Seven hikers from Colorado narrowly escaped a flash flood that swept through Buckskin Gulch on the night of July 29.
The group was camped for the night when the flash flood overtook them.
“We probably had about 10 seconds to scramble up the rock or we would have been swept away,” said Pyrenee Steiner.
The group entered the canyon that morning starting a five-day backpacking trip through the 38 mile-long canyon. They had checked the weather forecast prior to entering the canyon and the forecast was clear. The floodwaters originated in the headwaters of the Buckskin, far north of the slot canyon itself, from a monsoonal downpour not experienced in the Kanab or Big Water areas.
“It was a sunny, beautiful day,” one of the hikers recalled.
The group hiked into the canyon about eight miles and made their camp at the junction where the middle-route into the canyon merges with the main canyon. Members of the group had hiked Buckskin Gulch before and purposely chose to camp at that spot because it’s wider than the rest of the canyon, and offers a way out of the canyon. They selected the spot with a flash flood in mind.
It was just getting dark when the flash flood reached their camp. The group was spread out. Some were already in their tents, some were up on the ledges, where they had fallen asleep while reading.
Buckskin Gulch is a very narrow slot canyon. In many places it’s narrow enough to touch both walls with your outstretched hands. As the flood pushes through these narrow hallways, it pushes a wall of wind ahead of it.
“I woke up to a windstorm and then screaming,” one of the hikers said during an interview with David Rankin.
The spot where the group had camped is about 30 feet wide and the flood was about four feet deep at that spot, they said. Some of the hikers immediately started climbing to higher ground.
Two of the hikers Reinhold and Pyrenee Steiner were already in their tent asleep.
Reinhold was able to unzip the tent and crawl out, but his sister ended up rolled up in the tent that was quickly heading downstream. He grabbed the tent and tore it open, snatching Pyrenee’s arm and pulling her to the bench for help. After that, he lost his purchase and was caught in the torrent until he latched onto a floating branch and snagged himself on a rock 60 feet from where he left his sister. He sustained some bruised ribs and scrapes.
About 30 yards beyond their camp the canyon grows narrow again.
“If he would have been washed another 75 feet into the narrow section of canyon he would have been killed,” said Reinhold’s father Leif, who was also the group’s leader.
In the few seconds the hikers had to get organized and escape the flood one of them retrieved and activated her personal locator beacon, which sent a signal back to the emergency beacon company.
Early the next morning, the Kane County Sheriff’s Office received a call from the emergency beacon company who gave them the coordinates to the middle route of Buckskin Gulch.
Classic Air Medical from Page responded and made visual and verbal contact with the group but due to the ruggedness of the terrain was unable to land.
While escaping the flash flood in the near dark, several of the hikers sustained foot injuries and most had left their shoes behind which made walking out through the desert terrain nearly impossible.
Later that morning a helicopter from the Department of Public Safety equipped with a hoist system was able to extract the stranded hikers. The helicopter crew consisted of Rob Wilkinson, who operated the 110 foot hoist, pilot Kent Harrison, and co-pilot Wyatt Weber, an experienced team. The helicopter crew transported the hikers to a command post where their injuries were treated by an EMS team from Big Water, Utah. From there they were transported to the Page Hospital and further treated. Steiner suffered the worst injuries. His feet were torn up on rocks as he tried to help those in the wash. His toes were cut and appeared badly sprained and possibly broken, as well. He couldn’t walk without a great deal of pain. No major injuries were sustained.