SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A lottery system for hikers makes it difficult for many to win a permit to visit a rock formation called The Wave — and that may have colored the judgment of a couple who set out in brutal heat and were found dead along the trail.
Ulrich and Patricia Wahli, of Campbell, Calif., had permits to hike the 3 miles across open country in blazing heat and in energy-sapping deep sand. Authorities said they apparently succumbed to temperatures that reached 106 degrees on Wednesday.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management allows only 20 hikers a day to visit The Wave's dramatically flowing sandstone contours at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona, near the Utah border.
Many hikers enter an online lottery months in advance to their disappointment. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management says the odds of winning a permit to The Wave are as low as 10 percent. Half of the 20 daily permits are doled out on a walk-in basis at a visitor's center in Kanab, Utah, with up to 100 people showing up for one.
More than 48,000 people applied last year for 7,300 available hiking permits, officials said. The Wave is a richly colored geological upheaval, its fiery swirls emblazoned on countless postcards, posters, maps and computer screensavers.
The couple's bodies were found Thursday morning by other hikers. Ulrich Wahli was 70; his wife, 69. They won their permits by showing up for a walk-in lottery, said Rachel Tueller, spokeswoman for the BLM's Arizona Strip.
The lottery system may be the only way to go for a wildly popular backcountry spot, wilderness guides say. But a winning ticket encourages many to grab a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity regardless of the dangers. Guides say they can't help because they are prohibited from running trips inside national parks or monuments.
"The law of averages takes it from there," said Mike Banach of Zion Mountain School in Springdale, Utah. "People go out who aren't suited to the heat, and they don't bring enough water or equipment."