Mountain biker dies on Auburn, CA trail

Mountain bike rider dies on one of the more challenging climbs

The Oak Tree Resting Area

“The Oak Tree” is a famous resting spot for riders who have just climbed a steep, long and technical section of trail on Foresthill Divide Loop in Auburn, CA. Photo courtesy of MTBing Adventures

Mountain biking is a demanding sport. Even if you’re not charging World Cup level downhill trails or flying off the sandstone cliffs of Utah for Redbull Rampage, this sport places a high demand on our bodies. And the dangers are not just for risk-takers either. The untimely death of the great Kelly McGarry (McGazza) is a prime example of a top athlete who passed away after collapsing on the trail.

Kelly McGarry

Kelly McGarry (17 April 1982 – 1 February 2016) at Red Bull Rampage.

Today I received an email from a good friend inquiring about first aid classes we host for our trail docents in the land we manage. He decided to take a first aid class after an encounter he faced on one of our local trails last week. What follows is his account of the incident and his emotions afterward. My friend wishes to remain anonymous and I will respect his wishes here.

FHDL Trail Map

Foresthill Divide Loop Trail is a popular 10.7 mile loop trail in Placer County, California consisting of steep technical uphill climbs and mellow but often times fast singletrack descents. The trail connects to a larger trail network within the Auburn State Recreation Area. Photo courtesy of MTB Project

In his own words

“Recently, while riding the Foresthill Divide Loop (FHDL) I came across a man and a woman on the trail where the woman was kneeling and the man appeared to be lying down.

I slowed as I thought they might be dealing with a mechanical and asked if they needed help. She responded, “Yes, he’s unresponsive … ”

We were stopped at the top of a notoriously grueling climb. The “oak tree” is a common place for people to rest and take in the beautiful views of the American River Canyon.


Views of the American River Canyon. Photo courtesy of MTBing Adventures

I saw that she had started to administer CPR on, what I learned to be, her 66 year old husband. Fortunately, she had cell coverage and we had a 911 operator on line that was helping with the CPR and in getting the first responders there.

After a few minutes, she asked that I leave to ensure the first responders were aware of where he was on the trail as this is a somewhat remote area. I quickly rode out to the Foresthill Divide Road and also called 911.

I waited briefly while both the fire department and the Auburn State Recreational Area officials arrived. I also requested a helicopter as I knew it would take anyone walking in 15 – 20 minutes or more.

Then, I quickly rode back to the site where there were now a few other mountain bikers helping here with him. We continued to administer CPR for another 10-15 minutes before the first responders arrived. The first on site were from the fire department. They took over CPR until we had an AED. Unfortunately, we could not use the AED as the system didn’t pick up any heart rhythm. Shortly, thereafter he was pronounced deceased.

It was an incredibly emotional experience for everyone there and absolutely heart breaking for the woman that had started this 12 mile loop with her husband and would be going home without him.

Foresthill Divide Loop

Roots, rocks and short punchy climbs as all part of grueling climb on.

During the time that I was there, I learned from her that he had atrial fibrillation as well as some other health related issues like sleep apnea, etc. While I do not know for certain what resulted in his death, the speculation was that he died of a heart attack brought on by over exertion. He collapsed at the top of one of the more challenging climbs on this trail.

I left the scene after he was placed on a backboard and was being carried out. For me, the experience highlighted a couple of things. First, you can push your body beyond its limits whatever your physical condition is. Second, I reflected on the importance of CPR and first aid training.

While we were not able to save this person in this case, I’ve become even more committed to ensuring that I continue training and build the necessary skills to help should this happen again. ”

Our thoughts

It illustrates the danger of any physical exertion on a body that is taxed or with a pre-exisiting medical condition. And the most dangerous ones seem to be the undetected ones that strike seemingly healthy and active bodies. While the cause of this particular incident is still unknown, it illustrates the need for every athlete to get the most comprehensive physical check-up available. And for science to learn more about these hidden, heart ailments.

This latest incident reminds us of this unfortunate event Rocklin woman dies near Auburn.

RIP fallen rider.

About the author: Justin Wages

As a stage 4 colon cancer survivor, Justin Wages got into the cycling world in an effort to increase his endurance after losing his left lung. As a California native and growing up with a skateboard and snowboard beneath his feet it wasn’t long before the thrill of mountain biking gripped him. Justin’s day job as a Land & Recreation Manager helps him understand the balance between conservation and trail use. He also works with his fiancé, Jeni, to bring more women into the mountain bike world with certified skills clinics and education. “My goal is to get more people on trails for health and enjoyment,” he says. “I want to help them overcome their mental or physical limitations and be the best person they can be, while expanding their appreciation for our natural world.”

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  • Shark says:

    Very sad situation.
    Every rider should take a CPR first aid course, they also teach wilderness first aid. It might save a life of a friend, family, stranger, or yourself (1st aid).

    If you are frequently out of cell reception, look into safety devices such as SPOT or similar units that can send sos messages via satellite.

    • JCWages says:

      Agreed. I know it is unrealistic but I feel like everyone should have taken a first aid class at minimum if they participate in outdoor activities. Wilderness First Aid would be even better for trail users. At minimum have the Red Cross First Aid app pre-downloaded on your phone for reminders on first aid/CPR practices.

    • Rob says:

      Also shows the importance of popular trails to have trail markers that are on maps that would help EMT and fire departments to quickly locate a person in need of help. Also, if you ride with friends, they should know of your health conditions.

  • Shark says:

    And for petes sake, carry a first aid kit and benadryl.
    I’ve had to help multiple riders with either small cuts, or bee stings that did not have any first aid supplies on hand.

  • Ben says:

    CPR can’t save a person with a heart rhythm issue, manual perfusion is not adequate for long, he needed an AED which don’t grow on trees.

    • Robert says:

      Agree that everyone should know CPR, everyone should also know that defibrillation is only indicated in ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation. An AED can’t help someone without a heart rhythm (asystole). Only about 23% of out of hospital cardiac arrests have a “shockable” rhythm. (AHA statistic)

      “Some hearts are too health to die, some hearts are too sick to live.” – AHA instructor circa 1995. This doesn’t mean you don’t try, just be prepared that it may not end well even if you do everything 100% correctly.

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