I've been lucky enough to go to the wave twice.
The first time I went to the wave the road was washed out pretty far back from a flash flood the night before. I still went, and really didn't have enough water, but I was in good shape and made it ok. The idea of not going never crossed my mind, maybe it should have as I was plenty dry by the time I got back to the car. I think the difficulty in getting the ticket for sure colored my thinking. It wasn't like I could go tell the BLM hey I didn't know the road was wiped, how about letting me go tomorrow. Still I was in good shape, it's only a few miles, when I had hiked much further that summer, and I'm from an area with not just heat but humidity so at no point was not going a serious consideration.
The map was no problem. Hell it had pictures on it, plus GPS co-ordinates. If you could use a GPS you could get there. If you couldn't just look at the pictures. It wasn't as hot as it's been with these deaths, but it wasn't much cooler and it was heat of the day since I had to start further back. One thing that also made it very easy, there was cairns at the spot where you walk up and over the rocks, and then at another spot towards the wave and from there you could see it in the distance and match it with the picture on the map they gave out. That was 2005 I think.
It was also much much easier then to get the online tickets. The tickets for 3-4 months ahead went on sale at so and so time on so and so day of the month. First come first served. Within a few hours every spot for the whole month filled up but it was very coveted even then and you still had a few hours to get a spot. It made it possible for a person to actually plan ahead, wow what a great idea. The last time I tried online there was basically a lottery where they could make a lot more money from those spots. That just seemed like such BS that I didn't even try.
The 2nd time I went was in 2011 after winning the lottery at the BLM office. Knowing the way, I barely looked at the map, so I can't say if its much different or worse. However I did notice the cairns were all dismantled. Someone said it was some kind of thing to not make it so easy and make it more wild. Well maybe they should rethink that.
I don't think it would exactly be paving a road to it if they put up a few markers, maybe some signposts. I'm typing this from an internet cafe in Iceland. The last week I've been on all kinds of paths here with little yellow markers every so often. It hasn't exactly ruined the wildness of this place. The people that want to go straight to the wave and tick this off a list could do it. The folks that want to wander around the area and see more than just the wave could do the same. BTW there are some incredible things to photograph within a few hundred yards of the wave.
On the way back to the car the 2nd time we ran across a couple that were lost. I told them I've been twice, it's this way. It's where again, you go up and over the rock. The wife believed me, the husband did not and they went straight instead of turning left. I guess a person like that would have believed a sign, but hell maybe not. There are people that do things that are way beyond their skill set.
You can tell people that you need to take x amount of water, don't go in the middle of the day and they won't do it and maybe they don't need to. I can take the heat better than someone from Iceland. They can take the cold better than me. Some people need a lot of water, some not so much. Are you going to have a trail policeman make you carry x liters of water and x calories of carbs? You could equip everyone with a GPS, make them give a deposit on it, and have it beep when they get off the trail, but people would still ignore it, and then sue the government when something went wrong. Other than a few markers, leave it alone.
Or, do something about the demand. How about you let more than 20 go. Maybe keep it 20 on your own, but then others could take a ranger led walk. Spell it out, you will be going with a ranger. You will stay in a group. At the wave you will have 2 hours on your own, or whatever, and then go back as a group. Do a few of these a day, charge more, and you will knock the demand right down. Supposedly rangers come out during the day anyway to make sure no one did it without a permit, so why not let them do a tour. Or license a few local companies to do the same. Take small groups. I would think taking people and supervising them would result in less damage to fragile areas than letting people go unsupervised.
The big worry for all of photographers is they only do group walks, no more on your own, or not without some special high dollar photography permit and a ranger goes along.