30 hikers call for help after suffering heat exhaustion; hiking safety tips

ST. GEORGE – Emergency crews were called in to locate a group of 30 hikers suffering from heat exhaustion Monday evening after attempting to hike an area about 6 miles west of Gunlock and 20 miles northwest of St. George.

The group of students, from the University of Arizona, were in the area for a few days to map the surrounding area, Washington County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Shauna Jones said.

The group set out at approximately 5:30 a.m. to hike Square Top Mountain – an area east of where they were camping – which reaches 7,050 feet at the summit.

As the majority of the group began to make their return back to camp, Jones said four other members of the group decided to go further.

“When the majority of the group returned to camp, the other four were overdue,” Jones said. “The main party was informed the four had run out of water and were having a difficult time returning to camp.”

At approximately 6 p.m., a call was made to the St. George Communication Center reporting that the group of hikers were all suffering from heat exhaustion, some more severe than others. The caller, unfamiliar with the area, had a difficult time explaining where the group was located.

Search and Rescue volunteers responded to assist a group from the main party who went to locate and assist the four people who were unable to return to camp, Jones said. The group was well equipped, but the four people ran out of water and needed assistance.

By 7:05 p.m., all of the hikers were accounted for and Search and Rescue and emergency services were initially called off. However, at 7:35 p.m., an ambulance was requested to turn back around for two men, 21 and 22 years of age, showing signs of heatstroke.

No serious injuries were reported, Jones said.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is less severe than heat stroke and includes two types: water depletion and salt depletion. In cases of water depletion, extreme thirst, weakness, fainting and headache are common. Salt depletion symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness and muscle cramps.

If the symptoms are not addressed swiftly, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke.


Heatstroke is a medical emergency and can kill or cause damage to the brain and other internal organs. Many will find their body progresses from dehydration to heat exhaustion, and eventually to heatstroke. Heatstroke symptoms include: throbbing headache; dizziness and light-headedness; lack of sweating despite the heat; red, hot, and dry skin; muscle weakness or cramps; nausea and vomiting; rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak; rapid, shallow breathing; behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering; seizures; and unconsciousness.

If you suspect someone is experiencing the symptoms of heatstroke, call 911 immediately. If possible, cool the individual with ice packs or water, and administer first aid.


Hydrating is the intake or absorption of necessary fluids. Water is the best fluid, unless there is strenuous exertion or other unusual circumstances. The following are some key points to insure proper hydration:

  • Take plenty of water on your hike.
  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Thirst is not the best indicator that you need to drink, it is an indicator that you are already behind on fluids.
  • Hydrate and rehydrate before, during and after activity. Fluid losses increase as the body sweats.

How to prepare to hike safely and to be found when lost or injured

Preparation by the wilderness hiker including knowing one’s own limitations is the most effective measure to avoid mishaps, keep from getting lost and to ensure being found when things go wrong.

  • Develop a knowledge of reading maps and wayfinding using landmarks
    • Setting cairns – piles of marker rocks – can be helpful but beware that another’s cairn may misdirect you; note: setting cairns on some public lands may be prohibited
  • Prepare for and maintain proper hydration and fueling with water and food – even hydrate and load up with fuel foods days in advance
  • Leave an itinerary with relatives or friend
  • Read all available materials on the area prior to hiking
  • Consult with BLM staff and other outfitters and guides on recreating in the area
  • Know your own limitations, health conditions, abilities, and body’s reaction to extreme heat and other weather conditions
  • Hydrate
  • Watch for symptoms of dehydration in yourself and those you are hiking with: fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, dark yellow urine, increased heart rate, skin loses elasticity, overheating, muscle cramps, constipation, loss of tears, parched throat and lips
  • Wear bright clothing that can be easily spotted, not camouflage or muddy colors: Bright blue, bright or fluourescent lime greens and oranges, even reds are more easily spotted
  • Carry or wear a bright handkerchief or scarf that you can wave at a search team and helicopter
  • Carry a small flashlight, even in daytime a small flashlight can deliver a glint that catch attention
  • Carry a small mirror or anything that will reflect a glint that can catch a helicopter pilot’s eye
  • Carry a GPS tracking device; these may operate where cell service will not – if you set a waypoint at the trailhead, even at points along the way, you can follow the device’s arrows to find your way back using the device
  • Those who hike often might consider using a Spot Locator device and service, when injured or lost you press a button which signals the company, which notifies the nearest Sheriff’s office of your exact location

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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