Hiker, 71, dies in Death Valley shortly after being asked by reporter why he was braving heat: ‘Why not?’

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An experienced hiker has died in Death Valley, hours after being asked by a reporter why he was attempting to brave the extreme heat.

Steve Curry, 71, was pronounced dead after collapsing outside of a restroom on the Golden Canyon trailhead in 121F (49C) temperatures at about 3.30pm on Tuesday, according to National Park Service officials.

Hours earlier, Curry spoke to Los Angeles Times reporter at Zabriskie Point while “slathered in sunscreen, huddled beneath a metal interpretive sign that afforded a small amount of shade,” officials said.

“Why do I do it?” Curry said when asked why he was hiking in unbearably hot temperatures “Why not?”

Curry reportedly refused offers of help, telling the LA Times he was more concerned with keeping pace with younger hikers.

As a punishing heat dome has brought record high temperatures across the US, Death Valley has become a magnet for tourists keen to experience the iconic desert landscape in sweltering conditions.

The national park, which runs along the Nevada-California border, saw the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth of 134F (57C) in July 1913. For the past week, it has baked in temperatures of up to 128F (53C) and is under an excessive heat warning until Sunday night.

More than 100 million people across the US southwest remained under heat alerts this weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

Curry, a retired electrician from Sunland, Los Angeles, was remembered by family as an adventurous and warm-hearted man who had caught the “bug” for hiking.

“He just had this desire to go there,” his wife, Rima Curry, told KTLA. “He wanted to take this one hike and it did him in.”

Curry had taken wilderness training courses and was happiest sleeping outside under the stars, his wife said. “He was a loving man, very good soul, good-hearted, enjoyed people, loved the outdoors.”

Hikers called 911 after finding Curry unresponsive near the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Centre on Tuesday, according to officials.

National Park Service park rangers performed CPR and used a defibrillator but were unable to revive him.

Steve Curry, 71, died while hiking in California’s Death Valley on Tuesday (Family handout)

Curry was the second person to die in Death Valley this month, after a 65-year-old California man was found dead in his car in the national park on 5 July.

The man appeared to have suffered a heat-related illness that caused him to drive off the road. His car was found 30 yards off the North Highway with two flat tires, the National Park Service said.

A thermometer at the visitor’s centre recorded 121F at the time of Curry’s death but the “real-feel” temperature would have been much higher, officials told the LA Times.

The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office said the cause of death was believed to be heat-related.

This weekend, temperatures are expected to climb past 130F in Death Valley. Signs warn hikers not to venture out after 10am but despite this many still choose to head out in the punishing heat.

Across the planet, heatwaves stoked by the climate crisis, combined with a warming El Nino pattern, have set new records this summer.

In the US, all-time temperature records have been approached in the San Joaquin Valley, Mojave Desert and Great Basin regions. In Phoenix, Arizona, temperatures have been above 110F (43C) for the entire month of July.

And there appears to be little respite in the coming days. The National Weather Service said they expected an “expansive heat wave” across the majority of the lower 48 states and Alaska at the end of next week.

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