FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - An Ohio resident on a backpacking trip at the Grand Canyon has died of suspected heat-related illness amid a heat wave in the U.S. West, park officials said.
Michelle Meder, 53, was among a group of five who made it halfway into the canyon on June 19 when she became disoriented and later unconscious. The group split, with three hiking farther into the canyon and flagging down a commercial rafting group that called park rangers via satellite phone, said Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman Joelle Baird.
Rangers weren't able to respond until the following day and found Meder dead. The rocky, strenuous trail has little shade and no water sources aside from some small creeks, Baird said.
Investigators at the Grand Canyon are working with the local medical examiner’s office to determine an exact cause of death for Meder, who lived in Hudson, Ohio.
Hiking at the Grand Canyon can be deceiving. The temperature at the South Rim, where 90% of all visitors go, is about 20 degrees cooler than at the bottom. The temperature at Phantom Ranch along the Colorado River hit 115 degrees (46 Celsius) on Sunday, tying the previous daily record. A similar temperature was expected Monday.
"It catches a lot of hikers, tourists coming in from out of the area off guard," said Andrew Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff. "And it's very dry."
The weather will be slightly cooler over the next couple of days before another warming trend, Taylor said.
Baird said the Grand Canyon has seen an uptick in heat-related illness lately. The park recommends inner-canyon hikers start early, and if they're out on the trail while the sun is blazing overhead, that they find some shade and wait.
"It's just very unforgiving this time of year, even people who are acclimated, and fit and in shape," she said. "They struggle. It can be really hard to thermal regulate if you're not used to hiking in these elements, and you're not getting proper nutrition and hydration."
On Sunday, park rangers responded to a hiker who drank too much water and hadn't consumed enough sodium, known as hyponatremia, Baird said. The condition can lead to seizures, coma or even death.
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