Would a man survive 5 days in the desert with no water?

File photo: Numerous police officers, firefighters and paramedics carry severely dehydrated man up Black Hill Saturday, St. George, Utah, June 3, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A report of a dehydrated man who said he had been stuck on the Black Hill in St. George for five days before being rescued June 3 has fueled an avalanche of reader-submitted comments and questions to St. George News.

Officers found the man “extremely dehydrated and in need of help, and he told us he’d been up here for at least five days,” St. George Police Lt. Joe Hartman said in an interview with St. George News June 3.

Read more: Responders rescue man trapped for 5 days on Black Hill

The man, who remains unidentified by police, was given IV fluids before being carried up the hill and then transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center for evaluation and treatment.

Beyond what they saw that day and the statements they received on scene, emergency responders have no other information to provide, on several inquiries made by St. George News. After the man was admitted to the hospital, requests for further information could not be obtained due to patient privacy laws.

So the question remains: Would a man survive in the desert heat of St. George in June for five days without water? The wilderness survival rule of threes states a person can survive three minutes without air, three hours without shelter (in a harsh environment), three days without water and three weeks without food. And yet, there are accounts of people surviving in spite of these rules.

“Under extreme conditions an adult can lose between one and 1.5 liters of sweat an hour. If that lost water is not replaced, the total volume of body fluid can fall quickly and, most dangerously, blood volume may drop,” Randall K. Packer, a professor of biology at George Washington University, wrote in an article for Scientific American. “If this happens, two potentially life-threatening problems arise: sweating stops and body temperature can soar even higher, while blood pressure decreases because of the low blood volume. Under such conditions, death occurs quickly.”

Recognizing the signs of life-threatening heat-related conditions could save your life or that of someone you are with. Being prepared to be out in the heat is the best measure of prevention.

Heat conditions

Spending an extended time in the blaring desert sun can lead to various life-threatening conditions, such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

The risk of dehydration increases during the summer months in Southern Utah, particularly for those hiking or working outdoors in triple digit temperatures. Human beings aren’t designed to spend extended periods of time in temperatures that exceed the body’s own temperature of 98.6 degrees.

Over 70 percent of the human body is composed of water and every function in the body is dependent on water, including the activities of the brain and nervous system that rely on an abundant access to water, according to an article by Merlin Hearn and Nancy Hearn on the Water Benefits Health website.

“Studies show that brain cells need two times more energy to function than other cells in the body, and water provides this energy more effectively than any other substance,” according to Dr. Corinne Allen, founder of the Advanced Learning and Development Institute, the Hearn article states.

Generally, the body has no provision for water storage; what goes out in 24 hours must be replaced, Christie Benton, Intermountain Healthcare’s registered dietitian, said.

Heat-related conditions, including dehydration, play a part in the onset of other serious conditions.


Dehydration takes place when the body loses more fluid than it takes in, and the most common cause of water loss is excessive sweating. Along with water, the body also needs electrolytes, which are salts normally found in blood, other fluids and cells.

Symptoms include dizziness, tiredness, lethargy, irritability, thirst, dark yellow urine, loss of appetite and fainting, and can also include headaches and hallucinations.

Dehydration can also reduce cognitive and motor skills, as well as concentration, memory and reaction time, and can even increase pain sensitivity, according to several studies by BSX Technologies.

If left untreated or if treatment is delayed, it can cause falls with injury, kidney failure and death, Dr. Steve Van Norman, chief medical officer at Dixie Regional Medical Center, said.

Heat exhaustion

Symptoms of this condition include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, resulting from the body overheating. Dehydration is caused by exposure to high temperatures and strenuous physical activity. Without prompt treatment it can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition.


Heatstroke is a condition that can be caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures or physical exertion in the heat, and it is the most serious form of heat injury.

Heatstroke symptoms include a throbbing headache; dizziness and light-headedness; lack of sweating despite the heat; red, hot and dry skin; muscle weakness or cramps; nausea and vomiting; rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak; rapid, shallow breathing; behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering; seizures and unconsciousness.

The condition requires emergency treatment. If left untreated it can quickly damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. Many will find their body progresses from dehydration to heat exhaustion, eventually leading to heatstroke.

When hiking with children, check their water bottles periodically to ensure that they are taking the time to consume enough water. While having fun outdoors, children will frequently not want to stop to drink or eat even though they are thirsty and hungry.

Tips on proper hydration include:

  • Take plenty of water.
  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Thirst is not the best indicator that you need to drink and is an indicator that you are already behind on fluids.
  • Hydrate and rehydrate before, during and after activity, as fluid losses increase as the body sweats.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • comments June 11, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    Guy lost on the black hill for “5 days”, woman passed out cold just from burning some food on the stove. A lot of these news stories are leaving more questions than answers 😉

    ““Studies show that brain cells need two times more energy to function than other cells in the body, and water provides this energy more effectively than any other substance,” according to Dr. Corinne Allen, founder of the Advanced Learning and Development Institute, the Hearn article states.”

    Kind of an odd thing to say about water, as the energy content is 0. I think I get what she’s implying by “water provides this energy more effectively than any other substance” as water acts as the body’s primary fluid/solvent but the statement implies that water is providing energy, which would be kookery. 😉

    Would be interesting to get the full story on the guy “lost on black hill for 5 days”, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen. I checked the comments on the orig story and some guy claiming to be related to the victim was posting comments that were very angry and mean, because the guy that suggested the victim was on drugs made him fly into some kind of rage. Maybe he’ll calm down enough to give us the full story, but I think it’s unlikely 😉

    • comments June 11, 2017 at 8:45 pm

      If the guy “lost on black hill for 5 days” is still having problems, which the guy claiming to be related to him hinted at, this many days later, it’s likely he damaged his kidneys from severe dehydration. We wish him all the best in his recovery.

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