Wife Dies on Anniversary Hike to Famed Natural Phenomenon in Utah

A woman hiking on her fifth wedding anniversary with her husband to a popular yet exclusive tourist destination — “The Wave” — in Southern Utah died after collapsing on the trek through the desert terrain.

This is the third reported death this month — fourth this summer — for tourists on their way to the natural rock formation, which visitors can only gain access to by winning a permit through a lottery system.

Hiker Deaths Utah
This May 28, 2013 file photo shows a on a rock formation known as The Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. An Arizona wife and mother is the most recent death that has occurred on the southern Utah trail this summer. (Photo: AP/Brian Witte,File)

According to KSL-TV, Elisabeth Ann Bervel of Mesa, Arizona, had won a date through the lottery to visit the mesmerizing rock formation in Coyote Buttes North, part of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, seven months ago. On Monday the couple set out at 8 a.m. and Bervel collapsed before 2 p.m.

The Kane County Sheriff’s Office report on the tragedy states that the 27 year old’s husband went onward to fetch a cellphone and call for help, but by the time a helicopter arrived, Bervel was already in cardiac arrest. Medics performed CPR on the mother of two young sons, but it was not effective enough to revive her.

The sheriff’s release stated that the couple had lost the trail a few times on their way back, which added hours onto their trip and put them in the middle of the hottest part of the day. Temperatures were in them mid-90s in the area Monday.

“The couple of extra hours in the heat and hiking in the sand took their toll on Elisabeth and her legs finally gave out and she could go no farther,” the release reported.

Utah State Medical Examiner will be investigating an official cause of death, but the sheriff’s report indicates that heat was a likely factor.

“This event once again demonstrates the inherent risks associated with hiking in southern Utah’s desert country this time of year. Even though the Bervels had tried to make sure they were prepared for this hike, the elements proved to be stronger,” the report stated. “This makes four hiking related deaths this summer in Kane County. Three of those deaths have been in close proximity on the trail to the wave, and the fourth occurring at another popular hiking spot off of the Hole in the Rock Road south of Escalante Utah. The ages of the deceased have ranged from 27 to 70 years of age.”

Earlier this month, a California couple age 70 and 69 were found dead just off the trail near The Wave. Temperatures were in the triple digits then.

the wave deaths
This May 28, 2013 photo shows a section of a rock formation known as The Wave, part of the land that comprises the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. Access is limited to the site located in the Utah-Arizona desert backcountry, with just 20 hikers allowed in per day. Permits are given by lottery. (Photo: AP/Brian Witte)

According to the lottery system, only 20 people are allowed to hike to the rock formation every day. Ten are chosen online four months in advance and 10 others are picked at the park entrance at 9 a.m. that day. The system was put in place by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to protect The Wave’s red sandstone and to prevent overcrowding.

It is this system that some think could be leading to such deaths as visitors might feel compelled against their better judgment to head out when the heat might make conditions unsafe.

As the Associated Press put it in the case of the elderly couple, Ulrich and Patricia Wahli, who died, the lottery system “might have colored [their] judgment.”

The BML recommends bringing along at least a gallon of water per person for the hike. It also notes a lack of signs in Coyote Buttes North and South because there are no established trails.

“Since this is a wilderness area, the minimum amount of signs are used in order to preserve the area’s wild and remote character. If you receive a permit to Coyote Buttes North, you will be given a maps and directions to the ‘Wave’ along with your permit,” BLM states on its website.