Exploring the backcountry comes with its own set of risks: emergency care is often far away, cell phone coverage is rare, and the natural elements can be unpredictable. This risk is often what draws people to wild places, but some natural disasters are so risky that you should make every effort to avoid being caught out in them. Here are tips for avoiding four natural disasters and advice for how to get through to the other side if you are swept up in an unexpected event.
Whether you’re canyoneering in a slot canyon or rafting a river that flows through a canyon, flash floods can be a major concern. These sudden and powerful flooding events are usually caused by strong thunderstorms that drop a large amount of rain in a short time. They occur more frequently in canyons because the dry soil in the desert can’t absorb the water fast enough and the resulting flow gets trapped by the high walls of rock. In narrow canyons, the water gets funneled into such thin areas that the depth and speed of the water can increase exponentially in as little as 15 minutes.
The best step to prevent being caught in a flash flood is to learn about the canyon’s history and to study the weather forecast. Some canyons have watersheds many miles away, which means that flash floods can occur under bluebird skies. It can take several hours or even a day before any sign of a recent rainstorm is seen in certain canyons. Learn the weather patterns of the area: thunderstorms usually develop in patterns, often forming in spring and summer afternoons. If there’s a hint of a storm in the forecast, choose a different adventure.
If you get caught in a canyon during a flash flood, don’t try to outrun the water. Instead, try to climb to higher ground. Some canyons have escape ladders installed and alarm horns near the fee booths. On multi-day trips, choose camping sites that are above previous flood levels, which are usually indicated by dried run-out and discoloration.
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