Iceberg Canyon Flash Flood

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Nick

Spiral out.
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Here is a video of the amazing ice-filled flash flood we experienced this past weekend in Iceberg Canyon. This was our 3rd day of the trip. We had just finished hiking to the top of the canyon when this storm hit. The flood was so strong that about 300 yards of what had been the lake turned into full rapids. It flushed the water level down to the point that most of my boat was sitting on dirt! And then all of the ice built up so thick that we couldn't get out of the canyon until the next day. Totally unreal experience.

Enjoy!

Edit: Click here to skip down to a more detailed description of the event.


Some detail shots of the flowing hail:

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A couple more pics...

Pano of the flood looking up canyon
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This boat was able to get out from the adjacent canyon. Another boat came behind it and got stuck for an hour or so. He was out there shoveling hail out of the way with what looked like a wakeboard or something. He'd get clear and then get going and get stuck again.
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EDIT: More photos
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Kayaking up lake after the flood mostly stopped. You can still see the big waterfalls in the distance.
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Featured image for home page:
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slc_dan

Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior
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wild stuff man! I wouldn't be surprised to see some of this footage picked up by one of the news channels.
 
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Nick

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Yep. We also saw another boat when we were leaving that got pretty damaged by flooding. Panels all bent up, seats ripped open, bimini missing and one pontoon taking on water. We really got lucky.

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Thinking about the Crystal Springs flood that destroyed those people's boats made me think about the relative size of the various catch basins and how much it takes any given drainage to flood. I drew up a rough estimate of what that particular fork of Iceberg Canyon catches based on topography. It's pretty small really. Large in relation to Iceberg's other forks, but tiny compared to so many other canyons. It's just crazy to think that if you applied the same math that caused this flood to more typical drainages, how crazy it could really get. I mean, it only rained for maybe an hour at most and this happened.

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Vegan.Hiker

I'd hike that
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That's some amazing footage. Nice job capturing it while staying safe.
 

Jammer

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A-freaking-mazing! Really, that's so incredible.

I can't believe there have been so many crazy storms already this year. The ice is especially unique though.
 

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DrNed

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If this flood was the result of only 1 hour of rain / hail is this something that happens regularly? When compared to the damaged boat, we're you just lucky or did you see the storm coming and got to a better location?

I love the shots looking up canyon with the clouds pouring in!
 

Nick

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If this flood was the result of only 1 hour of rain / hail is this something that happens regularly? When compared to the damaged boat, we're you just lucky or did you see the storm coming and got to a better location?

I love the shots looking up canyon with the clouds pouring in!
Good questions. I should have gone into more detail. I was maybe a little excited to get the video up.

Yes, this flood is the result of only an hour or so of rain and in a relatively small drainage. It had sprinkled a bit a few hours earlier but then it was hot and sunny until this one came. I think when it comes to the monsoon season, anything like this could happen, but since this was part of a decaying tropical storm (Andres), there was even more potential for crazy stuff to happen.

I've read on FB and other sites that people thought we were careless, not concerned enough, or that we should have been more panicked or something. When we chose that campsite, we were thinking of floods coming. The lake still had close to 300 yards before it ended around a couple of bends. I honestly wouldn't have thought that the flood would be so large as to push this far into the lake at that kind of speed. That part definitely surprised me. Definitely a learning experience! I was thinking more just about keeping out of the immediate head of the canyon and any waterfalls that might pour onto us.

When we first saw that wall of water coming down the canyon we definitely freaked out a bit. We thought about pulling anchors and getting out of there, but we weighed the choices and opted to stay put. The eddy forming behind the boat seemed like it would protect it from the direct impact from debris. I also felt that the channel would be deep enough and wide enough to hold it in, or if it did come across the bench our camp was on, not so much as to to catastrophic damage. As it ramped up even harder as the sky cleared, I definitely kept a very close eye on that back wall and the water level. Fortunately it stayed low but it did eat up a ton of our land. I'd bet 10-15 feet of beach washed away as it calved into the flood.

I feel pretty good about all of the decisions we made. Yes, we were lucky in many ways and yes it could have been so much worse, but I always felt like I had a plan to implement if it did get worse. There was plenty of high ground to get to and we watched the water closely. We kept two of the dogs locked up in the boat until the water subsided enough because I didn't trust them to stay back far enough.

In retrospect, one of the things that scares me a lot from this day is the hike I had just come back from. We knew that afternoon was going to be dicey, so we took advantage of some good weather and hiked to the top of the canyon. It took longer than expected and by the time we were headed back, a huge black storm was looming on the horizon back toward camp. I hiked my butt off trying to get back there in time. It started raining lightly en route, then we hopped in the kayak and paddled the last few hundred yards and made it back to the boat as the rain started to pickup. My wife had been there watching the boat and listening to the weather radio reporting golf ball sized hail in Escalante and major storms in the area. If the flood had hit before we got back, we would have been okay up canyon. There were safe nooks we could have hid in, but leaving my wife to get through that storm alone would have been terrible. And not being able to get back down there for several hours too. Hopefully we all would have made good choices, but being split up in that situation would have been awful.
 

regehr

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The calving sand was definitely scary. But clearly you could have weathered a far larger flood by climbing the talus slopes. Did you have an exit plan if your boat got washed away?
 

Nick

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The calving sand was definitely scary. But clearly you could have weathered a far larger flood by climbing the talus slopes. Did you have an exit plan if your boat got washed away?
Yes and no. If it really did get washed away, we would have been a little screwed. But by the next day it would have been easy to wave someone down out in the main part of the canyon, or even go swim for it in the ice patch once the flow slowed. That would have been hypothermia-inducing though. The water temp dropped to 34˚ behind the boat!

That was pretty much the last hoorah for that storm system and we knew it, so I wasn't too concerned about potentially having to sit out on those rocks all night if it came down to it. But that was all just back of mind stuff that didn't ever seem like it would happen, and I'm so glad it didn't. It would have taken a flood many times larger to actually cover the beach we were on AND keep flowing as deep and strong as the channel was. I've gotta admit though, as those rapids grew bigger and bigger, I was getting a little worried. If that rain had gone another hour it could have been a whole different story.
 

Kullaberg63

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Without reading your follow up commentary I still thought it looked like a fairly safe situation (for adventurous types!!), where the right decisions regarding anchorage, streamflow, waterfalls etc, had been made.

Internet audience is quick to judge and comment.
 

Nick

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http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/hiking/2614251-155/video-iceberg-in-utah-desert-flash

More publicity for you. Looks like the journalist writing the article didn't get the part that you were boating and on a small hike away from the boat when it hit.
Yeah, I talked to her on the phone yesterday about it. She hadn't been to Lake Powell so I had to explain the boat camping concept. I think she got it right, but definitely emphasized the hiking more than the boat camping aspect. It was a very hiking-centric trip we were on though.
 

JSDez23

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May 7, 2012
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Wow!!! That is amazing footage Nick. Glad you were all safe in the end and able experience such an amazing event. This has been an incredibly active flash flood period for this early in the season. I am in awe of all the various footage I've seen recently. Wow..
 

Artemus

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Wild! Did you see any dead bodies floating down? Did Underscore, @slc_dan , encounter flooding while hiking to you guys?
 

Nick

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No bodies that I saw, @langutah, but we did find a live and very angry rattlesnake in some flood debris the next day (after swimming with it). Dan didn't get the same flooding, but he did get hit by the hail up there on the Waterpocket Fold. I just posted the full trip report from this trip, including our pickup of old underscore here: http://backcountrypost.com/threads/iceberg-canyon.4780/
 

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