Southern California hiker, 71, dies after trek in blistering Death Valley heat

A Southern California outdoor enthusiast died Tuesday after collapsing following an hours-long hike in Death Valley National Park, the world’s hottest place.

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that 71-year-old Steve Curry died of what officials believe were heat-related causes. His death occurred just hours after speaking to a Times reporter about hiking in the heat while he took a break for some rare shade under a metal interpretative sign.

"Why do I do it?" he said when asked why he hiked in such extreme conditions. "Why not?"

Hours later, Curry collapsed outside the restroom at Golden Canyon. A park visitor called 911 from a cellphone and rangers attempted to save him but were not able to do so, the newspaper reported.

"He went having accomplished something he wanted to do," said Rima Evans Curry, his wife. "He wanted to go to Death Valley. He wanted to do a hike."

The famed National Park that runs along part of central California’s border with Nevada is known as the hottest place on Earth and has recorded sweltering temperatures during a record-warm summer.

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On Sunday, temperatures reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53 degrees Celsius) at Death Valley’s aptly named Furnace Creek, the National Weather Service said.

The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 134 F (57 C) in July 1913 at the same location, according to Randy Ceverny of the World Meteorological Organization, the body recognized as keeper of world records.

Curry was an avid hiker who had joined a rock climbing group and taken wilderness training courses.

Around the time he finished his hike, the thermometer at the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center registered 121 degrees.

Evans Curry said her husband, who had worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District and as an electrician before retiring a decade ago, headed to the outdoors whenever he had the chance.

"He was always happiest when he could be out there sleeping under the stars," she said. "That was his joy."

Curry is the second hiker to die in the park this month.