ZION NATIONAL PARK – With the coming of the monsoon season to Southern Utah, flash floods have already been reported. Hikers and others are urged to use extreme caution in slot canyons and waterways.
“We recommend people take monsoon season seriously and pay attention to the flash flood predictions and weather patterns,” Zion National Park spokeswoman Aly Baltrus said.
Tuesday morning, seven people were reported overdue from hikes in Zion National Park, Baltrus said.
Ten people had gotten permits for The Narrows hike from the top-down, approximately 14 miles of rough riverbed hiking and water crossings through Zion Canyon. The hike can be done in one day, but it is not uncommon for hikers to spend the night in the canyon, Baltrus said.
“It’s a good, hard, all-day hike,” she said.
Only 3 of the 10 hikers made it out by Monday night. Due to heavy rains in the area and flash flooding, The Narrows route was closed at 6:45 p.m.
While it’s not uncommon for hikers to take longer than expected, park officials were concerned because of flash flooding Monday night, Baltrus said..
Luckily, all seven missing hikers turned up by 10:30 a.m. Tuesday but the outcome could have been much worse.
In September 2015, 20 people were found dead in two days after floods ravaged Hildale and caught a party of seven canyoneers in Zion National Park. Another man was killed in September 2014 by flash flooding in The Narrows.
Monday, the hikers chose to proceed with their plans even though it was probable that flash floods would occur, Baltrus said.
“If we simply closed it when we thought it was going to flood in (The Narrows), it would be closed almost all the time during the monsoon season,” Baltrus said, although the park staff does warn hikers of potential danger.
“You just never know where it’s going to hit. So we use a scale, and it was a ‘probable,'” she said. “So, we were not recommending that people go in.”
Baltrus said the flash flood potential Monday was: “Expected. Some slot canyons are expected to receive flash flooding.”
Water levels rise quickly during a flash flood. Monday morning the river was flowing at 53 cubic feet per second; at 8:45 p.m. it was flowing at 787 cfs, Baltrus said.
A wilderness permit is required to hike The Narrows from the top to the bottom in one or two days, starting outside the park at Chamberlain’s Ranch and ending at the park’s Temple of Sinawava stop in the park. Shorter partial hikes of The Narrows from the bottom at Temple of Sinawava can be made, in and out within a day, and do not require a permit. Read more at the park’s webpage for The Narrows here.
How to stay safe
Besides checking the weather forecast and taking warnings seriously, there are a few things to keep in mind.
When hiking in a slot canyon, Baltrus said, you should always watch for indications of a possible flash flood. Flash floods can come from rain that falls many miles away – it doesn’t have to be raining above your head for you to be caught in a flash flood.
If you observe any of these signs, seek higher ground immediately:
- Deterioration in weather conditions.
- Build-up of clouds or thunder.
- Sudden changes in water clarity from clear to muddy.
- Floating debris.
- Rising water levels or stronger currents.
- An increasing roar of water upstream from your location.
Ed. CORRECTION: The September 2015 flash flooding in Hildale and Zion National Park took 20 lives; the story link referring to 18 was an earlier story in the series during that time. Text and link revised to relate to the total death toll from those floods.
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