At the Grand Canyon, where many of the 5 million annual visitors underestimate the demands of canyon hiking, authorities make it standard to bill ailing hikers who are carried out by ranger, mule or helicopter. Of 397 search-and-rescue incidents within the park in 1997--which cost a combined $595,637--about 215 were medical evacuations billed to hikers. The usual bill, covering transport to the canyon's South Rim clinic, is about $2,200. Over the years, rangers say, about three of every four evacuated hikers have paid their bills.
In Angeles National Forest, where 32 million visitors last year communed, mostly in the San Gabriel Mountains, lost and wounded visitors keep eight nearby search-and-rescue teams busy. The L.A. County Sheriff's Department, which covers the forest and other remote areas, conducted 307 search-and-rescue missions in 1997.
The district attorney's office decides when to seek a court order for payment after a rescue. Over the last 15 years, county officials estimate, the county has brought no more than a dozen such cases.
"If it's completely accidental and people didn't do anything stupid," said a sheriff's spokesman, "then they won't be billed for it."