Not the Adventure We Planned

I thought climbing a mountain would be the biggest hiking accomplishment of this trip. Today I was proven wrong, but I hope that I’m correct to say that our biggest accomplishment was staying alive while hiking Arches NP. I don’t think we can handle an experience any more intense than this one.

Z&E at Pine Tree Arch
Z&E at Pine Tree Arch

We wanted to get an early start on the day, so we left Montrose at 6:30 to make it to Arches early (it’s about a 3 hour drive). There was a bit of rain in Colorado that seemed to clear as we entered Utah. After arriving we checked the radar and saw patchy rain, checked the sky and saw some scattered storms on the horizon, then made the decision to go ahead and hike the Devil’s Garden. We encountered a few light sprinkles in the first mile or so as we took in the sight of Pine Tree Arch, Landscape Arch, and a few others.  About a mile into the primitive trail we explained to the girls that we were actually hiking in a dry river bed that could fill up with water when it rained.

Posing in a dry river bed
Posing in a dry river bed

Soon thereafter, it began to rain. I’d been aware of what a flash flood means out west.  I’d heard stories of how quickly river can rise from stormwater falling even miles away. It was (how many times have I said this?) absolutely amazing to see it in person. Within seconds of the skies opening into a downpour above us the dry riverbeds became a stead stream.  Within two minutes there were rivers. At the time the rain began we had been descending deeper into a canyon.  We made the decision to move a bit off the trail, out of the river, and under a tree.

There we debated the three possibilities: continue deeper into the canyon, turn around, and stay put. We quickly ruled out continuing further down as we watched the intensity of the river continuing to grown by the minute. As we discussed the remaining options a group of Geology majors from The University of Minnesota Duluth came up the trail and told us about their experience with chest high water lower down.  We decided our best move was to join them and seek even higher ground.

Soon we came to what can only be described as a raging white water river. We had picked up another group of hikers by this time who looked just as nervous as us about making the crossing. Several of the students organized themselves into a human chain across the river, and I jumped in to join them. Zoe, Ellie, Molly, and several other hikers were successful passed across as we stood our ground against the current.

As we triumphantly made our way back to the trailhead we bonded over the experience and shared stories of our recent and future travels.

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Survivors of the Arches Flash Flood

Sopping wet we gave up on hiking the Devil’s Garden. We did manage a couple quick and touristy hikes to The Windows and Balanced Rock.

At The Windows
At The Windows

The rest of the day was a flurry of laundramat, grocery store, swimming at the hotel, and yet another great dinner (with beer). We’re all especially thankful E got a chance to swim as the social/free time seems to have improved her mood significantly after a rough couple days.

Sadly, all the recent rain in the area will make our planned trip to Horseshoe Canyon tomorrow impossible. I guess we have a reason to come back. Our plans are a bit up in the air, but we hope to see the Upheaval Dome at Canyonlands and some of the highlights of Capital Reef.

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