Hikers of the Grand Canyon “face not only physical challenges but ethical ones, like how much water to share with strangers who have miles to go and not a drop to drink.”

September 2nd, 2011

The Times is totally channeling the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

The question comes up on South Mountain, an urban refuge in southern Phoenix, on the four-mile hike down into Fossil Springs a couple of hours north and, most definitely, along the steep pathways that descend into the Grand Canyon. Wherever it is, hikers regularly encounter strangers gasping trailside from the heat.

“If it came down to having enough for myself or helping someone, I’d have to drink my own water,” said Laura Craig, a Phoenix businesswoman who shared some of her extra water with distressed strangers on a recent hike at Fossil Springs. “It’s an ethical decision. You hate to think of things like survival of the fittest, but it does come down to that.”

A hiker who had run out of water died in the Grand Canyon last weekend after some backpackers he had encountered, who were parched themselves, shared some of their water with him.

But the hiker continued on alone, ignoring the strangers’ entreaties for him to turn back toward the Colorado River, where hikers replenish their water supplies.

The encounter highlighted an ethos of strangers helping strangers that is as commonplace in the backcountry as it may be rare in places where the pathways are paved in concrete.

There are serious Tort issues, as well as norm concerns here.

One reason hikers say they help strangers is that they never know when they might find themselves in distress. And despite that kindness-to-strangers philosophy, there is still plenty of grumbling among veteran hikers about the novices who trek beyond their abilities, not to mention their water supplies.