Hiker Dying of Thirst Rescued on the Pacific Crest Trail

Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Bill Bryson, Cheryl Strayed, Pacific Crest Trail, Pacific Crest Trail News, Skywalker--Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, Skywalker--Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail | 2 comments

Very Big Thank You to the fine folks out in Palm Springs who saved my life on the 12th as I attempted to make it from high above Snow Creek down to Snow Creek on the North Side of San Jacinto with 1/10th quart of water left from the gallon I brought with me from Fuller Ridge Trail… oranges and apples kept me going until they were rejected by my body and I purged them..after that I fell asleep under the shade of a rock, still sweating..Had that random hiker named Elijah not woke me up, gave me the last swig of his water and encourage me to get up and move, I don’t think I would of ever woke up again!!

I tried to follow Elijah, he kept going after I got up, he needed to get down there desperately as well…but still had a swig of water.. I had been out since 8am. It was now after 3pm. My legs cramped and became gumby like, I stopped at the nearest shade, purged again and basically couldn’t get back up after a few attempts to flag down the rescue crew trying to find me..

The trucks got through the gates, to the trail head and found Elijah and were pointed in the right direction..I had stopped sweating by then couldn’t lift me head… or even hold the phone to my ear.. I had to lie on my side so the phone could rest on my ear…plus I was heaving, so it made sense to not lie on my back..

Elijah brought up a quart of hot water from the fountain that enabled me to get back on my feet.  I drank down the 100+ degree water with great pleasure.. He carried my 65lb waterless pack down for me.

I met the firemen around a couple corners and they started an IV, ice packs, coherency questions and prepared me for a one skid landing rescue. Those guys are pros!!!! Decked Out in all those Jackets and stuff in that heat!! Man..

106 degrees at Just after 4pm when I was air lifted.

The staff at Palm Springs Medical Center relayed to me that 2 young men have died this season on this exact same stretch of trail.  I was a gnats eyebrow from becoming the third.

Thank You Elijah and John, the navy corpsman emt who took the photos of the helicopter.. Thanks to the officers, fire fighters, Cal fire Pilots, Ambulance crew, hospital staff , Samsung Galaxy S, At&t, Nomad 7 Solar Panel, Oranges, Apples, who and what all nailed it and saved my life!!!  Eric B. Fuller


Wow, that is a dramatic post by Eric Fuller. Personally, it conjures up my deepest fear. Well, actually, by my lights, the two worst things that can happen to a hiker would be to get caught high in the mountains in the freezing cold, unable to get out, a la a Jack London novel. The other would be to run out of water in the desert and die of thirst. More than any other trail I have walked on, the Pacific Crest Trail hiker faces the specter of both.

In Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail, I tell the story of two friends that went out on a road trip in the desert, only to get lost returning to their car. After a couple days of drying out to the point of delusion, the two became paranoid that vultures were going to attack them before they actually died. One of them finally convinced the other to stab him, which his friend dutifully did, only to be rescued soon after killing his friend. It is all about the most gruesome way to die, that one can imagine. But exhaustive researcdh has shown that the human body can NOT be trained to conserve water. Thus periodically one reads a story of a person suffering this ultimate fate.

According to this article (and I will have to research it), two hikers have died of thirst this year on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). And, of course, as this story vividly describes, Eric Fuller’s life was rescued from death by thirst by an intrepid fellow hiker, along with highly skilled rescue team.

Is this macabre plight really a great threat to PCT hikers? For starters, the first 703 miles of the PCT are in the desert. For a few days in the middle of this stretch, the PCT enters the western corner of the famed Mojave Desert. Fortunately, a PCT thru-hiker normally begins his journey at the annual Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff Party down near the California-Mexico border. Veteran hikers give the current year’s crop lectures on the dangers of dehydration in the desert; better yet, they hand out detailed reports of water conditions in the upcoming desert. Perhaps most important of all, they list areas where they will provide water caches. Not once did they let us down. Everywhere a water cache was listed, the cache was full when we arrived. However, they pointedly reminded us that we could NOT count on these caches. We should always bring the amount of water we needed in our backpacks. Often that was up to 5 liters (11 pounds of water). At the end of the day though, the biggest threat in the desert is probably not carrying insufficient water. Rather, it is getting lost. Because of the lack of landmarks in the desert, it is easy to lose one’s bearings. That is when the real trouble begins.

The Pacific Cest Trail, along with the Appalachian Trail, is one of our two great national scenic trails. Well-known author, Cheryl Strayed, has just written a New York Times bestseller, Wild–From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, about her PCT trek. This has served to ratchet up the number of hikers on the PCT, just as Bill Bryson’s Appalachian Trail bestseller, A Walk in the Woods, did a decade ago. The number of inexperienced hikers is bound to surge. In a nation with a soaring obesity rate, that is surely a good thing. But by the same token, the number of ‘trail incidents’ is also likely to increase. And surely the most morbid of these possibilities is the threat of dying of thirst in the desert.

The Pacific Crest Trail is the journey of a lifetime for most hikers. But upon embarking, they should be prepared for all contingencies. I highly recommend anyone who can to attend the annual Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff Party the last weekend of April in Lake Morena County State Park, 21 miles north of the Mexican Border.

Bill Walker is author of Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail (2010). He is also author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail (2008), as well as The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago (2012). Walker, who is just shy of 7-feet tall, is currently working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.



  1. Didn’t realize how many people do this, and what is the percent of people who exactly finish the long hike trail?

    • Debra, the number of people attempting to thru-hike the 2,663 mile Pacific Crest Trail has increased sharply. Like many, I consider it to be the very best way to experience the American West. The diversity of geography is stunning.
      Bill Walker

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *