Out Live : Flooded
Backpacker|August 2017
Out Live : Flooded

Before we had time to pull our rope, a curtain of water exploded out of the slot canyon 300 feet above and crashed on top of us.

Tyler Vandermolen

It was 5 a.m. in late August, peak monsoon season in Utah, and there were thunderstorms in the forecast. That was normal for this time of year, but the weather had been mild lately. My brother had driven to St. George to visit, and the plan was to go canyoneering in Zion National Park with two other buddies. Our objective? Descend through Behunin Canyon. With nine big, beautiful drops, it’s a Zion classic.

By reading guide books and studying topo maps, we knew Behunin had a lower flash flood potential than many other canyons in the park because it collects water from a relatively small area. Unlike other canyons that can flash from a rainstorm miles away, Behunin requires an especially intense storm right overhead. For that reason, it’s a better rainy season option than most.

With blue skies in all directions, we approached Behunin via the West Rim Trail. We stopped at the top of the first rappel to discuss our options. Once we dropped in, there’d be no turning back. But stoke was high, and the weather looked good. We roped up.

It didn’t take long for us to see why the route is a classic. Rope length by rope length, we descended farther into a world of rust-colored rock. After the fourth rappel, we hit sandy floor, almost 550 feet from the canyon rim. The sun was shining, and everything was going as planned. We didn’t see a single cloud until the sixth rappel, but even then the sky didn’t seem all that threatening. We only had three more drops to go, so we took our time to savor the beauty.

Finally, we made it to the big payoff, a 300-foot, two-stage rappel with Zion’s entire panorama spread out before us. We had been in a narrow slot with a limited view of the sky for hours, but now we could finally see the bigger picture: thick, black rainclouds sweeping across the landscape. And headed right toward us.

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August 2017