She would have been the youngest person to have hiked the entire length of the Grand Canyon - about a thousand miles off trail. Ioana Hociota, 24, was close to her goal when she stepped on the wrong rock and died in a hiking accident.
February 25 was a beautiful, windless day. Ioana Hociota and her hiking partner Matthias Kawski had just finished lunch in Owl Eyes Canyon on the south rim. Matthias chose to hike through snow and bushes while Ioana took a higher route on a wide cliff band. They were about 20 yards from each other when Kawski heard some small rocks fall. Often big horn sheep would kick a rock loose, so he didn’t think much of it.
"Then there was a muted scream maybe one or two seconds long," Kawski recalled. "It was very short almost like a bird’s and I thought there are no birds here. Then the blood froze in my veins. It was a few seconds later that I heard a dull thump. I ran back to the saddle calling for her there was incredible silence."
It appears that Ioana had stepped on an undercut rock and had fallen 300 feet to her death.
Long time Grand Canyon hiker and doctor Tom Myers takes a break at the clinic to talk about canyoneering this iconic place.
"There’s so much more work that goes into an off trail hike with regard to route finding and negotiating steep or difficult terrain," Myers said. "So you’re dealing with all that on top of the physical exertion that you’d have on the Bright Angel Trail or anywhere in the Grand Canyon for that matter."
Myers coauthored Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon. About 800 people have died here. More than a hundred of those deaths have been attributed to falls. But Myers says it’s extremely rare that an expert hiker like Ioana would fall.
Her husband Andrew Holycross has examined all the park photographs and has studied her fall line and suspected route. He says it was a path he himself would have taken.
"All of us that hike in the Grand Canyon, no matter how careful you are, if you spend enough time, if you hike 850 miles, if you hike 2,000 miles down there, you know it’s like driving down the freeway. Sooner or later there’s a rock waiting for you, there’s a car that’s going to T-bone you. Everybody’s got a rock out there and that was Ioana’s rock," Holycross said.
Ioana came to the United States from Romania with her family 10 years ago. Her parents worked hard to provide opportunities for their two daughters. Maybe that’s why Ioana lived life with such passion.
When Ioana set out to accomplish something, she did it with all her heart. She had two degrees, spoke four languages, ran several marathons and hiked more than 800 miles in the Grand Canyon.
She and Holycross were married last June on Marble Point overlooking the Canyon.
"When you get married Romanians will greet you immediately after the vows are exchanged and they have a saying. They say, 'casa de piatra.' It means house of stone. You know, may your marriage be strong," Holycross said. "And I think in a way Grand Canyon was our house of stone. It was part of our bond in our marriage together."
Ioana would have been the 16th person to have hiked the length of the canyon from Lake Powell to Lake Mead. Her husband and friends are hiking the last 80 miles of the trip now with her backpack and a lock of her hair.
Memorial donations may be made to the ASU Foundation for the Ioana Elise Hociota -- Memorial Mathematics Scholarship Endowment.