A Massachusetts woman was found dead Friday afternoon after a hike at Camelback Mountain near Phoenix, Ariz., amid scorching heat, officials said.
The woman was found at about 4:40 p.m. off the Echo Canyon Trail near a home on the northeast side of the mountain, the Phoenix Fire Department said in a statement Friday.
She was found unresponsive “beyond resuscitative efforts and was pronounced deceased,” the statement read.
She appeared to not have water with her when she was found and was possibly attempting to seek help during the heat, McDade said. The National Weather Service in Phoenix said 104 degrees was the high for Friday.
“But at that point in time, [she] could have conceivably been in the early stages of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, where you become delirious, and unfortunately, your faculties are not about you,” McDade said.
The woman had arrived in town the day before, McDade said. She was hiking with a male companion who lives in the Phoenix area up Camelback Mountain, when she became overheated halfway up the trail and turned around to go to the parking lot, officials said. Her companion continued up the mountain.
Her companion told officials that he is very familiar with the mountain and “hikes it at this time of day all the time, from the top to the bottom,” McDade said.
The pair was set to meet up back at the parking lot, but when her companion got back down, her belongings were all in the car but she was not there, the fire department said. He called 911 at about 1 p.m. and teams began to search for her.
McDade said those who were searching got worried when they were told that she was visiting from out of town.
“With the information we were given that she was visiting from out of town, from Boston, or the Massachusetts area, unfamiliar with this terrain, unfamiliar, possibly, with hiking in these elements — that’s when we became concerned,” he said.
Round trip, the trail is about 2.5 miles long and is considered to be difficult — an expert level hike when taking into account environmental factors, McDade said in a telephone interview Sunday. He said when it gets hot — like Friday’s 104-degree weather — the level of difficulty is comparable to a double black diamond trail in downhill skiing.
“It’s very unforgiving, is the word I like to use. This mountain doesn’t care who you are, or how great of a hiker or an experienced hiker you are,” McDade said Friday. “The mountain, in a situation like that, usually wins.”
Under a pilot program launched last month in Phoenix, trails can be restricted or even closed during periods of excessive heat. Friday’s temperature was just shy of meeting that mark, McDade said Sunday.
“That day didn’t qualify — it missed it by like a degree,” he said. “So, there’s a possibility the mountain would have even been closed that day.”
More than 30 people from the Phoenix Fire Department Technical Rescue Teams searched for the woman, as well as Phoenix police who used their “Firebird” helicopters in the search, the fire department said.
“We did everything we could with a large area to really canvass everywhere possible,” McDade said Friday. “Again, our heart goes out to her family. It’s a tragic end to today.”
Those who hike should make sure they’re prepared to do so, including wearing proper footwear, having a cellphone, going with a companion, and turning around when you’re at your limit, McDade said.
He added that it’s important to never separate from your hiking group.
“If you have an inexperienced hiker from out of town, that person is overheated, you stay with them, you turn around, you return back down,” he said.
The incident remains under investigation by Phoenix police.