Lone hiker dies in Death Valley

DEATH VALLEY – A lone hiker died from a fall while walking on a hot day in Death Valley National Park.

National Park Service rangers received a call on July 16 from the fiancée of hiker Peter Rhoad, a 57-year-old man from Huntington Beach. He was overdue in returning from his trip to Death Valley. She provided the park with a list of hikes that Rhoad was thinking of doing, which helped narrow the search area in the 3,400,000-acre park.

Park rangers found his vehicle at the Panamint Dunes trailhead in late afternoon. Rangers conducted a quick ground search west of the parking area, based on information that his likely destination was Panamint Dunes.

On the morning of July 17, the Inyo Sheriff’s Search and Rescue coordinator and California Highway Patrol H-82 helicopter began aerial search and rescue. They first spotted Rhoad’s backpack about eight tenths of a mile east of his parked car, not west as expected. His body was found about 2,500 feet away from his backpack.

He was transported by helicopter to Lone Pine. The Inyo County deputy coroner conducted an autopsy and determined the cause of death to be a skull fracture caused by a fall, compounded by exposure to the elements.

Rhoad’s backpack contained a route description to Panamint Butte, a rugged off-trail climb involving about 4,000 feet of elevation gain over loose rocks without a trail or designated route. The temperature at that location probably exceeded 115 degrees F. on the day he was reported missing.

Because of Death Valley’s excessive heat, NPS rangers do not recommend hiking at low elevations in Death Valley National Park during the summer.

Anyone driving or hiking in remote areas should communicate plans to a trusted friend or family member. That person should have detailed information about the hiker’s plans.

The hiker should commit to a time that he or she will be back in cell phone coverage and check in with the friend. If the hiker misses that check-in time, the friend should report them overdue and request a search.

Story First Published: 2018-07-27