The red-rock beauty of the Grand Canyon lures millions of visitors to its depths. But each year a dozen or so people don't make it back from the canyon alive.
Lightning strikes, flash floods, and helicopter crashes cause some of these fatalities. But the majority of deaths, says Grand Canyon Emergency Services Chief Ken Phillips, come when hikers of all ages do too much, too fast. With summer temperatures soaring at 120 degrees in the bottom of the canyon, heat exhaustion can overwhelm hikers. Add in the toughest part of the hike—going back up—and you could face disaster.
"In the peak of the summer, your body heats up, which can lead to heat stroke and then ultimately cardiac arrest," says Phillips. "The majority of the deaths in the canyon are cardiac-arrest related."
Phillips and his team rescue more than 250 people from the canyon each year. To make sure your visit is a good one, the National Park Service encourages visitors to follow "smart hiking tips." Pack plenty of water and salty food. Do not attempt to hike from the canyon rim down to the Colorado River and back in just one day. Rest often and stay alert: Accidental falls in the canyon took two lives in 2004. Stay cool: Wrap a wet bandana around your neck and avoid hiking in the heat of the day. And if you raft through the river rapids, wear proper gear and follow your guide's instructions.