How Did Seven Hikers Die in a Flash Flood at Zion?

slot canyon stream

How did seven experienced hikers get trapped in one of Zion National Park’s most notorious slot canyons at exactly the wrong time? A trio of Los Angeles Times writers attempt to answer that question with an in-depth look at how the hikers prepared and what they might have experienced.

The slot canyons in Zion National Park have been forged by flash flooding, carving the caverns and canyons out of sandstone that so many adventure seekers explore each year.

For this group of seven – six of which were from California – they were not beginners and had been planning the trip for months, the LA Times reports.

The group, all in their 50s, met through the Valencia Hiking Crew and even took a class on slat canyon mountaineering, how to repel into tight spaces, that sort of thing. That morning, one member of the group acquired a permit to descend into Keyhole Canyon.

By all indications, the group had been watching the weather. The LA Times story details text messages to family members letting them know they were keeping in touch.

“Maybe Keyhole this afternoon,” one member texted. At 1 pm someone called a family member to ask about the weather. The forecast at that time was 40 percent chance of precipitation but it looked clear at the park.

At 2 pm as they drove into the park into the park, just out of cell phone range. Twenty minutes later the weather service issued a flash flood warning for southeast Zion. “MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND NOW,” the service wrote with uppercase intensity. “ACT QUICKLY TO PROTECT YOUR LIFE.”

For the seven hikers who had repelled into Keyhole Canyon, it was difficult to move quickly with such a big group and once they were in the slot canyon, there was no turning back. It’s reported they only had one rope and were likely in the exact wrong place at the wrong time.

By 4 pm it was a deluge. The flash flood also caught a family in southern Utah off guard as an entire vanf full of passengers washed into a ravine killing 12. The harrowing scene was caught on video.

The first body of the seven hikers was recovered  about 24 hours later. The last was found two days later. Nobody had lived to explain what happened. One family member suspected had they left 30 minutes earlier or 30 minutes later they probably would have been fine.

Photo credit: Dreamstime