Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How People Die

Before bed each night I have been cuddling up with a book called Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers. What I have learned is that the majority of deaths in the Grand Canyon occur because of a single thing. People taking one wrong step. Or maybe a few. A few wrong steps that lead to one big wrong step. There are more deaths in the Grand Canyon than any of the other 398 parks, monuments, battle fields, sea shores, mountain ranges and deserts in the U.S. National Park System. Eighty four million acres of land, with the Grand Canyon taking the prize for most deadly.

This morning I saw a young couple watching the sun rise from the edge of a cliff. The girl was giddy with enthusiasm  Clapping her hands together, skipping around to stay warm. I held my breath as I walked by. When I returned an hour later they were gone, but I was happy to see their tracks went both ways - to the edge and then back. That later part is important. Still, every year some people only make it one way. They are here on this planet alive, laughing, talking, thinking of the beauty, the wonder and then, oh, if I just get a little closer to the edge, won't that be just the greatest view in the world—

And then they are gone.


Just like that.

It's important to remember that the canyon is so big, so vast, so absolutely unbelievably immense that perspective is easily lost. It's hard to imagine, but good to try, that you could start at the bottom of the canyon and stack three Empire State Buildings on top of each other and they would still not be as high as the rim of the Grand Canyon. Many people fall simply because they lose their bearings. They are sitting on a ledge resting from their hike, and then they get up, get disoriented, get dizzy and fall.

Most of the deaths happen to men of a certain age. Several have been attributed to these same aged men urinating off the ledge, or walking around in the dark—drunk.

The book makes for an interesting read, and a good reminder of how indifferent this canyon is. 1.8 billion years compressed into a vertical mile of rock. What's a human life compare to that?

And for a bit more perspective, I just found this photo by Adam Shallau.

-Naseem Rakha 2/12/13


  1. Sounds like a good book to read before I get there, since I have enough time to let it wear off a bit before I come face to face with the edge!

  2. I always wondered about that. It is incredibly huge and incredibly easy to dangle over the edge.

  3. I visited there a couple of days ago. The scene was INSANE with people getting close to the edge for photos, scrambling over rocks, some old seniors crawling over rocks for photo spots. It was cold and windy, even hard to keep one's balance to focus a camera. I said to myself that I will google how many fool hardy people have fallen to their untimely deaths here. Thanks for your post

  4. I agree. I was just there at the West Rim a few days ago and it was insane to me how many people were so close to the edge. It made me a nervous wreck. And the young children just running freely around. I wanted to find the parents and ... I don't know what. I even had shivers about it as I laid in bed that night.