Apparently, no one wants to hear about the dangers of hiking in the heat until a celebrity dies hiking in Death Valley.

Why would anyone go hiking in Death Valley in the middle of the summer?

That’s one of the many questions being asked by hikers and film fans from around the world with the news that Dave Legeno, best known for playing werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the later ‘Harry Potter’ movies, died while hiking in Death Valley.

A license plate frame, "Hike or Die" refers to the challenges of hiking in Death Valley.
A license plate frame, “Hike or Die” refers to the challenges of hiking in Death Valley.
According to the Inyo County Sheriff’s office, Legeno’s body was found by two hikers in a remote wash below Manly Beacon, west of Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park. By all appearances, Legeno died of heat-related causes, but the Inyo County Coroner will ultimately determine the final cause of death. Authorities suggest he may have been dead for 3 to 4 days before his body was discovered.

For me, it was particularly weird timing to hear of Legeno’s death in Death Valley. Last week The Trailmaster team sent out a news release with The Trailmaster’s “Hot Weather Hiking Tips” to Southern California news radio stations.

Yawn. If SoCal radio is any barometer, the media couldn’t be less interested in cautioning the public about the need to take precautions when hiking when it’s hot.

Honestly, I can’t take this personally. While no one wants to hear my Summer Hiking Tips, three radio stations during the last week have put me on the air to talk about hiking to waterfalls, hiking in California State Parks and my new line of Trailmaster Pocket Guides.

So it’s not the messenger getting rejected, it’s the message. No one wants to know about the dangers of hiking in the heat.

Until a celebrity dies.

A few summers ago, Sally Menke, the famed film editor of Quentin Tarantino’s films (including “Reservoir Dogs” and “Inglorious Bastards”) went hiking in Griffith Park on a very hot day and died of hyperthermia. She was hiking on a day when the temperature in Los Angeles reached a record high 113 degrees F.

You’d think everyone would know NOT to go hiking in Death Valley in the summer. After all, summer temps in Death Valley are known to exceed 120 degrees F. That was my belief. In my book, HIKE Smart, I use Death Valley as a departure point to warn about the dangers of hot weather hiking near home: “A hike near home can be just as deadly as a trek across Death Valley.”

For a wonderful view, hike to Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park at sunrise during the cooler months of the year.
For a wonderful view, hike to Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park at sunrise during the cooler months of the year.
BTW, I love hiking in Death Valley National Park and have a Trailmaster Pocket Guide, “HIKE Death Valley National Park” in the works. The hike to Zabriskie Point and the route through Golden Canyon and those twisty washes is one of my favorite desert hikes.

My heart goes out to the friends, family and film fans of Dave Legeno, while my mind just cannot grasp why he or anyone else would take a hike in such searing heat, in a place called “Death Valley” where so many pioneers, prospectors and park visitors have died over the years.

Why would anyone go hiking in Death Valley in the middle of the summer?

I can’t answer that question.

All I can do, any of us can do, is to spread the word that hiking in extreme heat is a really bad idea although hiking in hot weather can be a fine experience, provided the hiker is prepared and takes the right precautions.

Hike On.

John McKinney
The Trailmaster