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Thu, Nov. 21

Blog: Year ends in tragedy on local hiking scene

YCSO rescue crews remove a woman's body from the base of Bell Rock on July 7, 2011. Photos Courtesy YCSO

YCSO rescue crews remove a woman's body from the base of Bell Rock on July 7, 2011. Photos Courtesy YCSO

My final blog of 2011 is not good news. Sedona's second hiking-related fatality of the year happened just four days ago when a 21-year-old New York man fell 150 feet from a ledge where he had been stranded near Castle Rock.

He had called his mom via cell phone and she made eye contact with him from below, then called the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office for help at about 4 p.m. on Dec. 27. As the sun set, deputies searched, but didn't find him and couldn't reach him by cell phone. His cell carrier couldn't provide GPS coordinates because of the remote location. A Guardian Air helicopter crew and DPS Ranger crew searched into the night, as did teams from Jeep Posse and YCSO Response Team, Backcountry Unit. Finally, at 11:15 a.m. the following day, they found the young man's body between a sheer ledge and some shrubs.

The YCSO report speculates that the young man tried to move when phone contact failed during the early stages of the search, shortly after the phone call to his mother. It doesn't say if the ledge was icy or not, but the weather was freezing in Sedona last week. My family saw plenty of snow around Sedona and up into Oak Creek Canyon on Dec. 24. (More on that in the next blog.)

I cannot imagine what his family is going through. They expected a wonderful vacation in beautiful Red Rock Country and instead, their world crashed. My prayers are with them.

YCSO ended the report with this: "This tragic incident is a reminder that the beauty of rugged mountains in this area can deceive persons to access places where it may be difficult to safely escape if stranded. Another hiker died earlier this year from a fall in the nearby Sedona wilderness. YCSO search experts recommend that if you become stranded on a ledge, do not move, maintain communication if possible, and let rescue personnel come to you as they are best equipped to provide your safe return."

The first fatality also was a visitor unfamiliar with the terrain - a 51-year-old woman from Japan. Searchers found her body at the base of Bell Rock on July 7. They believe she also fell 50 to 100 feet from a ledge. She was hiking alone, and discovered only because someone turned in her backpack (with all her ID, cash and Japanese passport) to the inn where she was staying, the innkeepers filed a possible missing person report, and YCSO deputies searched.

Hikers - please act sensibly and safely on the trails (and off) in 2012. And please don't be afraid to try to reason with those who appear to lack caution and/or backcountry skills, if you encounter them while hiking. They might tell you to buzz off. Or you might save a life.

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