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Sun, Nov. 17

A day in the life: Preventative Search and Rescue rangers take to the trail

Grand Canyon Preventative Search and Rescue rangers Josh Weiner and AshleyButts stop on the Bright Angel Trail to ask hikers how far they are hiking. Loretta Yerian/WGCN

Grand Canyon Preventative Search and Rescue rangers Josh Weiner and AshleyButts stop on the Bright Angel Trail to ask hikers how far they are hiking. Loretta Yerian/WGCN

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR) rangers are trained EMTs, whose job is to provide hikers with guidance on preventing self-injury and hiking smart on Grand Canyon's trails.

While they can't tell you to stop or turn around, they can give you some life-saving advice.

"It's scary down here and it should be. It's serious," said PSAR Ranger Josh Weiner. "People are looking up at the walls and you're feeling tired... and then we are there giving someone electrolytes and telling them to mix it in their water. There's a big mental aspect down here (in the Canyon)."

Weiner and fellow PSAR Ranger, Ashley Butts, typically start their day early - hitting the trail before 8 a.m. They both carry hiking packs weighing anywhere between 20 to 35 pounds, depending on how far down the trail they're going.

In the packs they carry a variety of helpful items that can be given to hikers or used in minor emergency situations, these include a medical kit, radio, snacks - Fritos, Cheez-Its, Goldfish, an MRE (meals ready to eat), compass, GPS, electrolyte packages for water, two headlamps, a tarp, hiking poles, spray bottle of water and personal food and water.

"You should always carry enough water for yourself, for the day (and) water is important but so is food," Butts says as she explains the 'Drink to Thirst' which is new verbiage the NPS is using on trailhead signs around the park.

Weiner and Butt's job is to feel out hikers - talking to them out and asking specific questions.

"We try to talk to people - everybody has a different tactic but we all have the same goal," Butts said. "We are talking to people going down. We say 'hi' to people going up but in my mind, if people are going up and they're not on the side of the trail puking, they're doing OK. We try to educate people who don't have a plan, which is fairly often."

This is Butts' second year as a seasonal PSAR ranger. In April 2015 she applied for the job but didn't get approved until August. This year she's been able to work the full season - April through October.

For Butts, PSAR offers an opportunity to do what she loves - put her EMT training to use and work outside.

Butts grew up on the east coast, in Vermont. Her family moved west when Butts was in high school and she later attended Northern Arizona University. After graduation, she worked as a ski instructor which led her to a job working for a commercial river rafting company on the Colorado River before she got the position with PSAR.

Similarly, Weiner also grew up on the east coast. Originally from upstate New York, he graduated with a degree in English Literature from a university in Minnesota. In 2013 he became an EMT and in 2015, wanting to spend time outdoors, he went to Yosemite National Park and worked as a seasonal PSAR ranger there. While at Yosemite he learned about the Grand Canyon's PSAR program and applied for a seasonal position.

During the busiest and hottest times at the Canyon, Butts and Weiner patrol the corridor trails - the Bright Angel and South Kaibab, which are top priority for PSAR. They will spend the majority of their time canvassing these trails to talk to hikers but also hike the Hermit, Tonto and Grandview trails.

"A typical morning on the Hermit you see less than 30 people," Butts said. "A typical morning on the Bright Angel you'll see three or four hundred."

Butts and Weiner greet each hiker with a friendly smile and a pointed question, 'Where are you headed today? How far are you going? How are you feeling?'

"It's hard to know how effective you are but it's safe to say we are effective," Weiner said. "It's not a ridiculous assumption to say that one of these people would have died if they had gone on."

"We have a big thing we call psychological first aid," Butts adds. "Which is a huge part of job. We encourage people, help them get there in their head to be able to keep going. It's a huge deal and I'd say most of the time when we're called down trail for a hiker assist that's what it is. They need someone to encourage them to make it and help them and be with them."

In 2015, PSAR made contact with 117,267 hikers, took 29,000 preventative actions to help a hiker and helped with 350 hiker assists.

After the season ends, Weiner and Butts both plan to attend paramedic school - Weiner in Minnesota and Butts in Colorado.

"With the hope of being able to use that (paramedic certification) back here," Weiner said. "The park has a lot of paramedics, mainly on the rim to help people, (but) to help people down here and have those capabilities would be awesome."

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