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Salt Lake City men evacuated from India monsoon floods

Published June 24, 2013 3:33 pm

Travel • Group was trekking through northwestern India when torrential rains struck.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Two Salt Lake City men trekking through remote villages in northern India helped stranded residents there seek safety among the region's worst flooding in 80 years, said Edwin Wall, one of the men's fathers, on Monday.

Utah natives Alex Wall and Bowen Humphreys, both 22, were high in the mountains in Uttarakhand state when torrential rains struck recently. The resulting flooding and landslides have killed perhaps a thousand people and stranded many more, according to Indian reports.

Alex Wall's group was on its last leg of a trek through the remote Himalayan villages when the monsoon struck. Roads and bridges were washed out and the Indian government declared a national crisis.

An email Alex Wall sent his parents Friday detailed the group's tracks through the mountains, and eventually to safety:

"We began hiking back to Milam, hoping to remain there until the government managed to fix the bridges. On the way, not two kilometers north of Toling, where the bridge crossing the river to Rilkot […] had also been destroyed. There was another bridge upstream that we tried to repair, but the logs we fetched, though about twenty feet long, couldn't reach the other side."

The men, both of whom have extensive wilderness and outdoor medicine training, were hiking the more than 10 miles from Rilkot to Milam, more storms on the way, when they were found by an Indo-Tibetan Border Police troops that had been dispatched to rescue the group of Americans, Alex Wall wrote.

"Basically, we got an army escort back to Milam, got fed and sheltered, and were able to exit the following day via [Indian Air Force] helicopter."

The Salt Lake families said Monday they aren't nervous when their sons are trekking the perilous regions. The men were rescued, but Ed Wall made clear they were trained for the situation. Humphreys is an Eagle Scout, and Alex Wall took a Himalayan backpacking course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) three years ago.

"Because he was prepared, he ended up in a situation where he was not in trouble, but rather made intelligent and competent moves and was able to assist" in helping the villagers, the father said. "They bring with them years of not only outdoor experience, but years of developing leadership techniques and wilderness techniques."

Indian media have reported food, water and medicine shortages, with The Hawk newspaper saying the army had evacuated thousands of residents after landslides and mass flooding ravaged the area.

Uttarakhand is home to 10.1 million people, and authorities expect the death toll in the monsoon-struck region to rise after the weather clears and searches continue.

Two others on the India trip, Eddie Simon from Minneapolis, and Max Kaniger from Kansas City, also have experience with NOLS.

tanderson@sltrib.com

Twitter: TaylorWAnderson