Body of Grand Canyon hiker recovered on Lava Falls Route

11:10 a.m. on September 23, 2009 (EDT)
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Park rangers recovered the body of a man Tuesday in an area below the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park near the Toroweap Valley.
According to a statement issued by the Park Service, the man's wife called the Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center Monday around 10:30 p.m. to report her husband overdue. The man's name had not been released late Tuesday pending notification of family members.
The man had started a day-hike Monday around 9 a.m. on a trail known as the Lava Falls Route. He had planned on hiking to the Colorado River and back, a round trip of approximately three miles. When he failed to return by dusk, his wife drove from the Toroweap Valley to Fredonia, a three-hour drive, to report him overdue.
Two rangers responded to the trailhead Monday night to set up a containment area and to stage for an early-morning search Tuesday. An aerial search of the Lava Falls Route began Tuesday morning at approximately 8:50 a.m.; the man's body was located on the lower end of the route, just off trail, at approximately 9:20 a.m. Due to the steep and remote terrain, rangers were required to hike to the scene from a landing zone approximately one hour away.
The man's body was to be flown to Tuweep near the Toroweap Valley, then to Kingman and the Mohave County Medical Examiner's Office.
Although the Lava Falls Route is one of the shortest routes from the rim to the river, it is a hot, steep and difficult route, with loose talus slopes made up of volcanic rock with an elevation change from rim to river of more than 2,500 feet. The trailhead is about 3 miles south of the Tuweep Campground, in a remote area of the Grand Canyon. Tuweep is a five-hour drive from the North Rim developed area.

10:07 p.m. on September 23, 2009 (EDT)
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Wow that's surprising given it's only 3 miles.

10:28 p.m. on September 23, 2009 (EDT)
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But its a very steep route down to Lava Falls from Toroweap.

3:06 p.m. on September 24, 2009 (EDT)
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2,500 feet of vertical in 3 miles... Yeah, that's no walk in the park. I feel for his wife, man that's sad.

10:19 a.m. on September 25, 2009 (EDT)
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Hiker killed in Canyon fall was Atlanta man Friday, September 25, 2009
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK (AP) -- A man who fell to his death while on a hike at the Grand Canyon has been identified as an Atlanta resident.
Thomas Peake set out on a daylong solo hike on Monday from the canyon's North Rim down to the Colorado River and back. When the 39-year-old didn't return from the 3-mile round trip by dusk, National Park Service officials say his wife drove to the nearest town in the remote area and reported him overdue. Park rangers began an aerial search on Tuesday morning. Peake's body was quickly found just off the trail on the lower end of the very steep Lava Falls Route.
Officials said Thursday that the medical examiner in Mohave County, Ariz., determined that Peake died from injuries sustained in a fall. Park rangers estimate he fell about 15 feet.

Must have been a hard fall to die from a 15 foot drop?

11:08 a.m. on September 25, 2009 (EDT)
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Dunwoody native Thomas Peake’s last day began early. He and his wife Dena got up in time to see the sun rise Monday from their remote Grand Canyon campsite.

A few hours later Dena said goodbye as Thomas began a challenging eight-hour hike down the Lava Falls Route below the canyon’s North Rim. She didn’t join him but managed to share the experience via walkie talkie.

The last words she heard from her husband of three years provide a small measure of solace.

“Oh my God, the Colorado River is so beautiful,” Peake, 39, told his wife as he neared the bottom of the trail, said Dara O’Neil, a close friend of the couple. Soon after, he slipped on one of the volcanic rocks that cover the three-mile route and fell about 15 feet to his death, according to the National Park Service.

“It helps us to know he died somewhere he wanted to be,” said O’Neil. “Years ago he had rafted down the Colorado River and he remembered that spot.”

Dena Peake didn’t hear from her husband for several hours. As dusk settled on the canyon she decided to go for help, driving three hours from the Toroweap Valley to Fredonia, Ariz., to report him missing. Park rangers found Peake’s body the next morning.

“There was definitely something wrong with you if you didn’t like Thomas,” said O’Neil, who had planned to see the Peakes this weekend in Utah for a friend’s wedding. She’ll likely attend a funeral instead, though arrangements haven't been finalized.

The Georgia Tech alumnus worked as a copywriter -- or “rhetorical engineer,” as he jokingly called his vocation. Boiled peanuts were one of his passions, O’Neil said.

But Dena was Peake’s first love. O’Neil introduced them five years ago at a kickball game. His future spouse remembered him by the nickname teammates gave Peake: “Das Boot.”

As their courtship developed, Dena was struggling with her brother’s death from cancer. “Thomas got her through it,” said O’Neil, though at around the same time he was dealing with his father’s death.

She will have vivid memories of her husband's last moments, captured on film. Thomas promised to take plenty of pictures, and though his camera was mangled in the fall, park rangers found the memory card intact.

Dena’s not ready yet, O’Neil said, but one day she’ll be able to share in that final hike, seeing it just as Thomas did.

11:18 a.m. on September 25, 2009 (EDT)
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Wow, that was such a nice story about the two of them. May we all go out of this world doing something we like or in a place we like to be.

I bicycled out once on a bike tour to Toroweap but have never gone down the trail to the river there. My recollection of the trip is about a couple who after driving the 3 hour drive out took enough time to open their window in their car take a few pictures, say hello to me and then whiz off and leave heading back along the long bumpy road back to the highway. It had taken me most of the day to get out there on my bicycle and I stayed the night.

Maybe someday i can get back out there and try the steep hike down to the Colorado.

8:39 a.m. on September 29, 2009 (EDT)
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A fall from 5 feet on your head will result most assuredly in a traumatic event to your brain and, even with immediate treatment, can be a life ending adventure.

All of the fights in movies that show things connecting with a head and have the actor up and doing usual mayhem the next day, are of course fictional. The people who make movies are very talented and the events depicted should not be confused with the real life centimeter thick bone encasing the thing that makes you a human.

Doesn't take much of a jarring to move you to a different level of being. 15 feet can be an eternity. Wear that helmet if you plan to role dice with hard objects.

1:05 a.m. on October 2, 2009 (EDT)
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I've hiked and rafted the Grand Canyon. It's such a popular park, people act like it's Disneyland. The enviornment is incredibly tough. A "hot" day at the bottom could be 110 - 115 degrees F, and with the dewpoint so low that you can't feel yourself sweating even in a cotton shirt. Deceptively Dangerous.

People who get in trouble aren't novices, but fit and experienced hikers who don't take the environment seriously. They see the relatively short mileage from the rim to the river and say "shoot - I've done over twice that in a dayhike". Plus - going down is easy. Cool temperatures, fast pace, you don't really feel tired until you're at the bottom and look up.

Here they are, at the bottom and no preparation other than the typical water and snack for a day hike, and a grueling hike in hot, dry temperatures on the way up. Not just hot - the most scorching dry sauna you've ever been in, the one where you couldn't last ten minutes without getting out to cool down. The pace back up is about a quarter mile an hour, and I don't think the mileage charts account for the switchbacks. The deyhdration makes you feeble and you start to take chances you normally wouldn't just to escape. If the thirst doesn't kill you, the rocks will. I'll bet he was on the way back up.

Morbid, I know. The park posts warnings all over the place not to get ambitious with mileage in a day, but some very good outdoorspeople "know better" and ignore it. It's heartbreaking that it ended that way for him.

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