Deaths in Zion

6:42 a.m. on April 29, 2010 (EDT)
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From the LA Times:

The death of a woman Tuesday from a 1,000-foot fall from the Angels Landing Trail (trail shown below) at Zion National Park was the third fatality at the park this week. On Monday, the bodies of two men were found in the Virgin River, after they were reported missing on Sunday... More here

8:48 a.m. on April 29, 2010 (EDT)
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The two men found in the river are victims of their own lack of preparedness. I know it's easy to say that not having been in their situation, but the article seems to indicate that they went floating down a river they knew to be swollen in a raft they hobbled together themselves with no backup floatation equipment.

As for the fall, Angels' Landing is going to extract payment for the privilege of traversing her crest. There are some that would say this inevitability is enough to close a place, but I'm not one of them. We all take risks, we all balance the potential rewards for taking those risks each and every day. Protecting people from their own freely-made decisions is an absurd exercise in selfishness that makes exactly zero people happy once everything is said and (not) done.

9:04 a.m. on April 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Always tragic when a loss of life occurs. My prayers are with the families of these three individuals.

Sadly, I have to agree with yock. The two guys who drowned simply didn't exercise common sense or basic preparedness. Their deaths are truly senseless as they were easily avoidable.

Restricting some trails/climbs to permit-only hikers is an interesting proposition. I wouldn't make too much noise about it if it started to occur around here. Checking to see that people have a minimal understanding of safety before they set out is not a bad thing. And, pair that with the recent closures of parks due to lack of revenue... a $10 permit or two could help keep some trails open.

9:05 a.m. on April 29, 2010 (EDT)
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I wonder if the Angel's Landing death was a suicide. That portion of the trail is not hairball enough for someone to “fall off.” She may have accidentally tripped, but the exposure at that point is sufficient to sober up a drunk, and make you extra careful. Sad news nevertheless.


11:03 a.m. on April 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Angels Landing seems to be one of the worse places in the parks for deaths. I dont know how many of you have ever hiked it but parts of the trail are very scary and are right along a almost knifes edge area between two high cliff walls, with a 1200 foot drop on one side and a 1500 foot one on the other.

Everytime I have ever been in Zion there has been a death due to someones mishap on that trail.

And springtime is a bad time to be in or hiking along the Virgin River especially up the Narrows. Usually the NPS doesnt allow anyone to venture up the Narrows above the paved river walk above the Temple of Sinawava. And when I worked there in 2007 a couple co-workers got a ticket for floating down the river in inner tubes. There are many bad places with big rocks and log jams that can suck under a unsuspecting person.

Don't look down!

Stay to the left!

Gary on Angels landing with south Zion Canyon behind.

5:24 p.m. on April 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Great photographs Gary. They really illustrate the inherent danger in that hike... wow!

6:37 p.m. on April 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Yes great pics Gary. I could almost feel the heat all the way up to Norway.

It is a result of the media that deaths in unusual places are given nation wide attention, but deaths in f.ex traffic or by crime is hardly mentioned outside the local area.

But sometime a fall is not fatal. Here is a recent story from the area where BigRed hikes.

To those of you that does not read norwegian, the guy fell about 800m (2600ft) and slid another 200m. He dislocated a foot and got some bruises, but no broken bones! The snow saved him, but it was the snow that made the fall happen as a snowdrift broke under him. I guess if someone could be called lucky, he is one of those!

7:40 p.m. on April 29, 2010 (EDT)
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I've been up on that trail in 80 mph winds. We turned around. We were then sitting on a high promontory (coming down) with a medium sized tree growing out of it and as the wind bent the tree, we could feel the ground moving, and we carefully left there also.


10:17 p.m. on April 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Still along the Virgin River on the trail leading to Angels Landing ahead. The steep route to the top follows along the left side above the hikers. The lower looking point just to the right is Observation Point which is actually 1500 feet higher then Angels Landing on the opposite side of the Zion Canyon. This was almost 7:30 am near the end of July.

Me, (Gary) on Scouts Lookout just below Angels Landing behind me.

Hikers along the knife edge going up the trail from Scouts Lookout to Angels Landing. The edge here drops 1200 feet on the right and 1500 feet down the left. There is one place where the trail is no wider than a sidewalk with a little railing bridge.

Part of the steepest parts of the trail to Angels Landing. Like climbing a very steep staircase. The chain is loose so it acts like a rope to pull yourself up with.

Hikers along a drop-off cliff. Many people turn around when they see the drop-off's along the sides.At the lower left of the picture you can see the chainrail where the trail hangs barely on a little ledge above the abyss.

Looking down on Angels Landing (just to the right of my friend) from Observation Point with South Zion Canyon beyond.

7:37 a.m. on April 30, 2010 (EDT)
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You know, God made that place, but men put in that chainlink. How foolish must you be to crawl up that thing toting heavy steel pipes, chains, drilling and driving equipment?

8:11 a.m. on April 30, 2010 (EDT)
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Beautiful place and great photos Gary!


9:48 a.m. on April 30, 2010 (EDT)
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I second the thoughts of the others who have responded to this article. I understand and empathize with the feelings of tragedy in light of these deaths.

To ask for more regulation is not the answer, however. None of us should want the state to babysit us. People do make mistakes and die in dangerous places, but many thousands more die in comparatively "safe" locations engaging in "safe" activities. Each and every one of us has the right to engage in challenging activities, and should be allowed to exercise that right. It is the individual's responsibility to be prudent and take their actions seriously. When some aren’t prudent the consequences can be are hard, but it is not the State's place to make adults wear arm floaties at the public pool. And that is exactly what more regulation or restriction of our outdoor places like Angels Landing would be. If you can't swim, don't get into the pool without help. If you aren't capable (physically, psychologically, or emotionally) of traversing Angels Landing then you shouldn't go. But that cannot be anything but a personal decision for which the individual bears the consequences, good or bad.

10:00 a.m. on April 30, 2010 (EDT)
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Unfortunately, the individual doesn't always bear all the consequences, i.e. the costs of rescue or body removal, hospital stays etc. While I agree we all should be able to do risky things at our own risk, there are situations where some reasonable regulation can prevent a lot of grief. It's a balancing act... individual rights vs. public interest. I suspect very few of us would really choose the extreme positions on this one.

3:30 p.m. on May 1, 2010 (EDT)
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The only concession I'd make off-hand is a permit and fee requirement. The managing agency could charge a fee based on the level of difficulty and danger involved in the route that could be pooled to handle S&R and retrieval. That way the people who use the NPS trails all contribute to the unfortunate but necessary services that surround backcountry life.

10:45 a.m. on May 2, 2010 (EDT)
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Both Gonzan and Big Red make valid points.

Here's a compromise: you can walk that trail, but you must sign a waiver stating that if you fall you do not expect to be rescued or retrieved.

Just kidding, folks. But speaking as one who had to turn around half-way up Camelback due to the dizzying height, you'd never catch me anywhere near any of those beautiful spots in Gary's photos and walking that ridge seems suicidal to me.

What about age restrictions? Should a 13 year old be allowed to take those risks?

11:10 a.m. on May 2, 2010 (EDT)
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They have these two signs. this one with the Do not feed wildlife at the beginning of the trail and the second one at the base of the hazardous part of the trail, where it leaves the Scouts Lookout area.

4:23 p.m. on May 2, 2010 (EDT)
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What about age restrictions? Should a 13 year old be allowed to take those risks?

Oh man, that tickled my funny. I'd say the 13 year old can only climb those trails if his dad has paid for all of his hiking equipment.

12:32 a.m. on May 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Just adding another photo for people to enjoy. Those are my toes. As you can see, it's a long way to the valley floor.

1:14 a.m. on May 5, 2010 (EDT)
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For those who haven't been there the light three sided object in the shade of the image shared by Jim Doss is a turnout for a scenic overview. If you look close you can see the two lane road leading away from the upper leg of the turnout. Jim's picture pretty closely captures the scale of that drop too, as cars in the parking lot look like specs and you can barely discern tourists on foot down there from this height.

6:26 a.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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Is it better to die doing what you love, even if it's risky or to sit in a chair, television remote control and beer at the ready, cholesterol in the 300 range just waiting to croak from a heart attack or get consumed by cancer?

You never hear of the dramatic deaths people suffer from somewhat self imposed illness, but let one fit person die while engaged in a favorite activity and the press comes running (probably huffing and chuffing along).

Life is full of risks. Some you can control, some you cannot. I've taken some wingers while rock climbing, I've made some stupid decisions (in retrospect) while free-soloing, but I'd rather do that than not live the one life I've been given.

7:24 a.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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The media can't be blamed for public reaction to their news. They cover the falls at Angels' Landing because it's a dramatic story of a place most will never see and a manner of death most could never imagine. Falling a thousand vertical feet to one's death is a heart and gut-wrenching tale that has mass--dare I even say--appeal? It is then the layperson readers of those stories who set out to ruin the natural wonders of the world in the name of outraged safety. The fact that such a place exists and that we allow people to experience it violates the faulty mental model the average person has about the world around them. It is then the fault of the governmental agencies we let manage those places when they ruin those experiences in the name of that misplaced outrage...

...a blame we then must all share for putting the wrong people with the wrong motivations in custodian of said places.

2:28 p.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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I must be missing something. Has some governmental agency ruined Zion since these deaths? How? Or was it ruined before? Who are the custodians with the wrong motivations? Or is this a prediction of the future?

We don't hear about the "dramatic" deaths of people with self-imposed ilnesses because most of those deaths are not dramatic, but commonplace. One of the reasons, perhaps the primary reason, that the Zion deaths are reported is that they are unusual and therefore newsworthy.

3:53 p.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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It's just healthy speculation at this point, but humans do have a history of meddling in the affairs of others when their actions seem unreasonable. Laws have existed for years dictating from where our food must come and precisely what must be done to it before we are legally allowed to consume it. We have laws governing the use of safety devices in vehicles, be they seatbelts in cars or helmets on motorcycles and bicycles. And lets not forget the littany of consumer safety laws that put inane labels on everything from coffee cups to children's toys and art supplies.

It isn't that much of a stretch to believe that we could see increased restrictions on our backcountry freedoms because people undertake challenges ill-prepared or simply have tragic accidents. That's the sentiment here, I think.

6:34 p.m. on May 6, 2010 (EDT)
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It has reached this absurd point because no-one wishes to take responsibility for their own actions. Hence, when they drink too much at a bar and stagger into the path of a car, the driver is to blame, also the bar, the bartender, the hops grower, ad nauseam.

So, to avoid expensive litigation, towns close playgrounds.

Perhaps if Zion required hiking insurance of those who wished to enter the dangerous trails, all would be free to enjoy those majestic views. Sort of 'pay to play'.

August 14, 2018
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