The brutal summer heat proved too much on Tuesday for another hiker visiting The Wave, a flowing sandstone rock formation near the Utah-Arizona border that claimed the lives of a Bay Area couple from Campbell earlier this month.
Elisabeth Ann Bervel, 27, of Mesa, Ariz., died of cardiac arrest when a medical helicopter arrived too late to save her, authorities said.
Bervel was celebrating her fifth wedding anniversary with her husband, Anthony, when they lost their way on a 3-mile, unmarked route back to a trailhead, forcing them to spend extra hours under blazing sun in 90-degree temperatures and humidity.
Officials said her legs gave out hiking in soft sand, and her husband kept going to find a cell phone signal to call for help. He appeared to be in no danger from the heat or exertion, authorities said.
The fatalities have caused officials to reiterate warnings about the danger and isolation of the terrain.
Hikers are warned of the danger and provided pictures of prominent landmarks. There are also guides available. Still, many visitors strike out alone, making it harder to solicit others for an emergency rescue.
Officials allow only 20 hikers a day into the area, described in its website as “a gallery of gruesomely twisted sandstone, resembling deformed pillars, cones, mushrooms and other odd creations … with the unique blending of color twisted in the rock, creating a dramatic rainbow of pastel yellows, pinks and reds.”
More than 48,000 people applied last year for the 7,300 available permits, officials said. The shortage of permits means that many hike The Wave in the middle of summer.
Ten of the Wave’s 20 daily hiking permits are issued online many months ahead of time. The other 10 are issued by a lottery at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument visitor’s center in Kanab, Utah, officials said.
Officials are now reviewing the permit system.
“It does come back to personal discretion, and making choices,” Rachel Tueller, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Strip District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which controls The Wave, told the Associated Press. “Anytime you go out on public land, it’s a risk. You have to know your own capabilities.”
According to the sheriff’s report reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, the Bervels “lost the trail a couple of times on the way back, which would have been during the hot part of the day by then, and spent a couple of extra hours trying to find the correct path back to their vehicle.”
The report continued: “The couple of extra hours in the heat and hiking in the sand took their toll on Elisabeth and her legs finally gave out and she could go no farther. Anthony hiked for a ways to find a cellphone signal and made a call for help.”
Kevin Wright, manager of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, could not be reached for comment.
But the Kane County Sheriff’s Department said the deaths make it clear the desert can be lethal.
“This event once again demonstrates the inherent risks associated with hiking in southern Utah’s desert country. Even though the Bervels had tried to make sure they were prepared for this hike, the elements proved to be stronger,” the department said in a statement.
“If you must hike, it is best to do it early in the morning, and make sure you have enough water and supplies.”