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Hiker Rescued Twice in Two Days on Same Arizona Mountain

What would you do if search and rescue had to evacuate you from a mountain? For one hiker, the answer was “go back and try again the next day.”

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The day after rescuers evacuated him from 12,633-foot Humphrey’s Peak near Flagstaff, Arizona, Phillip Vasto decided to give it another try, with equally disastrous results. 

Most of us would call it quits on our hiking vacation the first time that search and rescue had to haul us off a mountain. But Vasto, who was visiting Arizona from New York City, decided to head back to the trail to give it another try—and had to be rescued again.

In a press release, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said it received a call around 7 p.m. on March 2 from a 28-year-old hiker who said he had become lost on the 10-mile round-trip hike to Humphrey’s Peak and was going to try to hike back down. The office’s search and rescue team found Vasto at roughly 10,600 feet and evacuated him with the help of a snowcat from nearby Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort. Back at the parking lot, Vasto declined medical attention. He told rescuers that he had begun his hike around 2:30 p.m. but had struggled to stay on trail in the snow, becoming further disoriented when night fell. 

That routine rescue took a turn the next evening, when the sheriff’s office received another call from the same hiker, who said he was injured after suffering a fall while trying again to summit Humphreys. With the help of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Northern Air Rescue Unit, search and rescue evacuated Vasto and Phillip Wyatt, another hiker who had stopped to help, by helicopter. The two hikers were transported to a parking lot near the trailhead. Vasto again declined medical attention.

While the sheriff’s office didn’t identify the unfortunate hiker, he unmasked himself in an interview with the Arizona Daily Sun published on March 8. Vasto told the newspaper that he had started his second attempt earlier, around 9 a.m., reasoning that he would have “all the time in the world” to summit safely. 

Along the way, Vasto joined up with two other hikers, who decided to turn around at 3:30 p.m. out of fear of being caught on the mountain after dark. About 15 minutes later, Vasto said, he gave up as well due to strong winds. On the descent, he slipped off the snowy trail, scraping his leg, then started to feel dizzy and numb. When he realized that his phone, which he had been using to navigate, was almost out of battery, he decided to call for help.

Vasto, who began hiking in earnest after a trip to the Grand Canyon two years ago, said he hadn’t realized how cold the weather would be in Arizona’s high country, and urged other hikers to take it seriously. 

For its part, the Coconino Sheriff’s Office said that it had asked him not to make it a three-peat. 

“The subject was provided with preventative search and rescue education about the conditions on the trail and the approaching winter storm and encouraged to not attempt the hike again,” the office said.