Hiker dies at Death Valley trailhead as temperatures soar

Heat warning sign at Death Valley National Park
(Image credit: Getty)

A man died at Death Valley National Park on Tuesday as temperatures hit 121°F (almost 50°C). Other park visitors found the 71-year-old unresponsive at Golden Canyon trailhead, and called 911. According to a statement from the National Park Service (NPS) his cause of death is still under investigation, but it's suspected that the extreme heat was likely a factor.

The man was discovered at 3:40pm, dressed for hiking. Exploring at low elevations after 10am isn't recommended, and officials estimate that the temperature in Golden Canyon was likely even higher due to the sun's heat reflecting off the walls.

Park Rangers arrived at around 3:47pm, when they performed CPR and used an electronic defibrillator on the man, but were sadly unable to save him. The nearest rescue helicopter was unable to attend due to the heat.

If you're planning to visit Death Valley, the NPS recommends making only short journeys in an air conditioned car, or hiking in the cooler mountains, but it would be safer to postpone your trip until later in the year.

The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 134°F (56.7°C) at Death Valley's Furnace Creek in July 1913, and the current heatwave is approaching similar levels. Temperatures of 128°F (53°C) were recorded at Furnace Creek on Sunday.

Heatstroke when hiking

Heatstroke is a serious risk in such conditions, and happens when the body's core temperature rises to 104°F (40°C). Symptoms can include:

  • Confusion 
  • Problems with movement, coordination and balance 
  • Dizziness 
  • Weakness 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • High or low blood pressure 
  • Bubbling or gurgling sounds in the lungs 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Rapid heart rate 
  • Seizures 
  • Loss of consciousness  

If left untreated, heatstroke can ultimately lead to organ failure, coma, and death. If you or a companion experiences any of the above symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately.

For more advice, see our guide how to avoid the dangers of hot weather. The NPS also has a guide to avoiding and treating heat-related illness.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.