Surviving An Unexpected Flash Flood In The Narrows

Dec 16, 2013

Greer Chesher and Barb Graves discuss life as rangers in Zion National Park

Former Zion National Park Ranger Greer Chesher talks with Barb Graves. Chesher recalls her experience surviving a flash flood in the Zion Narrows.

We hiked from Russell Gulch down into the [Narrows]. There were about six of us park rangers, all women except one.

But we hiked in there- we had a lot of rapelling to do. The weather report was fine. We were on a rappel, I was the first one over, and it was maybe 20 feet or something like that.

And so I took off my pack and set it on the canyon floor. The canyon is only about 10 feet wide, you could touch wall to wall, but about 1,500 feet deep. Just these straight canyon walls, like you're in a room. A hallway, a really deep hallway.

So I was on this rappel, I get down, take off my pack and I look up the rope at the next person who's coming down and my eyes just kept coursing up along the canyon walls until I saw the sky, which was black as night.

I just went, 'RUN!' and I ran. I turned around and ran. I put my pack back on, and ran down the canyon, because I knew we had to find a place out of there, a way out.

It felt like I had abandoned everyone on the repel. I thought, they can get down the rappel, I have to find a place to stay where we can fit all of us.

So I ran down canyon about 100 feet, a little more maybe. Came to a pour-off, another waterfall. There was no water in the creek at that time, so we call them pour-offs when they're dry.

But I came to this pour-off that was like another rappel, and I was like, 'I can't go any farther down canyon, we're stuck here.'

On [one] side of me, the canyon was just like a wall, just straight up 1,500 feet. And I looked the other way and there was a rock fall going up, that had broke in the canyon wall. So I ran up the rock fall, and as I was going up, it just... the heavens unleashed. The sky opened, and the ocean came down. I mean it was pelting, hard, pouring rain. I almost couldn't make it up the rock fall because it became so slippery with water.

Then I looked down and saw the next person come up and look over the pour-off, and I called down to them and said, 'Up here!' That person came up, and we eventually got all six of us on this tiny ledge that was about a foot wide. Then we actually got separated because the other ranger and I went forward to see if we could get out of the canyon, which we couldn't, and we got separated from the other four because a waterfall came over the lip of the canyon at that point, between us.

So we spent the night a little bit down canyon. They spent the night up there on that ledge, and it was a miserable night. I thought I was going to die.

The biggest flood I've ever seen came through that canyon. There was stuff coming down off the walls- rocks and trees, breaking off and falling next to us. These big rocks just thudding into the ground.

When the water came over that pour-off that I had stopped at, which was 15 feet or so, it went straight out. It didn't dribble over the falls, it just shot straight out. It was impressive, and it made me realize no one would have survived if we hadn't gotten up.

We happened to be just in the one place in the canyon that you could get out.