Trails at Lake Mead closed because of dangerous conditions

LAS VEGAS -- Three hikers died this year on hiking trails near Lake Mead, which is one of the reasons rangers have closed off two trails.

The latest death was from a drug overdose in June. However, rangers say for the most part, they have to answer calls because people are simply not following the rules.

Over the past eight months of this year, park rangers have had to rescue 37 people from trails, which is about double the number of rescues in all of 2013.

For the first time, rangers have had to close trails for an extended period of time because of dangerous conditions and the park service is keeping them closed for the whole month of August.

The gate is closed at the Gold Strike Canyon Trail and at the White Rock Canyon Trail on the Arizona side of Lake Mead.

Lake Mead and the surrounding area is a big tourism draw during the summer. But park rangers like Mark Hnat are keeping a close watch on the two most dangerous trails: White Rock Canyon and Gold Strike Canyon.

Kaylee Waters and her friends planned on hiking down the Gold Strike Canyon Trail. They brought a first aid kit, a lot of water and food, just to be prepared. Now they need to find somewhere else to go or face big penalties.

"I'm bummed. I don't know what I'm going to do now. Go find somewhere else to hike I guess," Waters said, "We were going to go down to the river and jump in and cool off and have fun but we can't do that now."

Warning signs peppered the entrances before the park's decision to close the trails off for the entire month of August.

Some people ignored those signs and kept going, ultimately getting stuck on the big boulders on the return hike.

The trails are popular. Reviews on social media and hiking information websites describe how people are able to enjoy the water at the bottom of the trail, but they do not mention how difficult the hike back out can be.

"As you go down the trail, you're actually lower in elevation and you're also in really high-rock areas so the heat just stays in there. And it could be 15 degrees warmer in there than it is up here," ranger Hnat said.

That could mean 120 degrees. Hnat says most of the inexperienced hikers can't handle those conditions.

"We don't want to close trails. We're not looking to limit access to the public, but with the number of search-and-rescue missions we've had in here that has caused injury or illness to the public, and also exposing our employees to risk, we felt this was the safest option for everyone," Hnat said.

The dozens of other trails around Lake Mead remain open, but they do have warning signs that people should avoid hiking in this heat, encouraging hikers like Waters to turn around and come back in the cooler months.


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