60-year-old Lawrence Stanback from San Francisco was found unconscious by park rangers at Death Valley National Park after staff received a report of someone having possibly succumbed to heatstroke; Stanback was pronounced dead on the scene — the temperature outside that day being north of 108 degrees Fahrenheit.
Death Valley's temperatures have become an unsettling symbol of the climate crisis. For the past two straight years in a row, the below-sea-level natural area has recorded all-time world heat records. (In June of 2021, the mercury rose to 1030 degrees Fahrenheit.) This past Wednesday, August 18, the heat appeared to have killed one local hiker who was found unconscious on the Golden Canyon Trail in Death Valley.
Visitors and staff can now check air quality in more parks during wildfires thanks to new sensors. @NatureNPS is working with parks across the country to monitor smoke. #HealthyParksHealthyPeople #ParkScience— NPS Fire & Aviation (@FireAviationNPS) August 13, 2021
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The search and rescue mission for Stanback also proved to be difficult due to strong winds.
"California Highway Patrol Inland Division Air Operations helicopter H-80 responded to assist with the recovery, but winds were too strong to safely land," read a news release about the fatality from the National Parks Service (NPS), later adding that he was reached by park staff after the temperature had cooled. "In the cooler evening hours, national park staff were able to safely complete the recovery. The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office and Inyo County Coroner are investigating the cause of death."
Stanback’s cause of death is still under investigation; the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office and Inyo County Coroner are currently looking into a potential cause of death, though heatstroke is expected to be the culprit.
In the release, NPS explicitly stated that it's best to conduct all hiking only before 10 a.m. or at high elevations during the afternoons. Regardless of the temperatures outside — either in or outside of Death Valley — be sure to drink (and bring) plenty of water on any long hikes; try to also not stray too far from an air-conditioned building or your car during hikes in warmer areas.
Image: A warning sign alerts visitors of heat dangers at Zabriskie Point on July 11, 2021 in Death Valley National Park, California. An excessive heat warning was issued for much of the Southwest United States through Monday. Climate models almost unanimously predict that heat waves will become more intense and frequent as the planet continues to warm. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)