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December 2007

Backcountry Survival: How to Survive in the Backcountry

There's a backcountry killer on the loose, and it's not hypothermia, grizzly bears, or rockfall. The thing mostly likely to maim you on your next hiking trip is living inside your head.

Kodikian was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with 13 years suspended. He eventually spent 16 months in jail. The tragedy was attributed to the misery and delirium caused by extreme thirst.
But Kodikian’s testimony revealed perplexing facts. When Kodikian and Coughlin first lost their way, they still had water, were practically on the trail, and were less than a mile from their car. Had they simply stopped, took shelter in the shade, and collected their wits, they might well have retraced their steps.

On the third day, Kodikian and Coughlin hiked to the opposite rim and back to camp, indicating that they were not debilitatingly dehydrated. From their vantage point high on the western rim, they should have seen the park’s visitor center, and two water towers along the Rattlesnake trailhead road.

The men’s final campsite was only 275 feet from a marked trail leading out of the canyon and less than a mile from their car. “People have actually gotten lost there,” said Gary McCandless, chief detective for the Eddy County Sheriff’s department. “But it didn’t take them long to find their way out.”

An autopsy found Coughlin to be moderately to severely dehydrated, but nowhere near death. An unopened can of beans was found at their campsite. Kodikian, although clearly thirsty, was not only strong enough to bury his best friend under 70-pound rocks, he spent just two hours in the hospital after his rescue.

But if thirst wasn’t the killer, what was?


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