Two hikers to “The Wave” were found dead on Thursday, sparking a renewed debate about the lottery system that offered permits to the elderly California couple during a deadly heat wave.
St. George News reported that another group of hikers on Thursday morning first spotted the body of 69-year-old Patricia Wahli, leading to the discovery of 70-year-old Ulrich Wahli’s body some 250 yards away from hers.
The couple had received a hiking permit for Wednesday and are believed to have died on the trail that afternoon after attempting to make the hike in temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Some media sources state that the temperatures could have been as high as 106 at the time they both died.
The authorities believe that Ulrich was likely trying to get help for his wife when he died.
Because of its dramatic windswept desert scenery, the Wave is a popular hiking spot at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona, very near the Utah border. To prevent overcrowding and damage to the fragile desert environment, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issues only 20 permits a day — and an Associated Press report said that the chances of winning can be as low as 10 percent.
The BLM has already acknowledged that the Ulrichs won their permits Wednesday by showing up for the walk-in lottery at the visitor’s center in Kanab, Utah.
With much of the area under a National Weather Service heat advisory, it begs the question of why the Wave hiker death victims were issued the permit. Presumably the rangers at the visitor’s center could see that the couple was over age 65 — an important risk factor for heat stroke since the aging body loses the ability to stay hydrated or to easily adjust to changes in temperature.
Some guides told the AP reporters that the lottery system encourages people to take chances. Once hikers win what they view as a once-in-a-lifetime ticket, they may be inclined to use the permit — even in dangerous weather.
The lottery system may be the only fair way to keep the Wave and similar areas from being destroyed by overcrowding. But does it mean that the BLM is obligated to give the permit to anybody who gets their name called?
I feel like once the rangers saw the Ulrichs, they should have rejected their application and called another name.
Or perhaps the BLM should not have issued any permits to anyone that day because of the extreme heat.
What’s your reaction to the Wave hiker deaths?
[The Wave photo by Lobineau via Wikimedia Commons]