Two Hikers are killed by flash floods in a Utah slot canyon

Two Hikers Dead After Flash Flooding in a Utah Slot Canyon

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Two hikers were killed and one was injured in a flash flood that occurred in a canyon near the Utah/Arizona border. It happened over the weekend.

According to Lt. Alan Alldredge of the Kane County Sheriff’s Office, a group of three men began hiking towards Lees Ferry on Friday for what was supposed to be a three-day expedition. It’s likely a flash flood caught the group on Saturday, as moisture from the atmospheric river that engulfed California last week flowed east.

One of the hikers’ wives alerted authorities on Monday, when the group was scheduled to finish their hike. The authorities quickly began a search and led an air team to a campsite likely belonging to the hikers.

“They were able… to find some areas where it looked like camping equipment, [like] A backpack [were located],” Alldredge told Salt Lake City’s KSL.

The body of one of those hikers was quickly found by searchers. After examining flood debris, airborne rescuers located the survivor and wonched him into a helicopter. After spending several days in a wet and exposed environment, the surviving hiker was already hypothermic and had sustained bodily injuries. He was still being treated at the hospital at time of publication. While investigating a tip by a hiker who claimed to have seen a body, a team discovered a second dead hiker on the Paria River about 4 miles south-east of the Arizona border.

Law enforcement reported that the survivor was Ed Smith. Jeff Watson and Bill Romaniello were the two hikers who died.

The trio weren’t the only hikers who got into trouble in Buckskin Gulch in recent days: the Utah Department of Public Safety said that it had rescued an additional 10 additional hikers from two separate groups from the area. Alldredge told KSL that unusually heavy rain across the west meant that conditions in Buckskin would remain unusually dangerous “for probably a couple of months.”

Even though flash floods are statistically uncommon, fatalities from them occur every year. Between 1995 and 2021, nearly 2,000 people died in flash floods or floods. The number of fatalities is on the rise with 146 deaths occurring in 2021 alone. According to one study, flash floods represent the most fatal weather-related event in the United States.

Vehicles that are stranded on flood roads are the most likely to die in flash floods. Slot canyons, such as Buckskin Gulch, can be very dangerous for outdoor enthusiasts.

The Instagram-famous Buckskin Gulch is famous for its beauty. It has 12 miles of narrow slot canyons and sheer walls. It is more than 20 miles in length. The canyon has few exit points or safe extraction points so hikers who venture into the canyon must be fully committed. It can flood, making it one of the most deadly slot canyons. Thanks to its fame, it’s not unusual for adventurers to wander in without a proper understanding of the mechanics of flash flooding. (Alldredge told Salt Lake City’s Fox 13 that the stricken hikers were properly equipped, and that “the conditions were above and beyond what anybody expected.”

Flash Floods: A Desert Danger

Flash flooding is when heavy rain falls faster that the soil can absorb. Flash flooding is most common in spring when snow melts and during monsoon season. Flash floods are more likely in areas that receive heavy rain or have a longer rain duration. The soil in the desert southwest is less absorbent and therefore more at risk for flash flooding.

Although flash floods can be dangerous, they can also cause serious damage to property. However, canyons like Buckskin Gulch with their narrow walls can quickly become inundated by large quantities of water within minutes. This could lead to drowning.

Even under blue skies, canyons can flood: Because canyons are often large networks of waterways, rain can flow downstream quickly. This means, for example, that a canyon like Zion’s Narrows could flood if the Kolob Reservoir receives a lot of rain during a short period of time, despite the Narrows themselves never receiving a drop of rain.

Hikers should consult a ranger before they set out on their journey to avoid getting caught in a flash flooding. They should also monitor the canyon’s boundary waters and the forecast there to determine whether there’s a risk of flash flooding during their trip’s timeframe. As GPS units don’t consistently work in steep-sided canyons, a paper map with potential escape routes is a must.

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