20 hikers rescued in Moab-area canyon after storm drops month’s worth of water in minutes

Rescuers came to the aid of hikers at Grandstaff Canyon after an intense storm hit the area.

A severe thunderstorm in the Moab area on Friday, June 21, triggered a multi-agency response to reports of flash flooding, downed power lines, road damage and stranded hikers. The storm dropped just under an inch of rain in 10 minutes — about a month’s worth of downfall.

Twenty people were rescued from Grandstaff Canyon by Grand County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue in a six-hour operation that ended after midnight, reads a social media post from SAR.

The original report indicated three people were stranded by high flood waters in Grandstaff Canyon. Rescuers hiked as far up the canyon as possible until they were blocked by high water. They were able to establish voice contact with the party that had called 911, and they also noticed lights farther up the canyon, reads the statement.

A drone with thermal capabilities was launched from the parking area and confirmed that there were 17 additional people trapped by the flood.

As a precaution, the Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter was requested in case people needed to be hoisted out of the canyon before the flood waters subsided sufficiently to permit a ground rescue. The hikers were reportedly wet and becoming cold and the threat of hypothermia was increasing.

(Grand County Search and Rescue) More than 20 people were rescued from Grandstaff Canyon.

At about 11 p.m., almost four-and-a-half hours after the original call, the water had receded enough to allow rescuers to safely cross the creek and establish a handline to assist in getting all of the stranded hikers across. Many of the hikers were without any source of light. They were all safely returned to the trailhead where they were checked by Grand County EMS, according to the post.

At almost the same time as the page for the Grandstaff Canyon incident, additional members of GCSAR were mobilized to determine if people might be trapped in the Mill Creek Canyon or Medieval Chamber areas. Rescuers were able to locate the occupants of all vehicles in the Mill Creek parking area. Before the drone was dispatched to the Grandstaff Canyon incident, it was used to confirm that there were no additional people trapped farther up Mill Creek. The drone was also used to check the Medieval Chamber canyoneering route.

Experts recommend always checking the weather forecast before your adventure. If there is rain, especially thunderstorms, in the forecast, do not enter canyons, washes or streambeds. Flash floods frequently occur during thunderstorms in our area. They can originate many miles away. Water levels rise extremely fast. Flash floods are often strong enough to carry dangerous debris such as trees and boulders.

As with any backcountry adventure, make sure to bring extra water, snacks, layers, light sources and an emergency satellite messaging device. Please remember that entering flood waters is a dangerous risk for everyone, rescuers included.