Summer Heat and Emergency Rescues

Club members hiking in the Grand Canyon (left to right): Marilyn Harkins, Diane Alessi, Henry Silberblatt, Jim Rowson, Bob Faulkner, DeEtte Faith, and family member Jason Faith

Warren Wasescha, Sun Lakes Hiking Club

I’ve seen three helicopter rescues in my time hiking in the Valley—two on Camelback Mountain and one on South Mountain. As far as I know, no one in our club has ever had a heat-related rescue on a trail. But with the summer’s heat bearing down on us right now, what happens if you take all the right precautions and still need a rescue? At least in Phoenix, the city will help, and the cost of the rescue is free.

It all starts with a phone call to 911, who then dispatches the fire department to help you. If it’s decided an air evacuation is needed, the fire department then calls in the police department and its helicopter fleet for assistance.

There has been debate on whether or not a hiker should be responsible for the cost of a rescue. After all, the state does have a law for stupid motorists. But there is no law for stupid hikers in Phoenix, even though the cost of flying a helicopter can average $1,000 an hour and up.

But rescues of hikers are a rare percentage of total hikers using trails. And it’s a complex process to decide whether someone was really acting stupidly prior to a rescue or whether there were other circumstances involved.

Many experienced hikers can get into a bad situation, like slipping and spraining their ankles, requiring assistance. And experienced out-of-town hikers may not understand the seriousness of the Valley’s heat, making bad decisions in preparing for a hike, and putting themselves in dangerous situations. So, the City of Phoenix made the decision to not charge for hike-related rescues. It’s viewed as a customer service obligation to taxpayers, similar to the cost of responding to house fires or medical emergencies. And for out-of-town hiker rescues, it’s simply viewed as a courtesy service and part of the cost of tourism extended to those visiting the Valley needing assistance.

Interested in hiking (safely) with other like-minded individuals? Want to hike some of the best trails in the Valley? We’d love to have you be part of our group. We are a friendly, inclusive group of hikers who welcome all able-bodied hikers. We hike formally from November through April. We also hike informally in the summer—obviously, very early in the day before the heat builds. Our club’s goal is to make group hiking fun, challenging, social, and safe.

All past hikes, along with information about our club, can be viewed on our Meetup site. Just type “Sun Lakes Hiking Club” into your web browser to locate us. Interested in summer hiking or have questions not found on our Meetup site? Please reach out to our president Stu Frost at [email protected]

We look forward to hiking with you!