Two hikers found dead near Amboy Crater

Two people hiking near Amboy Crater in Amboy, California, were found dead Saturday afternoon after apparently being overcome by the terrain’s 113-degree temperatures.

According to a news release from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office, the people pronounced dead at the scene were Kathie Barber, 58, and Gen Miake, 60, a married couple from Yorba Linda, California.

At approximately 1:36 pm, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Dispatch received a call from Kathie Barber stating she was hiking with her husband since 1100 and became separated from him (husband later identified as Gen Miake). Kathie stated her husband had a heart condition and she was unable to find him. She also stated she was out of water.
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department patrol helicopter 40King1 arrived at the location and met with Morongo Deputy Nathan Campos in a parking lot at the Amboy trail head. Deputy Campos was first on scene and stated he started a search and needed our assistance. The hiker’s car was parked in the trail head parking lot and Deputy Campos could not tell what direction the hikers left in from the trail head.
The crew of 40King1 consisted of Deputy Pilot K. Henry and Deputy Flight Officer B. Heard. The crew of 40King1 started an aerial search and located both hikers matching the description Kathie provided when she called dispatch. Both subjects were approximately one to two miles east of the Amboy trail head and appeared unresponsive on the ground. The two hikers were approximately 100 yards from one another in the open desert with no shade. An offsite landing was conducted near the two hikers and Deputy Heard made contact with them. The outside air temperature was estimated to be 113 degrees at that time. The crew flew back to the trial head and picked up a member of the San Bernardino County Fire Department for a second assessment of the hikers. The crew flew back to the hikers and the fire department confirmed both hikers were deceased.

Amboy Crater is a 250-foot-tall extinct volcano a few miles from the Route 66 village of Amboy. It’s been listed for decades as a National Natural Landmark and is within the recently established Mojave Trails National Monument.

I recall a death to a man in his 60s about 15 years ago at Amboy Crater. It was a similar situation — he underestimated the exertion amid the mid-summer heat.

Steve Brown of The Sun Runner Journal in Joshua Tree, California, had some thoughts about the tragedy:

Hiking in the open desert mid-day is dangerous at this time of year.  Even the hike into Amboy Crater can be brutally hot and debilitating, especially to inexperienced and unprepared hikers.  These two hikers hiked into the hottest time of the day, in an area filled with black volcanic rock that radiates heat during the afternoon, and they apparently did not bring nearly enough water to sustain them.  We hate stories like this one, and we hate it when people die in the desert.

If you hike in the desert, especially in the summer (but you need to be prepared all year long), you need to be prepared.  You absolutely must bring plenty of water.  Yes, it’s heavy.  But it’s heavy for others to carry your body out, too.  A usual recommendation is to have a liter of water per person per hour, but as the temperatures climb, do does your need for water.  In addition to drinking, wetting your face, ears, and neck is also a good way to help cool yourself down if you begin to overheat.  We see a lot of novice desert hikers bring one of those tiny water bottles with them, thinking that’s enough.  No, it’s not.  You’re asking for trouble if that’s all you bring with you.

When you see your water supply dip to about 60 percent, it’s time to head back.  If you wait until you are almost out of water before heading back to the trailhead, you increase the chance of heat exhaustion and heat stroke – with little you can do to address it.  You can supplement water with sports drinks like Gatorade or others with electrolytes.  We find them helpful, especially on longer hikes.

There’s more, but you get the gist.

I’ve hiked into Amboy Crater several times, including when the air temperature was in the 90s. We’ve generally timed our hikes during the early morning or early evening hours, when the sun isn’t as oppressive. Once, we got lucky with an overcast day. You can read more about one of our experiences here.

I highly recommend hiking to Amboy Crater. After all, how often can you say you’ve walked into a volcano? But if you have any doubt whether you’re up to the task or whether the weather conditions are conducive, I wouldn’t do it. The Mojave Desert is harsh and doesn’t play around.

(Image of hikers at Amboy Crater by Alison Jean Cole via Flickr)

10 thoughts on “Two hikers found dead near Amboy Crater

  1. I would like to add an additional warning. I have years of experience hiking in the Southern Calif deserts but was caught off guard in the Palo Duro Canyon one year that required an ER visit even though I drank plenty of water and still had water with me. It turned out that my blood pressure medicine included HCTZ a very common diuretic. I was told by the ER staff that any diuretic can inhibit the ability of the body to absorb water faster than it gets rid of it. You can dehydrate with your stomach full of water in high temperatures. So be EXTRA careful in the heat if you take any medications. Check to be sure they do not affect dehydration before you go out into the desert.

  2. How tragic. How very very sad. This is the second story in recent memory where a married couple got off the main road and died in the desert, with no communication and rescue being too far away.

  3. I met Gen Miake when he was 19, I went to college at UC Irvine with him, we were both chemistry majors. He attended our wedding 29 years ago today. He was an experienced hiker even then, super smart and in good shape. I am at a loss to explain what happened with him. He and Kathie knew everything being discussed here, the importance of water, etc. Heartbroken.

    1. Agreed – many people are jumping to conclusions. If I were guessing perhaps Gen experienced a medical incident and Kathy waited too long to call for help when she couldn’t find him. Whatever happened it is no less tragic. Gen was my first manager and hired me when I was an extremely young man. He helped me grow both personally and professionally in the 5 years I worked with him. We kept in touch, him sending gifts as my children were born, and even getting to have the chance to have dinner roughly a year ago as my current career took me near his hometown. I only got to meet his wife briefly when the same young kid he hired flew to CA to goto the corporate office and they invited me to stay at their home for the night while there. We lost two very good people, my condolences to their families and friends.

  4. Having lived and worked in the Middle East and Australia, I can say that going out “on a hike” in desert areas requires proper planning. Proper food, clothing and plenty of water. And today, with many means of communication, make sure you are in touch with all members of a group – and you can contact the emegency services imediately if there is a problem. And don’t think you can do at 60 what you did at 20.

  5. I worked with kathie for years at Raytheon. She was a very intelligent women. I don’t understand how this happened to them. They were to smart to go out there without enough water. My prayers are with their family.

  6. There should be some questions and answers about the response time. Seems to be 2 1/2 hours even though amboy is in the middle of nowhere she gave her location which is easy to find from the air. A simple phone call to Roys Cafe to ask for assistance would of been a good thing there is a town sheriff in Amboy everyday just riding around in an ATV doing basically nothing. I feel like something more could have been done!

  7. I can’t get what happened to this lovely couple out of my mind. Gen was a friend 30+ years ago. We met while working at Endevco in San Juan Capistrano. He was an awesome person to hang out with; super fit, smart, a fun personality. We often played volley ball, ate spicy food & had a beer after work on Fridays. We did meet Kathie and spent time with her hiking Idyllwild. These two were super bright, accomplished; I struggle making sense of their tragic ending. My heart breaks for Gen, Kathie and their families.

  8. A coworker and I had occasion to go to Opah Ditch in the Mojave some years ago in October. We had many years experience working in the desert. We brought no water. Our one hour job took four. By the time we returned my partner was quite ill.

    Never go to the Mojave without water.

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