Utah hiker collapses from dehydration on trail, experts say drinking water isn’t enough

Jun 15, 2024, 8:26 AM | Updated: 8:27 am

SALT LAKE CITY — A hiker is sharing a cautionary tale of how dehydration caused him to collapse, despite drinking enough water during his hike.

He’s now hoping other hikers won’t make the same mistake he did.

Finding peace on a Friday evening, father and son duo Jonathan Soto and his 7-year-old son Julián hiked up to Gloria Falls in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

“It’s about two miles, so hopefully not too bad,” Soto said, of their evening enjoying nature.

Even on a shorter hike, Soto and his son each had backpacks with supplies.

That’s because Soto typically takes longer hikes when he isn’t with his son, saying he logs about 10 to 15 miles every week. He packs a backpack and makes sure he carries enough water, plus Soto said he drinks water before he even sets foot on the trail.

But earlier this month when Soto made the trek to Horsetail Falls in Utah County, drinking water didn’t seem to be doing enough.

He made it up just fine, but Soto said he was feeling it on the way back down.

“My body started to kind of like feel a little bit weird, like my shoulder started to kind of like cramp,” Soto said.

He said both legs began to cramp as well, so Soto took a break and a family stopped to help him. Eventually, he carried on, but he hit more trouble as Soto was within the homestretch to the trailhead.

“Everything just started spasming, kind of like if it was spasms going up through your legs,” Soto recounted. “And I was just on the ground after that.”

His legs gave way, and Soto said he collapsed. He couldn’t get up and walk any further.

“Honestly, it was a little bit scary because I’ve done a lot of the heavier hikes in Utah, and I’ve never had a situation where I was like… am I going to have to call somebody to get me down?” Soto said. “Am I going to be the one that’s like, I need search and rescue to come get me?”

Jonathan Soto at Horsetail Falls in Utah County, before he collapsed from dehydration later down the trail (Jonathan Soto)

Other hikers stopped to help, and Soto stayed on the ground.

His situation happens often this time of year. Utah County Search and Rescue volunteer Brandon Scott explained they see many dehydration calls when the heat hits.

He said the cramping comes from a lack of electrolytes in the body.

“It’s amazing how much your body needs salt when you’re out doing– whether it’s hiking or any type of physical activity– you need it,” he said.

Scott recommends the “10 essentials” in any hiking backpack. That includes safety and emergency gear like a headlamp, lightweight jacket, warmer puffy coat, medical kit, fire starter, water filter, navigation device or GPS system, cell phone with offline maps downloaded, and an extra backup battery for the cellphone.

Scott urged hikers to wear the right shoes, hiking boots with grippy soles.

Plus, there’s the obvious water and salty snacks. Scott said hikers should pack one liter of water per two hours of planned hiking, but they can also carry an empty water bottle with a filter to fill up at water sources along the hike.

He personally loves to carry salted nuts and jerky for his food options.

Scott also makes sure he carries what Soto wished he had on his hike, powder hydration electrolyte packets.

“I will drink about half straight water, and then my other half that I’m going to be doing is some type of hydration pack,” Scott said. “It gets the salt back into your body so that you don’t get those cramps.”

Thankfully Soto didn’t have to call Search and Rescue.

“I managed to make my way, all the way back down,” he said.

But he now has an important reminder. When finding peace in nature, make sure you’re also fully prepared.

“If you didn’t get your protein or if you didn’t get your salts in, if you didn’t get your water in, then that’s when the pain starts,” he said. “So, you know just be careful.”

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Utah hiker collapses from dehydration on trail, experts say drinking water isn’t enough