The tragic death of Michelle Meder serves as a harsh warning for summer hikers in the Grand Canyon as our climate continues to warm.
Dangerously hot days like this past Sunday may become the new normal. It was then, on July 20, 2021, that 53-year-old Michelle Meder died while amidst her multi-day backpacking trip across the Grand Canyon.
According to park officials, Meder was hiking Tonto Trail. There, fellow visitors noticed she was becoming “disoriented”. Soon, she would be found unconscious. Park Rangers were then notified Sunday afternoon. Rushing to the scene, they found Michelle Meder dead along the same famous trail.
“Park Rangers at Grand Canyon National Park are strongly urging visitors to Grand Canyon, especially inner canyon hikers and backpackers to be prepared for excessively hot days in the coming weeks,” officials cite in response to the tragic death, which they believe was preventable.
The national park does note, however, that rescue efforts can be far slower during the summer months. This is due to a smaller staff, though, as much as it is the effects of extreme heat on rescue equipment like helicopters.
“Hiking in extreme heat can lead to serious health risks,” the park continues. Such health risks include: heat exhaustion, heatstroke, hyponatremia, and death.
While 115 degrees is certainly hot enough to cause all of the above, park officials want visitors to know that Grand Canyon National Park can reach a searing 120 degrees in some areas.
Grand Canyon National Park Reaching Deadly Temperatures for Summer 2021
In light of this, GCNP officials are doubling down on their warnings.
“Be aware that efforts to assist hikers may be delayed during the summer months due to limited staff, the number of rescue calls, employee safety requirements… And limited helicopter flying capability during periods of extreme heat or inclement weather,” the park continues in their press release.
The hiking experience level of Michelle Meder is currently unknown. AllTrails lists Tonto Trail as “difficult,” noting that only the “most experienced Grand Canyon hikers” should attempt. Tonto can take five days (or more, depending on experience) to complete at 27 miles.
Sadly, Meder is only the latest death in the Grand Canyon. Back in March of 2021, a 40-year-old hiker from Kentucky was discovered dead several days after he went missing in the national park. His body was found a staggering 465 feet beneath the Grand Canyon’s rim.
Before him, park rangers also found Lillian Meyn, 31, of Woodside, California, died in the national park on February 23. Her body was found off Hermit Road near the Trailview Overlook. She, too, was hundreds of feet below the Grand Canyon’s rim.
Our sincere condolences to the loved ones mourning these losses. Continue on to Camping at the Grand Canyon: What to Know & Where to Go for more on how to safely traverse the national park.