Arizona Locals Advocating for Increased Safety at Trailhead Following 2 Deaths

by Amy Myers
Photo by Jeff Topping/Getty Images

Two families suffered the tragic loss of a loved one after they embarked on the Spur Cross Trailhead near Cave Creek, Arizona in separate incidents. Now, the community hopes to help prevent anyone else from enduring the same fate.

In early September, Evan Dishion, a doctor and new father, met his group at the trailhead with lots of water and a charged phone in his bag. The group hoped to be off the trail by the time the afternoon sun hit its peak, but they got lost along the way. After hours of wandering, the group ran out of water and their phones had died, and, unfortunately, Dishion died as a result.

Three weeks later, an experienced 60-year-old hiker named Kathleen Patterson fell victim to the very same circumstances.

“She sent me a text at 10:02 [saying] ‘Hey babe got off course. I’m good plenty of water,’ ” Kathleen’s husband Steve Patterson told Arizona’s ABC 15 following the discovery of her body.

In the aftermath of such a devastating loss, the two victims’ family members are advocating for better signage and resources at trailheads when Arizona is experiencing high heat. The day that Dishion died, temperatures reached over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In Phoenix, the city had even closed trails as a result of the heat.

“I know what it’s like to think your spouse will be back later that day, and then they don’t come home ever,” Dishion’s wife, Amy, told Arizona Family. “It’s been really hard, like a nightmare I just can’t wake up from.”

Fellow Arizona Locals Believe Whistles Will Help Save Hikers’ Lives

Amy believes that the answer lies in more readily available signage to warn of the danger of hiking in high heat, but other Arizona natives aren’t so sure.

Paul Diefenderfer, who has been hiking in the area since the 70s, said that signs become like cacti to Arizona hikers – they tend to just walk past them without paying much attention. Diefenderfer and his friend Sunny Parker were actually behind the search efforts for Kathleen. And they have a much different theory in mind regarding the hiker fatality problem that Arizona is experiencing.

“Whistles. It’s a very simple thing,” Parker said.

In the backcountry, there’s a universally-known emergency system used for whistles. One blow typically signifies someone who is lost and looking for help. Three blows mean that someone is in immediate need of medical attention or evacuation.

“I would have some sort of a dispensing machine,” Parker suggested. “If you blow the whistle there is a good chance someone will find you. I am really going to hope I can get some backing from the state on this. It’s a simple fix. Very inexpensive and I want to start right here.”

Already, Parker has bought over 10,000 whistles for her mission. Dishion added that carrying a flashlight or headlamp is another valuable tool to have that people often forget to bring with them on the trail. Investing in a satellite tracker may also help save lives, as it can update loved ones on your location every 20 minutes.

“It’s such an easy fix and I really hope this could save lives,” Parker said. “I’m doing it in honor of Kathleen and Dr. Dishion.”