Buckskin Gulch Tragedy

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    obx hiker
    BPL Member


    This mornings NYT: 2 Hiker Fatalities Buckskin Gulch


    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington


    “Southern Utah had been deluged by stormy weather. The Bureau of Land Management and the Kane County Sheriff’s Office this week issued an advisory to discourage visitors from continuing their hikes, saying that “severe and unpredictable” flash flooding could occur in Buckskin Gulch, another canyon, called Paria, and Wire Pass, a starting point for hikers setting off into the canyons.”

    I guess the lesson to learn is to check the governing authority for current status and avoid if they’re discouraging visitors

    DWR D
    BPL Member


    well, the governing authority doesn’t always get it right either… experienced canyon hikers know to ALWAYS check the weather forecast before entering narrow canyons. If rain is forecast, don’t go in. Especially a very long ones with vertical walls and no way to exit quickly… Buckskin is both and can be a death trap in the rain. Problem is that spectacular photos on the internet attract hordes of people who don’t know what they are doing and don’t understand the dangers… the increased use leads to permit restrictions which leads to people tempting fate by going outside the best season and or during marginal or bad weather for the sake of ‘getting it done’…. checking it off the list…

    Philip Tschersich
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kodiak Alaska

    We did a day hike into Buckskin Gulch years ago as an out and back. It was cool for a few miles, but the sand walking was monotonous and being deep in a slot canyon the scenery does not change much. Every now an then we would look up and see the trunk of a tree wedged between the 2 canyon walls 30 or more feet above our heads. You couldn’t help but think that you would not want to be there when that tree was getting stuck where it did.

    John S.
    BPL Member


    obx hiker
    BPL Member


    Thanks John. I was going to search for the article on another site but had to go to work.

    What a complete tragedy. Anyone have any ideas how to better inform veteran hikers about the situations that make these type of events possible? What to look for and who to use as info? We did this stretch in April of @ 2000 and checked in at the ranger station on 89 but had also carefully monitored the weather. Do these trips require a permit? I’m pretty sure ours did. Maybe they’re in high demand and permit holders hate to scratch and so are tempted to take chances? When that country is wet it’s pretty apparent. (understatement of the day) The famous Antelope Canyon flash flood had occurred a few years before our trip and having some indirect connection to that event we were well aware of what to consider WRT weather. These type of events seem to re-occur every 10 years or so and then another half generation comes along that evidently just does not seem to be aware of the hazard.

    The Buckskin drainage is really large stretching NW @ 40 miles nearly to Bryce and draining the eastern slope of the highland plateau that eventually ends at the north rim  from where it begins to rise southeast of Fredonia and south of Route 89 to south to a line roughly sketched by route 89A from Jacob Lake to the Vermillion Cliffs. Big drainage all funneled into a crack so deep you often can hardly see the sky and from wall to wall is a about like a hallway; sometimes more or often less.

    Phillip made a good point about checking the trash line overhead. there’s always brush and limbs and often logs crammed into cracks. You can pretty well make out what a bad case scenario is.

    One possible tactic we learned from the survivor in Antelope is to look for a crack in the sidewalls that runs upstream, If you can get shelter behind the wall of the crack which could deflect the main flow downstream the impact of the flood will hopefully race past since it’s directed downstream and you’ll possible get some shelter from that irresistible force like a liquid D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer, A possible climbing tactic is to use pressure to wedge yourself against the sides of the crack as you climb up. plus if you’ve managed to dodge the bulldozer the rising water will give you some lift hopefully. This is sorta theoretical but it saved that one person . Using your body as a wedge to fill a crack and getting enough support to climb up or down sounds weird but it is surprisingly easy and effective. We use it in that country all the time.

    Since Antelope I’ve never gone down a slot without keeping track of upstream angled side cracks. It’s like looking for snakes or rock art. Second nature. But never had to try it out since we never go in if there’s any reasonable chance of  rain in the entire drainage basin and we make sure we know the extent of the drainage basin. For ex the Black Hole of White Canyon; you could get trouble from a big boomer as far away as the Bears Ears on the other side of Natural Bridges; nearly 30 miles.

    That’s all I’ve got. Those guys have families. It’s really terrible. Anyone come up with ideas post ’em. Maybe somebody will read it and realize the potential danger.

    Oh well already thought of one thing. Even fairly wide and open canyons everywhere can and usually do have some tighter stretches, Pay attention to the weather and keep an eye on ways to climb if you need to and watch those trash lines in bigger/wider canyons too with the possible need to climb out of the way in mind. A flash flood bigger or taller than about mid calf high could shoestring you and you could get hit by a rock or a log. As white water runners know if it knocks you over can you get back up against that relentless moving force? If you can’t you’re going to drown. Hey I’ve surfed Waimea so seen big water but I  sincerely respect the fact that even relatively shallow fast moving water is a force to respect and treat with caution. We’re all hopefully familiar with fast stream crossings. Even a shallow flash flood is similar except usually loaded with much more battering ram material.

    Jon Fong / Flat Cat Gear
    BPL Member


    Locale: FLAT CAT GEAR

    It must be the unusual weather patterns recently.  I recall that many slot canyons are open this time of year, but a lot of people don’t go due to the near freezing water temperatures in many of the water pockets.  Some tell-tale signs were that Paria Canyon was closed and so were the Narrows.   I have an overland trip to Escalante next week and may have to cancel due to wet road conditions. That and keep in mind that if it was a flash flood, it could have occurred many, many miles away.  Sad news.



    we never go in if there’s any reasonable chance of  rain in the entire drainage basin and we make sure we know the extent of the drainage basin.

    That’s the best advice to teach 

    obx hiker
    BPL Member


    Hey there’s now a video posted on the NYT of the rescue of the survivor and videos on Youtube.

    In the NYT video looks like they may have been near the big pocket with the trees and campsites just upstream from the confluence with the Paria.

    And yes Jon the mud out there is incredible. You may think you’ve seen mud but that mud can be really special.

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