Flash flood strands hikers in Zion overnight

East Fork of the Virgin River before the flash flood, Zion National Park, Aug. 25, 2012 | Photo by David Vick

ZION NATIONAL PARK – Southern Utah is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts; it provides access to a myriad of activities, and contains some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. However, when enjoying these natural wonders, adventurers need to be careful and prepared for the unexpected, as one group’s experience this past weekend attests.

The group before the hike, Zion National Park, Aug. 25, 2012 | Photo by Dawn Holland

On Aug. 25, a group of hikers set out on the trail known as “Fat Man’s Misery” near Zion National Park. The group of 13 included Joseph Holland, Travis Sanders, David Vick, Shano Matautia and Rob Heiser, along with a combination of their kids. They did their research and checked the weather, but partway through their hike they were blindsided by a flash flood.

While crossing what started off as a stream, the group saw unusual movement up stream as well as unfamiliar noises. When they pieced together that it was a flash flood, they had mere seconds to get to higher ground.

“Really, there is no way we could have anticipated the flash flood because the weather didn’t show any activity up in that area for Saturday,” Holland said. “The best thing that happened was that we were prepared for a worst-case scenario.”

The group planned on returning Saturday evening but, due to the rising water, was trapped in the area for the night. Fortunately, they came prepared, and between the adults were able to scrape together a few supplies such as flashlights, matches and a water filter.

“It just happened so fast,” Vick said, “you have to be paying attention to the conditions while hiking.”

Often times, hikers take a clear sky as a sign of minimal flash flood danger, but this is not the case. Rainfall can be far upstream and give little or no warning when draining through canyon areas.

Because the sudden flash flood split the group in two, the group rigged up a rope system to get everyone onto the same side. With the help of their flashlights, two of the adults then rock climbed and hiked out of the canyon to get cell phone reception to get in touch with their families back home. The other three adults took care of the children in a makeshift camp. With limited supplies, the group was left with a fire and the clothes they had with them, some of which were now wet. Although the group was doing okay, they didn’t want people getting hurt trying to find them.

After a long night trying to stay warm by the fire, Zion National Park, Aug. 25, 2012 | Photo by Joseph Holland

Search and rescue planned on sending out the search by 10 a.m. the next day if they had not heard from the group by then. But thankfully, the group all made it out safely the following morning after a long night of realizing how close they brushed with disaster.

Park services emphasize the necessity for hikers to know the geographic layout of where they are headed. Drainage areas can get flooded hours after rainfall; and if there is enough rain, and enough of a funnel effect from surrounding valleys, these flash floods can be life threatening.

“It’s the kind of dynamic environment that needs to be checked on regularly,” Chief Park Ranger Cindy Purcell said. “Don’t feel you have to go [on a certain hike] on a particular day, make an alternative plan.”

Current weather information can be found online from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or in the park at the ticket booth and visitor center.

Be smart in planning your next outdoor adventure so you can be sure to have fun, stay safe, and continue to enjoy beautiful Southern Utah.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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