“I hesitate to use the word ‘search’ in referring to this incident,” said Mesa District Ranger Gary Hanna.
“Thanks to his personal SPOT satellite tracking device which identified his location, after we received the coordinates, we were able to walk right up to him.”
The volunteer, a long-term district wilderness volunteer, refused medical attention.
Considered an experienced Hurt Hiker Located In Superstition Wilderness Quick action thanks to SPOT satellite tracking device hiker, he is well-versed in the terrain and hazards of the Superstition Wilderness where he hikes and photographs natural features such as waterfalls, springs, canyons, wildlife and riparian areas. He has hiked up to 11 miles per day several times weekly year-round for more than 10 years in the Superstition Wilderness.
According to Amy Racki, Mesa Ranger District recreation/wilderness specialist and acting volunteer coordinator, who has been in touch with the volunteer and his wife, “He related to me that he tripped and hit his head and was unable to hike back.”
His SPOT personal tracking device signaled to dispatch emergency responders and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) received a call within minutes of his 9-1-1 satellite call.
“About six of us district employees went out to his reported location and met up with him about two miles from the First Water Trailhead. We hiked him about a quarter of a mile to the closest helispot and the MCSO helicopter air-lifted him back to the trailhead where his car was parked. He refused medical attention and his wife drove him home.”
Observed Racki, “He took the correct steps in promoting his safety in an emergency situation by following the safety rules we recommend to all hikers:
- Tell someone where you are going and when you plan on returning (his wife knew his plans and whereabouts).
- Wear brightly colored clothing (he wore fluorescent cloth ribbons on his pack).
- Know the area you intend on visiting (he had hiked the trail at least 50 times previously).
- Stick to your path and your plan (he stayed on the trail so he would be found).
- Make sure you have the ability to communicate (he knows that cell phone service is not available in this remote area, so he carried a SPOT device that would track his location and alert 9-1-1 of an emergency and give his GPS location).
Added Racki, “Solitude is one of the special features of Wilderness Areas which makes the Superstition Wilderness a draw for many hikers. We do not recommend hiking alone. Although it is safer and we continue to encourage everyone to hike with at least a partner, some people prefer solitude and feel at home with nature. In this case, this experienced hiker took appropriate precautions which resulted in a good outcome.”
Former safety manager for the forest, Cliff Myers, said, “This is the third positive outcome that I have had in one of my former units over the past 12 months with four lives saved.”
Myers is now the chief information office (CIO) safety and occupational health manager, Albuquerque, N.M.
The search was concentrated in the First Water Trailhead area, conducted by approximately 11 district employees partnered with a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office helicopter and crew. The trailhead is just off the Apache Trail and serves as a popular gateway into the Superstition Wilderness Area, providing several excellent easy-to-moderate hiking opportunities.
The Superstition Wilderness is a congressionally designated Wilderness Area (Wilderness Act, 1964). Wilderness Areas are pristine, quiet and minimally touched/affected by humans. All motorized vehicles and mechanical equipment are prohibited unless specially authorized. There are eight Wilderness Areas on the Tonto National Forest. The Superstition Wilderness Area is a significant size (more than 160,000 acres) with a network of over 180 miles of trails.