright Angel Trail, not realizing it’s a 30 or 40 mile hike to Havasu.”
They also discourage many hikers who want to hike to the Colorado River and back in one day or to the North Rim and back.
“The park doesn’t recommend it, especially for hikers with limited food and water during the summer,” Taylor said. “Some of these hikes, the body could actually take them, but not at the time of year that they come. Physically people may be able to do more in January. But trying to go to Plateau Point and back when it’s 110 degrees in the middle of the day is an unreasonable hike.
“The big illusion here is that you don’t sweat,” she said. “In someplace like Georgia, you go out and five minutes later, you’re sopped with sweat. Here, it evaporates quickly. One of the things we’re up against is to convince people to eat and drink when they’re hiking. It’s easy for them to get heat-induced anorexia – they just aren’t hungry because the blood is going to other parts of the body instead of the stomach.”
If they don’t eat, but continue to drink plenty of water, they can develop hypomatremia, a life-threatening condition characterized by too few electrolytes in the bloodstream. Of serious conditions, it’s the one they see the most, Taylor said.
“It’s serious, especially in an advanced state,” she said. “It needs definitive care at a hospital and it can happen within a day. A long day hike can get someone in that state, especially if they drank a lot the night before and didn’t eat enough.”
While the focus may be on the inexperienced hiker, Taylor said people at all ability levels have needed rescue – even experienced hikers and even other rangers.
“The heat doesn’t discriminate. Rangers who work here have been treated for heat exhaustion,” she said.