Lack of preparation dangerous for Utah hikers


Hiking enthusiasts love to explore Utah County’s beautiful mountains and trails; however, hikers need to take precautions when attempting to scale potentially dangerous hikes.

According to Sgt. Rhett Williams of the Utah County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team, some hikers feel the need to search out the most dangerous trails and then attempt to scale them, but Williams says this is a bad idea.

Jacob’s Ladder

Williams used Jacob’s Ladder, a rugged hiking trail accessing Lone Peak summit, as an example of a trail some hikers recognize as too dangerous too late.

“People research the hike and end up going there, getting lost and then when they hike back, they run out of food and liquids and can’t find their way out because it is too dark,” Williams said.

Williams remembers a rescue in Jacob’s Ladder where the rescued hiker sheepishly admitted that he attempted to hike the trail because he heard about how dangerous it was.

Bridal Veil Falls

Sgt. Spencer Cannon tweeted this photo of search and rescue teams climbing up Bridal Veil Falls to reach a 12-year-old boy who was injured by a football-sized rock. (Spencer Cannon)

Bridal Veil Falls is a well-known hike. However, hikers on this trail are at risk for slipping and being hit by falling rocks when they visit.

On Memorial Day, a 12-year-old boy was injured by a football-sized rock that fell five feet before hitting him. Utah County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Sgt. Spencer Cannon conducted the rescue that night.

“There are risks when hiking Bridal Veil Falls,” he said. “It’s an area where, if you’re not careful enough, you can get hurt badly.”

Mount Timpanogos

Mount Timpanogos has hikes loved by Utah locals and visitors alike.

“There are a ton of calls on (Mount Timpanogos) because of dehydration, twisted ankles and people falling off cliffs,” Williams said.

Colton Rogers, a trails and wilderness crew foreman from the U.S. Forest Service, explained search and rescue receives many calls from hikers on Mount Timpanogos simply because of the number of people who visit.

BYU student Kevin Goodrich hiked Mount Timpanogos without a jacket in the middle of the night a few summers ago. He did not contact search and rescue, but he learned his lesson once both the cold and a case of altitude sickness hit him.

“Guys want to look manly, you know,” he said. “You pretend you aren’t tired, but you’re dying on the inside.”

He ended up sacrificing his ego to use his friend’s jacket.

“The elements are ferocious; you always have to be prepared for the worst,” Goodrich said. “This made me take (hiking warnings) more seriously.”

Stewart Falls

Stewart Falls is a great day hike, but according to Williams, the hike becomes a potential danger when hikers climb and play on the slippery moss-covered rocks around the falls.

“We get calls around Stewart Falls on a constant basis,” he said.

Search and rescue is always willing to help anyone whose life is in danger.

Cannon said search and rescue will use airplanes when required. In one instance, two boys went missing on Stewart Falls, and search and rescue officials were able to locate them from an airplane within five minutes. According to Cannon, it would have taken them hours if they did not use the plane.

Airplanes are not commonly used in search and rescue, and Cannon confirmed that they use it around four times a month.

However, Williams explained that hiking search and rescue missions are not easy and can take hours or even an entire night before a hiker can be rescued.

“People (usually) call search and rescue saying they are dehydrated and cannot move anymore,” he said. “They call thinking that we have a magical helicopter that will come out and rescue them, but we actually have to hike up there, which will take the same amount of time it took for them to get up there.”

Both Rogers and Williams recommend hikers do extensive research and thorough preparation before hiking anywhere. The reason hikes become dangerous, according to Rogers, is lack of preparation.

Rogers said the most common accidents occur when hikers underestimate the weather by wearing light clothes and not bringing enough water. Even though it might be a clear and sunny day, Rogers said the weather in the mountains can change rapidly.

“People get caught with inadequate layers,” he said. “It is recommended that hikers wear insulated and waterproof layers when hiking.”

Cannon said the most common injuries occur when hikers climb areas above their skill level.

“When hikers climb rock walls beyond their experience and realize they cannot return safely, they get stuck,” Cannon said.

According to Williams, it is hard to put a cost on each rescue.

“It all depends on the resources used and how long we are out there,” he said.

Just because a particular trail is dangerous does not mean it should be avoided altogether. Both Williams and Rogers advise hikers to prepare for each hike prior to arriving at the trailhead, which should help hikers maximize their time and get the most out of their outdoor experience.

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