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Ohio woman dies from heat-related illness during multi-day backpacking trip in Grand Canyon

Officials attribute hiker's death to extreme heat, as state's temperatures and heat-related deaths increase.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — A woman hiking in the Grand Canyon died Sunday from what officials believe was a heat-associated illness. 

Her death comes as heat-related deaths continue to increase amid the state's extreme heatwave.

On Sunday, the Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center received a report of a backpacker with a heat illness after Michelle Meder, 53, of Hudson, Ohio became disoriented and then unconscious, according to the Grand Canyon National Park.

Officials said Meder was hiking on the Hermit Trail during a multi-day backpacking trip to Bright Angel Trail on Saturday. The National Park Service said the high temperature at Phantom Ranch was about 115 degrees on Saturday. 

RELATED: Hiker found dead on trail in South Mountain Park

Grand Canyon park rangers are urging any park visitors to be prepared for excessively hot days in the next few months. Summer temperatures on exposed parts of the trail can reach over 120 degrees in the shade, the National Park Service said. 

"Park rangers strongly advise not hiking in the inner canyon between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.," the National Park Service said in a release. "Most of the people who need emergency medical help in the canyon due to heat illness are hiking between these hours."

Heat-related deaths

In June, Maricopa County released information stating that it has identified 10 potential heat-related deaths in seven days, one of which is confirmed. 

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health released the 2020 heat report that showed a record high of 323 heat-related deaths in 2020, a 62% increase from 2019 and the highest number recorded since heat surveillance began in 2001. 

Most heat-related deaths occur in July and August, but they can also occur as early as April and as late as October, officials said.

“The tragedy of these deaths is that they are all preventable,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at MCDPH. “No matter your age or how long you’ve lived in the valley, none of us are immune to its effects.”

NPS said efforts to assist hikers may be delayed during the summer months due to limited staff, the number of rescue calls, employee safety requirements, and limited helicopter flying capability during periods of extreme heat or inclement weather. 

Officials encourage visitors and hikers to plan accordingly to their level of experience. 

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