Search and rescue team saves multiple hikers in extreme heat on Mount Olympus

Jul 17, 2023, 8:47 AM | Updated: 8:50 am

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah — A popular Salt Lake County trail turned into a heat trap for hikers this weekend, leading to several groups asking for help from search and rescue. It started with one call and quickly spiraled as temperatures rose.

Mount Olympus can be a good weekend hike, offering a sweeping view of the Salt Lake Valley. Kevin Nguyen, squad leader with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, said people choose it because it’s close and accessible.

But right now, during the extreme heat, he cautioned people on choosing this hike — especially inexperienced, newer hikers.

With little to no shade and a quick elevation gain, Mount Olympus is quite the climb, even without record-breaking heat.

“Then they realize, like, ‘Oh, shoot, it’s 12 p.m., it’s now 100 degrees.'” Nguyen said. “And the amount of water that they brought; I think people tend to maybe underestimate the amount of water they bring.”

On Saturday, Nguyen and a search and rescue team were dispatched to Mount Olympus for a person with an injured ankle who couldn’t make it down in the heat.

“We loaded up with about 20 water bottles, a leg splint and just basic rescue gear, and we made our way up the mountain,” he explained.

On the way up, they came across a huge group on an organized hike.

“‘Hey, are you guys up here to help my friend who has been cramping and who is not able to move as well?'” Nguyen said the group asked him. He realized that this was a different hiker who needed help. “And so, we made that call down back to our command post letting them know like, ‘Hey, we potentially have another patient on the mountain here.'”

After helping the Utah Department of Public Safety hoist the first person with the ankle injury out by helicopter, they reached the second person who was dehydrated and experiencing heat exhaustion.

“So, we sat him down, gave him some electrolytes, some Gatorade, gave him some snacks, let them cool off a little bit in the shade,” he explained. “And then started making our way down with him.”

And that’s when they found a third group, also needing search and rescue help.

“They said it was a female who hurt her ankle…Oh, so this is a different person,” Nguyen said, realizing that a third hiker needed a rescue. “So after hiking halfway down the mountain, my partner and I hiked back up the mountain again, to find our third patient.”

DPS also hoisted that person off the mountain by helicopter, plus Nguyen said the helicopter flew in more water because the search and rescue team ran out. Another team brought more water up the trail as well.

He explained how other people on the trail didn’t come with enough water and needed fluids. Even if they didn’t need a rescue, his team handed out water and electrolytes to those people. Some were asking for directions and how far they still had to go.

With one rescue turning into three, plus helping many others along the way, Nguyen hopes that hikers who see this will take extra safety precautions before stepping out in the heat.

He said hikers need to bring tons of water, including for their dogs — more than they think they need.

“If you think you have enough, just bring extra,” Nguyen said. “It doesn’t hurt.”

He also urged people to bring sun protection like extra sunscreen, sunglasses, hats and protective clothing, like a long-sleeve sun shirt.

Choosing the right trail for the heat is important, too, and avoiding hiking between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

“Really looking at the trail and asking yourself, ‘Am I starting early enough? What are my physical capabilities? Am I able to go up 4 miles when I’ve never done a 4-mile hike in the heat?'” he said.

If hiking with dogs, he recommended avoiding Mount Olympus and instead going to a trail with shade and not such a steep incline.

“And just really understanding what your capabilities are, especially in this heat,” he said. “If you’re feeling any signs of heat exhaustion, just slow down, rest in the shade. Take your time.”

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Search and rescue team saves multiple hikers in extreme heat on Mount Olympus