I recently was interviewed by Fox 10 about my experiences in a flash flood during a seemingly easy hike. I wanted to give you all the full story without any News Embellishments.
First a little back story of why I was heading there, Havasupai is one of my favorite destinations in Arizona, no where else can you capture crystal clear aqua pools of travertine and huge waterfalls. As a professional photographer I had headed there after the last flood in 2008 and captured an amazing image! I was there on Sunday to out do myself with a new Canon 5d Mk3 and 16-35L V2 Lens!
Woke up Sunday 9/8/13 in Mesa at 3:00 am and after a quick stop to pick up some PAC Leaders we headed North to Supai. Skies were grey and a few sprinkles here and there but besides that it was very uneventful.
We arrived at the trailhead to Supai Village at 10:00 am and handed our gear off to Pack Horses to be hauled down to the campground.
10:40 am Then we were off and hiking!
11:39 am: Soon after hitting the dry wash (which IS the only trail) a small rain patch rolled through. Scott, Lori and I
took cover from the rain in a small cave. About 5 minutes later I heard the sound of water flowing so I ventured out in the rain to find the source. It was a pretty decent waterfall runoff behind us running into the wash. I then went to check out the wash and noticed some movement way upstream, it was water “snaking” down the middle of the sand. At this point I started recording with my Iphone 4s and we thought it was cool to see the beginnings of a flash flood (I compared it to being like seeing the end of a rainbow).
11:50 am: After about 5 minutes, the small snaking “stream” turned into a raging river that we could not navigate across. I shot video of a group of pack horses on the way up to
the top and even they were having a difficult time getting to high ground. Luckily, they did make it safely to the other side and we hunkered down in our cave again. The rain finally stopped and we were amazed at how much water had filled the dry wash.
12:15 pm : At this point, we were somewhat confused about how to go any further, since the beaten path was now underwater. We found some higher ground and blazed a trail … this worked for a while, but we soon ended up back at the waters edge. We now had to cross the river! Locking arms, we slowly shuffled across safely. We used this method to make headway downstream for at least an hour. The wash winds back and forth, so we had to keep crossing the water over and over.
12:56 pm: The water level finally subsides, and the wash is almost emptied out to the point that it is no deeper than our shoes. This made it easier to make some quick headway.
1:43 pm : Then more rain.
We hunkered once again in a big cave and waited it out. Suddenly, the whole canyon turned into Jurassic Park! Waterfalls were flowing off many of the canyon walls and it was amazingly beautiful. I started once again to shoot photos and capture the moments. What we didn’t know was that this storm was larger than we could see from our vantage point. It was pouring rain for miles in every direction … all of it channeling into the main wash – Our wash.
The rain overhead slowed and we saw a pack horse train go by – so we braved it again, moving forward along the river. The water was swift, but by this time we were getting good at these crossings, and probably a little too comfortable in our abilities to handle them.
One last pack of horses passed us at a difficult spot, and Lori pushed ahead of Scott and I.
shuffling path a few inches higher than the water. Scott and I had no sooner noticed that the water was rising when, out of nowhere, a helicopter came up behind us in the canyon. The pilot hovered and threw his door open. (He nearly blew us in the water he was so close.) He started to wave at Scott and I and pointed up. We moved up about 3 feet and looked back then he signaled “no good ” by waving of his arms and pointed up the cliff! Lori could not see since the door was in the way – I yelled down to her and told her to get to higher ground. She scrambled up the hill as did Scott and me.
3:22 pm: I then turned around to look to the pilot for more instructions when I saw a 35 foot wall of water coming down the wash. This was only 1.5 minutes from when he signaled to us. A gigantic tidal wave came crashing down the wash. Filming now with my Canon 5d Mk3 camera – the change in water volume was significant. If the Helicopter did not see us in the wash and come to the rescue there is no doubt at all in my mind that we would have been washed away.
He saved all 3 of our lives.
We scrambled into yet another cave and observed the sheer force of mother nature. It was amazing to see what was a dry wash turn into class 5 rapids .. the noise was deafening and the ground shook as boulders the size of cars rolled down the now raging river.
The helicopter pilot flew about 50 feet around a bend to tend to the handlers and horses. Luckily, the handlers were all airlifted out – but the horses didn’t stand a chance. We saw why later: the walls around that bend were sheer – from the canyon floor to the top – there was no path or ledge to make it to higher ground. With the water rising that rapidly there was absolutely nothing anyone could have done. I am glad that circumstances had slowed us enough that we hadn’t yet reached that point in the trail.
Please be aware of your surroundings when hiking. This situation could have happened to anyone. This has nothing to do with the tribe, location or negligence on our part or theirs – it is merely the astounding force of nature – and what has carved the canyon for millions of years.
Here is the direct link to Fox Channel 10 News story, the video is good. Link Missing as of now 🙁
Part 2 will be posted soon – keep an eye out to find out how we were able to escape this impassible situation.