KANE COUNTY— A month after three hikers died from heat-stress on the same short trail, federal officials said they still haven't finalized a game plan for improving safety there.
The three-mile trail starts in Utah and leads to a world-famous sandstone feature just over the border in Arizona called The Wave. It draws hikers from all over the world and people who have seen it say they can't wait to see it again.
Colorado hiker Torrie Becwar said it was definitely the most beautiful place she's ever been. This time around she was not one of the lucky 20 people who won the lottery for that day's hiking permits to The Wave. Ten are chosen in an on-line lottery for each day. Ten more are given out daily through an in-person lottery in Kanab.
New Mexico college professor Wenxin Liu won two permits and hiked the trail to The Wave with his elderly father who was visiting from China.
"This is my favorite place," Liu said. "I've been to most of the national parks in the country and this is my favorite place."
On the six mile round-trip, heat becomes a much bigger challenge if hikers lose their way and drift off track. That forces them to walk extra distance, eating up time that is spent baking in the sun. Officials said it happens a lot on the confusing slickrock where there are no trail-markers or signs.
"Stuff like signage presents an issue," said Kevin Wright of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. "It is a wilderness and we do try to preserve that back country experience."
Wright manages the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument which includes The Wave. He said the three deaths in July did prompt a few management changes. Near the trailhead they are planning to build a kiosk with safety messages. They also decided to translate the BLM's safety brochure and route guide for The Wave into other languages and beef up internet safety messages.
"The BLM does a really good job already of educating people," Wright said. "This is just to make further improvements and get the message out."
They said the three hikers had ample warnings, but were apparently challenged by long hours in the sun.
"Well, I don't think people realize how hot it is and maybe didn't bring enough water, because even a gallon for me is not enough," Becwar said.
Veteran hikers to The Wave said it's relatively easy to get confused on the slickrock, especially on the return trip. Some hikers have said they found their own methods for making sure they don't get lost.
"I have a smart phone," Liu said. "I downloaded a topo (topographic) map and I can keep track of the previous hikers, so I just need to follow it."
Since the deaths, some people have contacted the BLM and demanded major changes: improved cellphone coverage, well-marked trails and individual GPS devices for every one of the 20 hikers each day.
Wright said they have gotten comments ranging from "don't change anything out there; we loved our experience" to "you need to increase the numbers out there" because of the idea of safety in numbers.
The BLM said they have not set a timetable for making decisions.