Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Canyon deaths: 685 and counting

Canyon deaths: 685 and counting

  • Updated
  • 7

A new edition of "Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon" by Flagstaff authors Tom Myers and Michael Ghiglieri is out. Below is an update.

Q: How many people have died there?

A: About 685 over the years, the authors write, though that could be understated somewhat due to missing records and lack of recordkeeping in cases where someone was injured at the Canyon but died elsewhere, such as at a hospital.

Q: Is the park more deadly in recent years?

A: No, the 1980s had more deaths than recent years. But there is a shift in what kills people, said co-author, boater and backcountry hiker Michael Ghiglieri.

"Over the last decade, proportionally more people have been dying from environmental problems -- mainly heat -- while hiking. This is despite everything the park has tried to do via educational signs and via preventative search and rescue (PSAR) work, both of which are pretty good. There were also proportionally more people dying from falls within the Canyon (as opposed to from the rims)."

There were 15 "environmental deaths" (related to heat, dehydration, cold) from 2007 to 2011 alone.

Drownings among private boaters are up, as are suicides at the rims.

Q: What are common risk factors for death at the Canyon?

A: "Men, we have a problem," Ghiglieri said to an audience at NAU's Cline Library this winter, displaying a graphic with a skull and crossbones.

Being male, and young, is a tremendous risk factor, he and Myers found.

Of 55 who have accidentally fallen from the rim of the canyon, 39 were male. Eight of those guys were hopping from one rock to another or posing for pictures, including a 38-year-old father from Texas pretending to fall to scare his daughter, who then really did fall 400 feet to his death.

So is taking unknown shortcuts, which sometimes lead to cliffs.

Going solo is a risk factor in deaths from falls, climbing (anticipated or unplanned) and hiking.

Arrogance, impatience or ignorance also sometimes play a part.

Q: Most unusual death?

A: "Being scared to death by a rattlesnake," Ghiglieri writes. "No one has died due to a snakebite in the Canyon, though several visitors have been bitten. But in 1933, one guy, a 43-year-old prospector named Cochrane from California, was hiking down Snake Gulch (for real). He was terrified of snakes. A rattlesnake coiled up and rattled at him and made a partial strike, a feint. Cochrane leaped backward and died of heart failure, confirmed by a physician."

Q: Other unusual deaths?

A: Rockfalls have killed eight over the years, and nearly a ninth, who almost bled to death when a boulder rolled into one camper's tent upstream of Phantom Ranch and crushed her pelvis.

Drownings in popular, seemingly docile Havasu Creek (partly located in the Havasupai lands heading into Grand Canyon) have claimed eight, with some caught in recirculating currents. Two of those dove from high places, however, with one man diving from a height of nearly 200 feet and smashing into the bottom of a 12-foot-deep pool below. For the authors, their rule has become: Don't dive in the Grand Canyon, no matter what.

Two men from California, ages 32 and 45, jumped off the edge of the Grand Canyon at the Little Colorado River Gorge (eastern Grand Canyon) in 1993, wearing parachutes. They were close enough that the chutes entangled, and they hit the rocks 900 feet below at high speed. One died; one lived.

While not always fatal, encounters with critters are included in a chapter in the new edition. One longtime volunteer (Sjors Horstman) even had a rabid fox that tried to bite his face.

Q: How much water do you carry?

A: Ghiglieri typically carries nearly one gallon on day hikes, two gallons for long day hikes, and once drank closed to three gallons on one 12-mile midsummer hike. He avoids "CamelBak" systems for their potential to fail and often uses stainless steel water bottles now. He also eats salty foods while hiking, to avoid risks of having too much water and too little salt, a condition known as hyponatremia.

About the authors:

Michael Ghiglieri is an author, emergency medical technician and river runner since 1974. He has written two books on wild chimpanzees, a subject of his doctoral work in Uganda following his time as a platoon sergeant in the Vietnam War. He lives in Flagstaff with his wife, Susan.

Tom Myers is a physician working at the Grand Canyon's clinic, a river guide, a hiking guide and author of books on injury and death on Colorado River rafting trips, and a book about famous canyon hiker Harvey Butchart. He lives in Flagstaff with his wife, Becky.


Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

  • Updated

Ioana "Yowana" Elise Hociota started hiking segments of the Grand Canyon some five years ago with her boyfriend, in borrowed boots, not mindin…

  • Updated

Thanks to the power of Google and Reddit, some of the Daily Sun articles have risen from the grave, reviving stories from as early as 1999. He…

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News

Breaking News (FlagLive!)