The 13th Floor

The Shocking Story Behind Yellowstone’s Horrifying “Acid Bath” Death

A ghastly and bizarre accident claimed a man’s life at Yellowstone National Park this summer… but you might have noticed it’s making the headlines again this week. That’s because new and horrific details about the incident have recently been released to the media, thanks to a request from local news station KULR, per the Freedom of Information Act.

On June 7, 23-year-old Nathaniel Scott of Portland, Oregon was exploring the Norris Geyser Basin with his sister Sable when they strayed several hundred feet from the designated walking path, ignoring large barriers and several posted warnings about the extreme danger of approaching any geothermal springs or pools in the area.

Those signs and fences are there for a damn good reason: Yellowstone happens to sit right on top of one of the world’s largest pockets of magma, and any waters which break the surface have been superheated to boiling temperatures — often permeated with powerful acid and other toxic chemicals. Even walking near some of these pools can lead to severe injury or death from the caustic vapors… so you can probably imagine what might happen to someone who tried to take a bath in one such pool.

Image Credit: iStock/lucky-photographer
Image Credit: iStock/lucky-photographer

Yes, you read that right: Scott was looking for a body of water where he could indulge in the extreme sport of “hot-potting” (which is apparently a thing), a practice that involves soaking in extremely hot natural springs, though usually this is done in springs or basins where the geothermal temperatures are moderated by snow runoff, or other cold-water sources. The benefits of this are negligible… but the hazards are literally hellish.

Hot-potting has been linked to several injuries and a few deaths over the course of Yellowstone’s history, and park officials claim that practitioners of this dangerous trend have even included some of the park’s concession staff (former staff, I assume). One of the most intriguing and terrifying archives of incidents like these is the book DEATH IN YELLOWSTONE by historian Lee Whittlesey, which indicates the last geothermal fatality in the park occurred sixteen years ago.

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The details of this new case, including Sable Scott’s deposition, reveal that her brother Nathaniel crouched down close to one of the steaming basin pools to dip a finger in the water and test the temperature — which scientists estimate hovered around 200 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface, and considerably hotter below that.

The least awful outcome would have been a severe burn to that finger… but tragically, the worst-case scenario was the one that played out that day. Scott slipped on the edge of the pool and fell fully into it, going completely underwater at one point.

Image Credit: iStock/urbancow
Image Credit: iStock/urbancow

Experts determined that Scott likely died instantly, but authorities were unable to reach his body due to the extreme danger of approaching the pool. Further attempts to recover the body were thwarted by a lightning storm that evening, so the recovery operation was postponed until the next day… but when the crew returned, they discovered the man’s body, clothes and gear had completely dissolved. Absolutely nothing remained.

“It’s a very unforgiving environment,” Deputy Chief Ranger Lorant Veress told WULR. He described the waters of Norris Basin as “churning and highly acidic” at the time, and “there was a significant amount of dissolving” occurring over a very short period.

Authorities also revealed another chilling detail of the case missing from previous news reports: Scott’s sister had been filming his approach to the pool when the tragedy occurred, and apparently, the entire gruesome incident was recorded. But don’t believe anyone who says they’ve obtained access to the footage; the video file, including transcripts and description of its contents, has been withheld from the public out of respect to the family and under the terms of the Privacy Act.

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