KANE COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) — What began as a familiar hike for Juan Gonzalez from White House Campground in southern Utah ended with being airlifted out of a deadly, flooding slot canyon.
Slot canyons can often flood with spring run-off and in the summer when monsoon rains put down a heavy amount of water in a short time. Our recent warm-up and rain in the region have caused the rivers and slot canyons to fill with water. Higher flows are creating life-threatening conditions along southern Utah slot canyons right now.
Juan Gonzalez and his group of four made a difficult trek down the Paria Canyon Narrows with rising water levels before they had to be airlifted by a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter on Tuesday, March 14. They were among the 12 hikers rescued in Buckskin Gulch after reports came in on Monday, March 13, about three men failing to return from their hiking trip.
“It’s exhausting because you’re fighting the current, you’re fighting the quicksand, and on top of that, you have probably 40-degree temperatures in the water,” said Gonzalez.
“Water flows north from the mountains in Arizona into the Buckskin Wash Slot Canyon, it also comes from the mountains up towards Bryce Canyon and flows south, and you get convergence from two melt zones going into this slot canyon area,” said Glen Merrill, service hydrologist with the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Salt Lake City.
Gonzalez and his group eventually made it to Buckskin Gulch from Paria Canyon Narrows where they were hoping conditions might improve.
“We put a marker on the river to see where the water level was that day,” Gonzalez said. “We were hoping that it would go down a little bit and make some of the areas a little more passable, but what we noticed the next morning was that the water had actually come up higher.”
With water levels rising, Juan felt like they were trapped. They had assisted in a rescue of a missing hiker the day before. But now it was their turn.
“I was like, ‘That’s it. We’re done with this. We don’t need to put ourselves in any type of danger.’ So, we decided to call it, and we ended up pushing the SOS on our Garmin device to send a signal, and the Kane County Sheriff’s Office contacted us and ended up organizing a rescue,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez was one of 12 people that Search and Rescue airlifted out of that area.
“I would’ve loved to have finished the hike, but I also am not going to put myself in danger, there’s a certain limit to saying I like the adventure, the adrenaline rush. I like all of that stuff, but I’m also not going to put myself in a situation where I’m going to get killed,” Gonzalez said.