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Wave Hikers Dead, Lottery System Blamed In Couple’s Heat Stroke Collapse

wave hikers dead

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]

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15 Responses to “Wave Hikers Dead, Lottery System Blamed In Couple’s Heat Stroke Collapse”

  1. Todd Emery Hess

    They should keep the lottery system. To much room for discrimination if BLM chooses who goes and who doesn't.

  2. Bret Wilson

    Life is full of risk, described as avid hikers the Ulriches should have known their abilities and the requirements of hiking in a desert wilderness in a heat wave. No one forced them to go hiking in these conditions. The lottery is there to protect the wilderness from humans.

  3. Anonymous

    Sorry, you are way off track here. Firstof all, there are plenty of 70 year olds who are more fit than many 30 year olds. Who is the BLM to judge people's condition. Second, the BLM gives an lengthy and exhaustive briefing for hikers right after they win the walk in lottery. We did this a few weeks ago and were impressed with the BLM staff and their detailed advice and instructions. The emphasize over and over to bring enough water. The only think I would suggest is that they put a few markers along the way. It is a wilderness area and easy to get lost despite the detailed instructions. There are no markers now due to the wilderness designation. Anyway, this article looks like you are trying to blame the BLM for this, and that is patently wrong.

  4. Marie Hall

    This lottery has been running for years and these are the first fatalities. It is sad but fatalities happen even in parks and places without lottery. Heck, they happen just on the road getting to places.

  5. Dennis Ethington

    Their deaths are unfortunate but you've got to know and respect the desert. I hiked it in my mid 60's with three friends and we found it challenging but we carried a LOT of water. Lottery is fair and this fragile wilderness area needs protection.

  6. Pam Leach Dage

    I think it would have been age discrimination to deny the permit because they were elderly, people of all ages have heat stroke.

  7. Rod Davis

    I know more people over 70 in much better shape than people in their 20s. Hiking has risks and those of us that do it must prepared. If prepared hiking is safer than most common activities people do. However bad things can happen as with anything. Sorry to hear about this couple.

  8. Marie Hall

    We went in 95F. Although next time I'll go between mid-October and April only.

  9. Ben Rhodes

    the only thing I could add is that the BLM post physical requirements needed for this hike and the type of terrain. But then there are always people who thing they're in better shape than they really are. We have a saying in our bike club: If you think you're Not thirsty….then it's too late.

  10. Michele Davies-Blanton

    The blm handles the permit system the best way possible. We must all take responsibility for ourselves. Or are we looking for someone to control our lives in every aspect?

  11. Brian Rau

    I, for one, appreciate that there are still places where I can get myself killed if I'm stupid. It's getting so hard to do most places.

  12. Gary Blanton

    People must be responsible for themselves and if they chose something that is unwise that can result in death then so be it. After all it was there choice to take the risk.

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