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Choosing Wisely in Monsoon Season

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Backcountry, Jul 17, 2018.

  1. Backcountry

    Backcountry

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    We were planning to do The Squeeze this weekend, but the heat and a fair chance of afternoon thunderstorms seems to make this a poor choice. I am thinking we can mitigate the flash flood risk by (1) selecting canyons with less flash flood potential, (2) starting and finishing earlier in the day, and (3) keeping our group size small so we can move quickly if necessary.

    I have applied for Mystery canyon because I believe the slot sections are not too long and we could start and finish early. Other options include Wonderland, Nighthawk, Pleiades, or a combination of Zero G, North Fork of Iron Wash, & Eardley.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on how to minimize flash flood risk (besides staying at home), or good choices for canyoneering this Saturday?
  2. W.B.

    W.B.

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    Starting early, sure but unstable air can drop precip really quickly and it doesn't wait for the afternoon . I've been in Mystery when it flashed. Approximately 3 or 4 minutes after the rain started it was sheeting down the walls in the narrow canyon in a flow about a quarter-inch thick. Flow started rising and quickly everything was wet. I was fine, had a bailout where I waited out the rise. But if I had gotten injured or had a problem...

    I do not recommend rolling the dice with the monsoon. 4 or more inches of water dumped right on top of you often has bad consequences. Stuff starts falling off walls along with the water. It's just a very high risk option and not all risks are mitigable.
  3. Alias_Rice

    Alias_Rice

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    If you're set on the Swell, both KR and Quandary are much better bets than The Squeeze. Much smaller drainages, shorter canyons and lots of escapes. Twice I've been at the airstrip and pulled the plug on Squeeze trips due to iffy weather. Both of those trips our bailout canyon was Quandary.
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  4. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Ray's Tavern. Pool tables in the back... http://www.raystavern.com/home.html?utm_source=UtahDotCom&utm_medium=link

    But seriously - there are a few canyons that do not have much flash flood risk, but only a few. Boundary in Zion, for example. Mystery is lowER risk, despite Mr. Bees getting caught there. I would offer Keyhole in Zion because it only takes 45 minutes to do... but it is too soon to suggest that one.

    Tom
  5. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    The weather reports (projections, predictions, guesses, WAGs) during the Monsoon season are particularly poor. I don't have stats to back this up, just observations around Zion in the last couple of years, which have featured aggressive Monsoon seasons. So be sure to study the weather predictions, but don't take them too seriously, or, not the best way to say it. They are only a guess, don't bet more than you are willing to lose on them.

    Tom
  6. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    Eardley has high flash flood danger because it is a long drainage with a bunch of side drainages draining into it. It drains a huge area and is a lot more dangerous than the other ones on your list. I would not consider it with a bad forecast.

    I haven't done Nighthawk or Wonderland, but with a bad forecast I wouldn't do the others on your list either. Why risk it?

    I still wouldn't do those either, though they aren't as dangerous as say, Eadley Canyon. Still, a flash flood in Quandary has killed and there are sections you wouldn't want to get caught in.

    We canceled Pleiades because of flash flood danger this weekend. Instead we did Bull Canyon (north of Moab), Medieval Chamber, and Fins and Things since all three should be reasonably safe when it rains. Those were the only ones I could think of that I would feel safe with the given weather forecast. None of those canyons are slots (Fins and Things does have a tiny slot) and all have plenty of escapes from flood waters. There is water in them so they are still reasonable in summer.

    If it doesn't rain the weather is hot, but in Bull Canyon you have to swim the Colorado, so you want hot weather. Once you exit Medieval Chamber and the rappel at the arch, Grandstaff Canyon/Negro Bill has springs to soak in, so it is reasonably good to do in hot weather. Fins and Things ends at Mill Creek, which has many swimming holes and some waterfalls. It is a good one in hot weather.

    This time of year it will either be hot or flooding, so you have to choose wisely when it comes to canyon.

    Also, consider hiking up canyons such as Grandstaff or Mill Creek from the bottom. There shouldn't be flash flood danger in those.

    Dominguez near Grand Junction is another nice one.

    In Zion, hiking up some of the drainages that aren't slots, but that still have some water in them to cool off in might be good. You could hike down to La Verkin Creek too or the forks of Timber or Taylor Creek.

    The Box of Pine Creek in Escalante might be good. It isn't a slot, but it has running water and the high elevation keeps things cool. You could also hike the Escalante River itself between Escalante and Calf Creek. Calf Creek is good in summer and I have seen that one in a flash flood. It was actually pretty neat with waterfalls spilling off the cliffs all over the place. Coyote Gulch is OK (but not ideal) in summer because of all the water and would probably be safe in a flood.

    Tom, I haven't done Boundary, but why would it have low flash flood danger?
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2018
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  7. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    That section of the Park is closed at the moment.

    The drainage for Boundary is small, and luxurious in vegetation. A thunderstorm hitting that could be dangerous by knocking rocks off the tall walls, but a 'flash flood' is unlikely. (That the canyon below the rappels is also lush with vegetation is also an indicator that it rarely if ever "goes big".)

    One could say the same for Kolob Creek, but of the two, Boundary would have a lesser flash flood footprint.

    I would say the same for Pleiades. I have not analyzed the drainage, but on my only visit there, the place is lush with vegetation = absorbant.

    Tom
  8. Ibarro

    Ibarro

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    I'm also very interested in this. Do most people here just tap out of doing canyons altogether during July/August? Or is it more a case of making a concerted effort to be out by, say, midday (assuming morning forecast is fine)?

    In terms of canyons and flash flood dangers/overall risk, would I be right in thinking Benson Creek is a lower risk, Birch Hollow maybe a slightly higher risk, and Egypt 3 and Baptist Draw higher risk again? With a good forecast, would folk still tackle these in summer?

    Also, what are people's particular strategies for checking weather? I've seen links to NOAA pages but the radar only seems to show 1 hour ahead of time?
  9. deathtointernet

    deathtointernet

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    I would consider Benson Creek to have a very high risk of flash flooding now. Yes, the canyon itself is short, but with the entire drainage above the canyon burned off, it is subject to very fast and very heavy flash floods/mudflows from fairly small amounts of rain. And that has been happening the last two weeks, several storms have really hit that area hard. I'm not saying it can't be done if you've got a window of good weather, I'm just saying not to screw around with that one. Burn scars make for huge floods.

    Monsoons are not a "forget it, no canyons until fall" kind of thing, at least not for me, because it's not a continuous series of thunderstorms for three months. But sometimes yes, you just have to say "forget it" for a bit. You might get into a week of storms every afternoon, or maybe two weeks, but then you might get a break for a few days or a week. I think the key thing for monsoons is to be flexible... like Tom mentioned earlier they are increasingly difficult to predict. As such you might have a forecast that looks great and then falls apart the night before, and you just have to accept it and move on to something else. Obviously you know certain canyons are "better" in case something unpredictable happens; canyons that are heavily vegetated in the drainage above, canyons that are short in terms of commitment, and also in terms of being able to see the entire drainage that is at risk, canyons that have possible exit routes. Always good to do canyons you've done before so you are familiar with exactly what the risks are and what challenges you will face. But yeah, I'd definitely say the single most important part of canyoneering in the summer is to have the right attitude and be willing to hike all the way into a canyon and yet turn around if it doesn't feel right. I've done it myself a few times, and sometimes that was the right thing to do, and sometimes that cost me a fun day in a canyon that turned out to be totally safe in the end, but no reason to regret any choice that made sure you'd be alive to try again other better conditions.
  10. Backcountry

    Backcountry

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    Thank you so much for the feedback. Attached is an interesting chart and article about risk from the Utah avalanche center. https://utahavalanchecenter.org/blog-what-risk-riding-avalanche-terrain

    The point is that there is some risk in everything we do and we must determine our own level of acceptable risk every day. Would I do Keyhole with blue skies & a 40% chance of raIn? Personally, I would probably accept that risk if I had a solid fast group. Many would strongly disagree.

    I think it depends on length of canyon, difficulty of canyon, narrowness & bailout options, time of day, group size, experience, ability & speed. Also, if I am the leader I have added responsibility compared to a group of equals.

    I spent an extra day in Death Hollow waiting out an unexpected downpour & flash flood. It was an awesome experience with little danger because it is easy to get out of the narrows & find shelter in that canyon. I would gladly accept that risk again.

    As for this weekend, I have a list of possibilities from greater to lesser risk (from Imlay to Ray’s) and I will make a final decision at the last minute.
  11. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    No. Egypt 3 would be way too hot in summer. Baptist Draw is a little cooler, but if it's dry it will be hot. if it's not dry it can be a pain. Upper Chute and Baptist see a lot of mud, rather than sand when it is wet. It can make the up-climbs much harder. I was surprised how different the difficulty of those two canyons were wet vs. dry. The same is true of Music Canyon as well. All those tend to be easy when dry, but when filled with mud they can be challenging.
  12. Tom Collins

    Tom Collins

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    I try to head over to Ouray during the Monsoons for some class c canyons. You still have to watch the weather, and a heavy storm can still be dangerous, but since the ground is dirt, not sandstone it absorbs the rain a little better and you're less likely to get the wall of death coming down a canyon and you're likely to have a little more warning when something bad is coming. The canyons can still flash so its not a guarantee of safety, but a storm is less likely to be deadly than if the same one hit a sandstone slot in Utah.
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  13. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    Baptist Draw itself has a modest drainage, but when you get to Chute Canyon, you have a rather extensive catchbasin above you. Chute is rough enough (huge boulders in places) that getting down Chute when it is flowing might be challenging.

    And yes on the mud... Many canyons in the swell can be really goopy when wet, and they hold the wet for a while, being clay minerals.

    Tom
  14. Ibarro

    Ibarro

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    Ah, I didn't know that about Benson Creek (I live in the UK and the forums are pretty much my best place to find out what's going on with conditions etc). We've certainly done the whole 'hike the entire way up and then turn round at the last moment' in the past, on Fry Canyon - its just a bit more depressing when you're flown thousands of miles out there though and can't get back to them again anytime soon!

    My concern with Egypt 3 had indeed been the length of the commitment - although perhaps, being rap-free [we won't do the optional rap] it might be possible to navigate through there more quickly if necessary. I think we'll be okay heat-wise, we did some (tame) slots in Death Valley in hotter weather, but will make sure we're loaded up on liquids.

    I've seen one route (I can't link it due to my having less than 6 posts here but its the Road Trip Ryan guide) for Baptist Draw that doesn't exit via Chute Canyon but instead takes a short exit - presume this would make Baptist Draw a safer bet?

    Anyone care to share their weather strategies - particular satellite images/sites they're using, are you just standing at the entrance and looking at the westward sky, etc?

    I'd love to know where canyoneering might place on that risk chart.
  15. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    When you do the final Baptist Draw rap into Chute Canyon, you can go UP Chute or DOWN Chute. The UP route is shorter. People go both ways; people also get stymied going both ways by icky icky pools and/or hard upclimbs or downclimbs.

    And just to be clear, Baptist Draw is a lame canyon. Certainly not worth wasting a day if you came from afar. Good as a half-day get-away canyon, but other than that...

    Tom
  16. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    Combined with Chute (especially up canyon), it's a really good route, at least in my opinion. Upper Chute is one of the deepest and darkest slots in the region.

    [​IMG]
  17. Christian Felger

    Christian Felger

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    I mitigate risk by not just looking at forecast but by watching radars and being in the area itself. On top of that I only do very short canyons or canyons that I know have possible escape routes, or higher ground outsude of the watercourse. I dont think now is a good time to do canyons you are unfamiliar with unless there is 0% of storms (uncommon).

    Sent from my SM-G955U using Tapatalk
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  18. deathtointernet

    deathtointernet

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    Yeah, some guy decided to burn half of the Brianhead area down last summer. The Benson Creek technical canyon escaped but the entire drainage above it did not and now a good portion of the soil and rocks and whatnot is in the process of rapidly migrating from up there to parts down below. It really is a very short window of exposure, but if anything happens it'll happen quick and big.

    Standing at the entrance to a canyon and looking around is always a good idea, silly as it might sound. Forecasts and reality don't always have to agree. Also helpful to be in a canyon where you can frequently check the surrounding area, and to have a small enough drainage that doing so tells you something. I once descending Misery in the remnants of a hurricane and felt pretty safe about it because a.) it's a series of narrows frequently broken by open areas that allowed me to check the sky and escape if need be, and b.) checking the sky gave me a pretty good idea of what was happening, as opposed to a canyon with forty miles of watershed (also it had more water than I've ever seen in it and it was awesome!!!).

    I have several different weather apps on my phone, and I'll tend to check them all and see what the common theme is. Some, like the NOAA forecast, tend to be a bit more pessimistic in their forecasting. I've used sites like mountain-forecast.com to get some ideas of rainfall totals. But you do have to recognize that some of the forecasts can be pretty much wild guesses in particular when it comes to remote canyons that have no cities or weather stations anywhere near them. The forecast you might be getting could be for the nearest city... which on the Colorado Plateau might be fifty miles away and totally irrelevant. A 20% or 30% chance is normal for monsoon season, and doesn't sound like a lot until one of those powerful cells stalls over you. 40% or more is indicative of a nastier-than-usual monsoon forecast and, for me, is pretty much an automatic kill on any canyon plans. I've seen canyons flash under a 10% precipitation forecast. Some of it, I'm sorry to say, is just experience with the area. Remember that Keyhole disaster, the news showed a photo the group had taken showing mostly blue skies. The news meant it as "it looked safe!" but I took one look at that photo and the way the clouds were around the West Temple made my skin crawl... it was just wrong. I could look at that and say something is going to happen today. Coming from overseas you don't have that knowledge base so erring on the side of caution is a great idea.

    Like I said earlier, you can get lengthy windows in the monsoon where the current moisture has dissipated and the next round hasn't come up yet. But there's no way to predict that with any certainty until it gets close. Once the storms set up they tend to create self-perpetuating cycles, where the moisture on the ground is burned off by the hot weather, which saturates the air and sets up the high-powered thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening, which leaves moisture on the ground, etc. If the day starts off hot and humid (which in the desert is a pretty low bar, 20% humidity is considered muggy here), that means the fuel is in the system to create some powerful storms.

    As far as Egypt 3 goes... I know I personally don't like the idea of being in a canyon that narrow with a risk of flooding. You can escape it at several areas but for a lot of it there would be no safe areas. And as far as the risk in canyoneering... statistically of course you are much more likely to die driving to the canyon (especially if you spend any time driving through Saint George :D). But things definitely can go wrong, and it amazes me with some of the things I see that many more people aren't killed all the time. I don't have the raw numbers to back me up, but I seem to recall seeing that the chance of death in canyoneering is higher than in climbing if adjusted for the amount of people participating in each. It's also lower than BASE jumping, so there's that. The thing about canyoneering is that almost all of the accidents that have resulted in death were avoidable with better decision making. High risk is not generally something that should be inherent to canyoneering. Risk is added by people making decisions to add it, whether knowingly or not. Obviously it's up to you to decide what risk you are comfortable adding. So far this canyoneering season I've been pretty proud of us for not having any major disasters/rescues, and I would certainly like to see it stay that way.
  19. Scott Patterson

    Scott Patterson

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    Unless you jumar up the ropes, I don't think any such route exists.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2018
  20. yetigonecrazy1

    yetigonecrazy1

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    Agreed that going down Baptist and then back up Upper Chute is an awesome day of canyoning. It might be a popular route and might not be the hardest or most insane but a day spent doing that loop is a day I will always consider well worth it.

    81- Slot.JPG
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