A 15-year-old California girl died Monday while mountain biking with her family on the Porcupine Rim Trail. Although the girl consumed about 70 ounces of water and also drank Gatorade during the day-long trip, family members said, investigators believe she likely died from dehydration.
The girl’s body has been sent to the Utah Medical Examiner’s office to determine the official cause of death. Autopsy results are expected within a week. It would be the second death in Moab’s backcountry in as many months linked to dehydration, said Grand County Chief Deputy Sheriff Curt Brewer.
“It’s a tragedy. It’s heartbreaking for everyone when these things happen,” Brewer said.
The girl, whose name was not released, had biked about 14 miles and was less than half a mile from the parking lot along State Road 128 when she fell ill, Brewer said Wednesday. Her father left her in the shade of a tree with her mother and one of her two sisters and ran down to the highway for help. Three mountain bikers in the area ran up the trail to help and found the girl semi-conscious and suffering seizures, Brewer said Wednesday. The father continued down the trail to the State Road 128 where he flagged down a Utah Highway Patrol trooper.
The Grand County Sheriff’s Department dispatched emergency crews at about 4 p.m. but when emergency medical personnel located the girl she was unconscious. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful. She died a short time later.
The girl’s mother, Char Baker, 34, was flown by St. Mary’s Care Flight, to Allen Memorial Hospital in Moab where she was treated for dehydration.
The family, from Stockton, Calif., had spent several days camping in an RV a short distance down the highway from the Porcupine Rim trailhead, and had ridden nearby mountain bike trails two or three times during their stay. One daughter had remained in camp on Monday, Brewer said.
Temperatures on Monday reached 100 degrees, and probably were a factor in the girl’s death, Brewer said.
“They had almost completed their trip,” Brewer said. “The girl had water. She had Gatorade, and they drank quite a bit up to the time when she started having some medical problems. They apparently did everything right, but on a day like that it’s hard to say how much water a person needs. These mountains are unforgiving.”
As the sun reflects off slickrock in areas such as the Porcupine Rim, temperatures are often as much as 10-degrees hotter, Brewer said, making conditions even more dangerous for backcountry travelers.
Increased use is also taking a toll on Grand County law enforcement and search and rescue personnel.
“Search and rescue is getting called out every day,” Brewer said. “We couldn’t get by without these volunteers who help out the sheriff’s office.”
Murray resident Taylor Jay Sanford, 17, was hospitalized after becoming dehydrated on the bottom end of the Porcupine Rim Trail on Friday. He too was riding a bicycle and was near the end of the trail when he lost consciousness.
According to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Sanford’s brother tried unsuccessfully to carry him to the bottom of the trail. Grand County Ambulance and Search and Rescue assisted in a medical rescue and transported the victim to Allen Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released.
On Saturday, 18-year-old Peter Jay Murphy was stranded across the Colorado River from the Hall Canyon camping area at Big Bend after the river’s current proved too swift for swimming.
According to the sheriff’s office, Murphy swam too far from the edge of the river, and when he couldn’t make it back he swam to the opposite side. County search and rescue personnel used a motor boat to retrieve him from the west side of the river; he was unharmed.
(Carrie Switzer contributed to this story.)
©2005 Lisa J. Church
ByBy Lisa Church, contributing writer