Three More Hikers, Run Out Of Water, Saved On Hell’S Gate Trail

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John Wisner photo

Clayton Duhamell rests at the last sign on the Hell’s Gate Trail before entering the wilderness area.

The Hell’s Gate Trail has fully lived up to its name this summer with eight groups of hikers rescued after either running out of water or underestimating the trail’s difficulty.

On Tuesday, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue volunteers saved three more hikers after the group ran dry on water.

What makes this trail unique is you can fill up at the bottom at the Tonto Creek, however, you need a filtration device to purify the water.

The three teenage hikers, between 15 and 18, rescued Tuesday, planned to filter water upon reaching the bottom, but their filtration device broke. This left them with virtually no water to make the 11-mile, 1,500-foot climb out.

Luckily, one hiker was able to make it to the trailhead and fetch more water for his brothers. But upon returning, realized they could not make it out, even with the additional water, said TRSAR Commander Bill Pitterle.

TRSAR volunteers on quads rescued the teens uninjured.

This recent rescue reminded Hellsgate Fire Department Capt. John Wisner of a trip he took last October with his family on the trail.

“I can definitely relate to what happened, because it is easy to underestimate how strenuous it is,” he said.

“The hike was more easily tolerated on youthful legs, but proved to be a challenge for the kids as well.”

Wisner and his wife and kids planned to hike down to the creek, sleep overnight and hike out the following morning. Each person carried several bottles of water because Wisner knew that the trail would be difficult.

“We brought tons of water,” he said, “because I consider myself an over-prepared person.”

However, upon reaching the bottom, Wisner realized they had not brought enough water for the return hike. Luckily, his wife had brought a can of chili so Wisner knew he could boil water from the creek. For several hours he boiled can after can of creek water.

Even then, the family nearly ran out of water.

“We took our time on the way out. We rested often and conserved our water,” he said. “It was looking like we would have to walk the last couple miles without any water, but our 17-year-old son made a cell phone call when we were at a high point on the terrain.”

Wisner explained that they were out of water and his son and a friend drove to the trailhead and walked in about a mile with water.

“I’m certain we would have made it out, but it would have been a dry couple of miles at the end,” he said.

Wisner said he recommends that anyone planning a hike in the Rim Country do their homework first and take all of the necessary items for a safe hike.

“As always, plenty of water is the most important thing to take. I always hike with a cell phone and GPS device as well.”

The Tonto National Forest rates this hike as being “most difficult.” It is a challenging hike with moderate to steep climbs and it is unsafe for horses, the Tonto Web site says.

“The real challenge is getting back out. The trail climbs steadily for the first 1.5 to 2 miles leaving Hell’s Gate,” the Web site says.

Other rescues

TRSAR volunteers also rescued a man and his son Tuesday afternoon after they got lost in the Fossil Creek Trail area.

While searching for the dehydrated teens on Hell’s Gate Trail, Pitterle got a call around 3:40 p.m. that a 41-year-old man and his 18-year-old son were lost a short distance from Fossil Creek. The pair tried to take a shortcut, but quickly lost the trail in the dense brush.

The pair phoned for help and a helicopter was brought in to locate the pair from the air. When the helicopter was overhead, rescuers could see where they were located and hiked into them.

Neither was injured.

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