A 26-year-old Beverly Hills woman drowned after falling into a creek in Sequoia National Park on Saturday, the third such fatality in the park this year.
Park rangers received a call Saturday evening of a woman who fell into Silliman Creek along the Twin Lakes Trail, according to park spokesman Mike Theune.
The woman was reportedly hiking or camping with others, though no other details were being released about her identity or who was with her.
Extreme winter snowfall has primed California's rivers and creeks for dangerous conditions, especially as temperatures rise. The current heat wave has sent temperatures soaring above 100 degrees in the foothills and into the 80s even above 9,000 feet, Theune told KPCC.
The resulting rapid snowmelt can engorge our recreational waterways and create cold, swift and unpredictable flows. The water level may go down in the evening as it gets cool, but as the heat spikes during the day, the snowmelt drives it back up.
"So a stream that you may have crossed in the morning might be, say, ankle-deep in the morning, but could be even a foot higher in the afternoon," Theune told KPCC.
Additionally, rocks along the river are smooth and polished from the flowing water, so they can be very slippery, Theune said.
A third of all fatalities in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are related to water or drownings, based on statistics going back decades, Theune said.
In late April of this year, a 21-year-old Tulare woman fell into the Kaweah River and was swept away. Three friends who had been with her called for help. The woman was found after a search-and-rescue response, but attempts to resuscitate her failed, according to a statement from park officials.
About a week later, an 18-year-old Woodlake man fell into the same river and drowned, according to the Fresno Bee.
The dangerous conditions can occur much farther downstream, too. Three rafters died over Memorial Day weekend along Kern River, which is fed by the Sierra Nevada.
"You know it looks inviting. They might be extremely beautiful places, but again, stay back — the rivers are very swift, cold and dangerous. That's what we want people to hear over and over again," Theune said.
These fast, frigid flows will continue as long as there is snow on the mountains, he said. Until the conditions subside, Theune warned everyone not to play or swim in the rivers.
If you do plan to hike and enjoy the outdoors, here are some safety tips from Theune and Sequoia National Park:
- Especially if you travel alone, tell someone where you're going and when you plan to return, and be sure to let them know when you're back. Park officials have received false alarms when hikers forget to let family and friends know they're home.
- Use extra caution when traveling in the wilderness as trails may have different conditions from last year.
- Be sure to have proper stream crossing techniques and always unbuckle your pack when crossing waterways.