water dangers

Listed below are the two articles from the Salt Lake Tribune about the drowning death of a young girl in the Black Hole of White Canyon. Thanks to Brian Cabe for sending these my way.

Flood Sweeps Away Teen
Waters Overtake Highland Hikers In Scenic Canyon
By Phil Mueller
The Salt Lake Tribune, September 16, 1996

BLANDING -- Search and rescue teams probed pools of water in the remote San Juan County White Canyon and found the body of Highland teen-ager Tanya Humpheries late Sunday afternoon -- about 24 hours after friends and family watched her fall into boiling flood waters and wash downstream.

Humpheries was hiking with 12 other adults and teens from several Highland families when the fatal accident occurred, according to San Juan County Sheriff's officials.

A search for the girl continued from early Sunday morning until her body was found about 10 miles west of Natural Bridges National Monument or 63 miles west of Blanding.

San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy said Tanya, her father ``T.J.'' and a sister and two brothers were in the group that planned on walking through a unique slot canyon called ``The Black Hole.''

Six of the adults and teen-agers had crossed over the water while it was still ankle deep. One of the group, 13-year-old Sam Kernal said, ``As we were going to cross, the water began rising quickly.''

The first six were trying to help the other seven make it across the water.

Lacy, the sheriff, says the dead girl was trying to cross to the north side of the canyon. ``She had a life jacket on and the others tied several jackets together in a chain for her to hold onto.''

Apparently one of the jackets slipped from the chain and the girl fell into the rapidly rushing water -- churned up by flash flooding in the area.

Others in the group say she managed to get on a rock only to have a large log -- swept by the water down the canyon -- hit the rock and knock her into the water. ``They saw her bob to the surface twice downstream and then disappear,'' Lacy said. That was about 3 p.m. Saturday.

The remaining six -- on the south side of the canyon -- were trapped on a ledge, waiting for the waters to recede. Overnight, the six crossed the water and hiked out, showing up at the search camp about 7 a.m. Sunday.

The six who initially made it across the canyon hiked out and alerted authorities at nearby Hite Marina at Lake Powell on Saturday night.

Lacy, who was called to the scene about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, said 25 members of the San Juan County search and rescue unit, including rope rescue specialists, combed the canyon from early Sunday morning until Humpheries' body was found.

The search team attempted a search Saturday night, but conditions were too dark and dangerous, according to the sheriff. A search helicopter from the Arizona Department of Public Safety flew the canyon about 3 a.m. Sunday, its crew using special night vision goggles, but found nothing.

Midafternoon Sunday, six dog search teams from American Search and Rescue of Salt Lake City joined the search effort.

Humpheries' father joined the San Juan County rescue team and searched the canyon rim on Sunday. Members of the hiking group said they were unaware that flash-flood warnings had been issued for the Blanding area and most of San Juan County early Saturday morning and didn't know heavy rains had fallen in the area Thursday and Friday.

Lacy said White Canyon and the ``Black Hole,'' a side canyon, is ``the worst area to have to do a search in.''

``We just talked about strategy for a search here in a recent [search and rescue unit] training meeting,'' the sheriff said.

Mike Evans and his family have lived two houses from the Humpheries in Highland for the past six years. He said Sunday night he will remember Tanya as a former foreign exchange student to Germany who was happy and loved family activities.

``I was just always really impressed with the unity they had in their family,'' he said. ``They were one of the strongest families I know, loving and supportive of each other.''

Tanya was 16 years old, the oldest of the Humpheries children.

``She seemed to enjoy walking. She was always out in the neighborhood walking and smiling at everyone. She seemed to brighten everyone's day with her smile.''

Evans said news the girl was missing cast a pall over meetings of the Highland LDS 11th Ward on Sunday.

``There were a lot of sad hearts in the neighborhood today, that's for sure,'' he said. ``A better neighbor you could never ask for.''

John Miller, band director at American Fork High school, said Tanya played the sousaphone in the school's marching band. ``She was one of the stars of the band -- always happy, always bubbly. She just picked up the instrument and learned to play it.''

San Juan County search and rescue Commander Deputy Bill King identified the survivors in the first group across the water as:

Barry Watts, 30; Gary Vawdrey, 29; Melissa Neilson, 15; Austin Humpheries, 13; and Curtis and Jacob Humpheries, both 16.

Those who were trapped overnight are J. Humpheries, 40; Nanwelte Watts, 30; Tadiara Vawdrey, 28; Sam Kernal, 13; Autumn Humpheries, 15; and Sabrina Shilder, 15. All were from Highland.

Tribune staff writer Hilary Groutage contributed to this report.

 Girl's Death May Bring About Hiking Permit System.
By Vince Horiuchi and Tom Wharton
The Salt Lake Tribune, September 17, 1996 

The death of 16-year-old Tanya Humphries in a remote southern Utah slot canyon Saturday demonstrates that even veteran hikers must prepare for the worst.

In the wake of this tragedy and others on the Colorado Plateau, federal officials say they may require hikers to acquire permits before entering the wilderness. And Utah officials say private irrigation companies may force the closure of some state parks and recreation areas due to fears about being sued.

For 13 hikers from Highland, Saturday's excursion was supposed to be a quiet, six-hour trek through the Black Hole, a deep, mile-long slot canyon near the upper end of Lake Powell. Wearing shorts, T-shirts, life preservers and fanny packs stuffed with food and drinks, the five adults and eight children got on the trail at 10 a.m.

``The sky was blue,'' said hiker Tamara Vawdrey. ``We felt safe. We had so many people who went in before that everyone knew about the area.''

But they didn't know that storm clouds hours before had spilled rain onto nearby slickrock, and that a wall of water was coming at them. And once you navigate a few drop offs in the Black Hole, it's nearly impossible to turn back -- unless you are a technical expert equipped with ropes and climbing gear.

The hikers suspected trouble when the ankle-deep water they had been walking in quickly rose to the knees. According to Vawdrey, they stopped for about an hour at a big boulder they called Hugging Rock to determine what to do.

``At this point the water wasn't really rushing,'' Vawdrey said. ``It wasn't bad. We weren't worried.''

Suddenly, though, the knee-deep water turned to a torrent, violently pushing everything in its path through the narrow walls of White Canyon. They realized they had to get to higher ground -- and that meant jumping off a platform of rocks, across the rush of water.

Six in the group made it. The remaining seven scrambled up the narrows to a ledge above the water. Tanya was the last in line. She lost her footing and slipped, falling into a cove filled with frigid water. Although Tanya was not in danger of being swept away, her companions worried about her getting hypothermia.

``We needed to take action, and do it now,'' Vawdrey said.

Vawdrey's husband, Gary, tied six life jackets with square knots. After five tries, he swung the makeshift rope to Tanya. She grabbed it and tried to pull herself up, but water pouring through another hole in the rocks pressed against her. Slowly, seams on the life jackets started to rip. The preservers tore apart. Tanya fell beyond the cove into the muddy maelstrom.

``T.J. [Tanya's father] was so helpless standing there watching his daughter,'' Vawdrey said. ``But by not jumping in, he was saving my life. He was saving all of our lives.''

The six hikers who had made it across the rush of water screamed that they were going for help. Stay put, they told their friends on the ledge. But later that night, Terrance Humphries decided those on the ledge had to move. It was simply too cold stay there. He used his hands to hoist them -- one by one -- to a little plateau.

``We got off that ledge . . . and hiked straight up the mountain,'' Vawdrey said.

Night fell and they decided to get out of the wind, seeking shelter in two tiny caves.

`He Didn't Cry': Lying on their life preservers, they shared an apple, an orange, a plum, two fruit bars and a two fruit drinks.

``He didn't cry,'' Vawdrey said of Humphries. ``He was handling the situation. We were counting on him to be the guide, and he kept his composure the whole time.''

When the sun cracked the desert plain Sunday morning, the group moved on. They made it to a road, and were picked up by a friend. On Monday, fresh volunteers were called out to help in the effort to retrieve Tanya's body. It was discovered about 2 p.m. Sunday, 900 feet downstream from where she was last seen. A helicopter is being used to ferry rescuers and equipment to the isolated location.

The Highland girl's death was the latest disaster on the Colorado Plateau.

Two Scout leaders drowned in July 1993 in the Kolob Canyon area near Zion National Park. In June, a Bountiful teen died of heat stroke in the Grand Canyon

``People have a great desire to go out and see these places,'' said Glenn Foreman, an information officer with the Utah office of the Bureau of Land Management, which manages narrow slot canyons in southern Utah. ``Our recreation specialists are concerned that people will not only hurt themselves, but others.

``We may have to look at using a permit system in order to educate people for their own safety and for the protection of the resource.''

Lawsuit Fears: Ted Stewart, the executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, said the Kolob disaster and the subsequent cost to settle a lawsuit have many small irrigation companies considering closing their reservoirs to recreation use. He cited Millsite State Park in Emery County as an example of a reservoir where the irrigation company no longer may allow use -- unless it can be protected from lawsuits.

Rural counties struggle to pay for the rescue of urban outdoor enthusiasts who become stranded in Utah's rugged backcountry.

Michael Kelsey, whose guide books on remote Utah hiking serve as a Bible for thousands of new backcountry explorers, warns hikers to avoid canyons such as the Black Hole when conditions are less than perfect. He underlines recommendations that hikers doing the Black Hole take life jackets, check weather conditions carefully and take two or three ropes.

A storm upstream from the Black Hole, for example, may not flood the area for 18 to 24 hours. Kelsey suggests hikers check with National Park Service rangers at Hite or Natural Bridges before walking into the Black Hole.

``Utahns have the got-to-do-the-hike syndrome,'' said veteran hiker Steve Lewis. ``They leave the Wasatch Front Friday night, get to the parking area Saturday morning, do the hike and get back home in time for Sunday services.''

That must-do attitude stems from making plans months in advance, Lewis said. But it can be dangerous.

Hiking Hazards: The first time Lewis attempted to hike the Black Hole, the temperature was in the low 80s, he had a slight cold and the skies were cloudy. He elected to not hike.

On another trek into the Black Hole, three of Lewis' companions became hypothermic due to frigid water conditions.

Such are the dangers of hiking in southern Utah's many slot canyons. Flash floods, lightning strikes, heat stroke, hypothermia and dehydration all claim lives.

By all accounts, the Highland party that went into the Black Hole was experienced.

``My husband and son had been on it before in the Scouts,'' said Terry Humphries, Tanya's mother. ``And in my Ward and my area, Black Hole is a popular area, and many have gone on the hike.''