Hiking Accidents On Rise In Fossil Creek

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More and more people are taking a hike and more are also getting injured.

Tonto Rim Search and Rescue (TRSR) has had a nearly 30 percent increase in rescue missions to Fossil Creek in 2007 as compared to 2006, and the year still has four months to go.

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Tammy Miotto, Scott Davidson, Greg Reed, a Pine Strawberry Fire Department EMT and other members of Tonto Rim Search and Rescue recently participated in a Fossil Springs carryout.

Since Jan. 1, volunteers have mobilized for 25 rescues, nine of those rescues were to Fossil Creek between April 28 and Aug. 19.

"Most rescues are for people from out of the area, usually the Valley," Tom Pitterle, TRSR commander, said.

The upper Fossil Creek trailhead is about a five-mile drive down Fossil Creek Road in Strawberry.

Valley newspapers and AAA have been touting the creek as a destination since June 2005 when Arizona Public Service turned off the motors at the Child's Power Plant and thus returned the creek to its historic channel.

"It is a beautiful place," Pitterle said.

"But, I don't think people prepare for the length of the hike, the 1,900 foot elevation gain or the temperature change," TRSR member Kathy Baas added.

Pitterle estimates the temperature at the top of the trail is eight or nine degrees cooler than at the bottom of the canyon four miles later.

Elevation at the upper trailhead is 5,560. Elevation at the springs is 4,260. Undulations in the rocky terrain makes the 1,390 descent or ascent actually 1,900 feet.

The nine rescues that TRSR mobilized to the area for include two broken and one injured ankle, one injured leg, two calls for lost hikers and two calls to help dehydrated hikers.

The calls for assistance have generally come around dusk. By the time 10 to 15 of the 50 TRSR squad members drive to Fossil Creek, the carryout becomes an all-night affair.

On May 27 TRSR had just located a couple of people, who had hiked too far upstream and missed the parking lot when the sheriff's department called them back out to retrieve a hiker with a broken ankle.

"Carryout is not a fun thing," Pitterle said.

The litter is not well-padded and it leans and tilts as rescue workers pull it up and down.

"There is no place to land a helicopter at Fossil Creek, although in an urgent situation we might do a land line where we drop a rope down," Pitterle said.

One of the nine TRSR brought out of the wilderness was a pre-teen girl with heart problems. A helicopter picked her up from a field in Strawberry and took her to a hospital.

"We don't want to discourage anyone from going, we just want our tourists to be safe," Baas said.

Search and rescue recommends hikers:

  • Wear better foot-gear, with good treads on the bottom and ankle protection;
  • Understand that the trip is at least eight miles and there are significant temperature and elevation changes; and
  • Take adequate food and water for the trip.

On one mission, Pitterle said he saw two men carrying a cooler down the trail. Two weeks later when he was on the trail for another call, he spied the cooler abandoned.

Other common sights on the trail are abandoned flip-flops, cans, beer bottles and broken glass.

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