I recently was interviewed by Fox 10 about my experiences in a flash flood during a seemingly easy hike. I wanted to give you all the full story without any News Embellishments.
First a little back story of why I was heading there, Havasupai is one of my favorite destinations in Arizona, no where else can you capture crystal clear aqua pools of travertine and huge waterfalls. As a professional photographer I had headed there after the last flood in 2008 and captured an amazing image! I was there on Sunday to out do myself with a new Canon 5d Mk3 and 16-35L V2 Lens!
Woke up Sunday 9/8/13 in Mesa at 3:00 am and after a quick stop to pick up some PAC Leaders we headed North to Supai. Skies were grey and a few sprinkles here and there but besides that it was very uneventful.
We arrived at the trailhead to Supai Village at 10:00 am and handed our gear off to Pack Horses to be hauled down to the campground.
10:40 am Then we were off and hiking!
11:39 am: Soon after hitting the dry wash (which IS the only trail) a small rain patch rolled through. Scott, Lori and I
took cover from the rain in a small cave. About 5 minutes later I heard the sound of water flowing so I ventured out in the rain to find the source. It was a pretty decent waterfall runoff behind us running into the wash. I then went to check out the wash and noticed some movement way upstream, it was water “snaking” down the middle of the sand. At this point I started recording with my Iphone 4s and we thought it was cool to see the beginnings of a flash flood (I compared it to being like seeing the end of a rainbow).
11:50 am: After about 5 minutes, the small snaking “stream” turned into a raging river that we could not navigate across. I shot video of a group of pack horses on the way up to
the top and even they were having a difficult time getting to high ground. Luckily, they did make it safely to the other side and we hunkered down in our cave again. The rain finally stopped and we were amazed at how much water had filled the dry wash.
12:15 pm : At this point, we were somewhat confused about how to go any further, since the beaten path was now underwater. We found some higher ground and blazed a trail … this worked for a while, but we soon ended up back at the waters edge. We now had to cross the river! Locking arms, we slowly shuffled across safely. We used this method to make headway downstream for at least an hour. The wash winds back and forth, so we had to keep crossing the water over and over.
12:56 pm: The water level finally subsides, and the wash is almost emptied out to the point that it is no deeper than our shoes. This made it easier to make some quick headway.
1:43 pm : Then more rain.
We hunkered once again in a big cave and waited it out. Suddenly, the whole canyon turned into Jurassic Park! Waterfalls were flowing off many of the canyon walls and it was amazingly beautiful. I started once again to shoot photos and capture the moments. What we didn’t know was that this storm was larger than we could see from our vantage point. It was pouring rain for miles in every direction … all of it channeling into the main wash – Our wash.
The rain overhead slowed and we saw a pack horse train go by – so we braved it again, moving forward along the river. The water was swift, but by this time we were getting good at these crossings, and probably a little too comfortable in our abilities to handle them.
One last pack of horses passed us at a difficult spot, and Lori pushed ahead of Scott and I.
3:21 pm: I was trying to keep my Think tank camera bags out of the water and my Canon 5d dry! so I took a
shuffling path a few inches higher than the water. Scott and I had no sooner noticed that the water was rising when, out of nowhere, a helicopter came up behind us in the canyon. The pilot hovered and threw his door open. (He nearly blew us in the water he was so close.) He started to wave at Scott and I and pointed up. We moved up about 3 feet and looked back then he signaled “no good ” by waving of his arms and pointed up the cliff! Lori could not see since the door was in the way – I yelled down to her and told her to get to higher ground. She scrambled up the hill as did Scott and me.
3:22 pm: I then turned around to look to the pilot for more instructions when I saw a 35 foot wall of water coming down the wash. This was only 1.5 minutes from when he signaled to us. A gigantic tidal wave came crashing down the wash. Filming now with my Canon 5d Mk3 camera – the change in water volume was significant. If the Helicopter did not see us in the wash and come to the rescue there is no doubt at all in my mind that we would have been washed away.
He saved all 3 of our lives.
We scrambled into yet another cave and observed the sheer force of mother nature. It was amazing to see what was a dry wash turn into class 5 rapids .. the noise was deafening and the ground shook as boulders the size of cars rolled down the now raging river.
The helicopter pilot flew about 50 feet around a bend to tend to the handlers and horses. Luckily, the handlers were all airlifted out – but the horses didn’t stand a chance. We saw why later: the walls around that bend were sheer – from the canyon floor to the top – there was no path or ledge to make it to higher ground. With the water rising that rapidly there was absolutely nothing anyone could have done. I am glad that circumstances had slowed us enough that we hadn’t yet reached that point in the trail.
Please be aware of your surroundings when hiking. This situation could have happened to anyone. This has nothing to do with the tribe, location or negligence on our part or theirs – it is merely the astounding force of nature – and what has carved the canyon for millions of years.
Here is the direct link to Fox Channel 10 News story, the video is good. Link Missing as of now 🙁
Part 2 will be posted soon – keep an eye out to find out how we were able to escape this impassible situation.
Erik Hawkinson says
Amazing, I’m glad you all made it out safe and sound.
Hillary Shemin says
Wow, Nick! Talk about learning the hard way. I so glad
to know you all got out safely. Terrifying experience for you, I’m
sure. It really is a lesson in understanding the power of nature and
the need for photographers to keep an awareness of ALL of their surroundings.
Thank you for sharing your story. So glad you are ok! By the way,
great footage!!! Had to acknowledge that, of course!
Babe Barton says
“Deep breath”..a memoir in the making here…you are all safe and that is what counts…this story gave me an understanding of how powerful mother nature can be and how being at the right place and the right time, guided all three of you to safety. I believe that you all where guided by the “Elders”..intangible and by the helicopter (tangible).
Karen Seargeant says
Oh my gosh, Nick, I am soooooo glad you guys made it out. That is crazy and thanks to the helicopter guy!
Barbara Trainor says
What an amazing but terrifying experience. I had really wanted to go on that trip but had a conflict. Even though there was danger, it would have been interesting to go through it. So sad about the horses though 🙁
Mike Runyon says
So glad you made it out alright. Looked like a harrowing experience. Nice pictures, as is the news coverage of your adventure. I guess now you can really say, it is indeed a Photographers ADVENTURE club! One good thing that came from all this is I now know a television celebrity!
Larry Pollock says
Nicely written and a good lesson for us all. Be aware at all times! That pilot is good. I have flown with him.
Christine Nimitz says
Glad you all got out OK. Thanks for providing a detailed account– the newstory timeline didn’t make any sense to me. While you all were nearly getting washed away in the Canyon, I was merely getting poured on at the Petrified Forest 🙂
Ann P. says
Everyone’s experience helped in this situation. Also, we all need to know our limits. Even in our own backyard. Thank goodness Scott, Lori and yourself have a story to tell! Mother Nature is nothing but predictable in her chaos and sense of surprise. All Soul’s Day has new meaning. 🙂
What an ordeal you went through. It was a good report on the news. Glad you guys made it out ok and able to tell this story and have video and photos to take from it. Never know what mother nature has in store. Very sad some of the horses died in the end trying to get some people’s stuff out. Good thing the pilot came buy when he did and the other hikers that got swept away made it out as well. Look forward to part 2….
No hikers were swept away that I know of
Gail Komasa says
What an amazing story. So glad you made it out okay! It must have been terrifying!!!
I am so very glad you made it out ok Nick!! Thats one hell of a story you get to tell though!! *High 5* While it is quite upsetting the horses were not able to make it, I am so glad that pilot was so kind as to lift you all out of there! *HUG* Glad you are safe my friend!
Blessed everyone is home safe and sound.
Noel Rudley says
Quite a story Nick! And a nice post. Easy to underestimate mother nature, along with the surprises she has in store for us in Arizona.
Had a similar experience shooting at Tent Rocks National Monument a few years ago. I escaped, but my camera did not. It was two weeks old.
And not to forget some European tourists drowned in Antelope Canyon several years back. My friend is the attorney that defended the tour company in that incident, so the details remain fresh.
Anyway, Welcome back!
Carra Riley says
Wow Nick! I had not realized the extreme danger you were all in when reading your post on facebook about having footage of the flash flood! So grateful that you were saved by the helicopter…. gives new meaning to the joke/message about sending 3 guys to help a man in a flood with a car, a boat and the last was helicopter before meeting St. Peter.
What a great post you have created sharing the experience and to have pictures as well.. photo journalist is certainly a title you can wear proudly! Let’s do a hangout on air and share your experience and even play your video on a screen share.. that would be amazing.. most photographers have a story.. but this one.. takes the cake… so happy it turned out ok.. and I am thanking my lucky stars I did not attempt that hike… I so wanted to join you but knew the hike would be too much. Wonderful post and a good message to all photographers going out to shoot in nature!
I am glad that the three of you are OK. I am just sick to see how all the horses are tied together with all the weight on them. I wish their guide had cut the ropes between them to give them a better chance to make it. It just breaks my heart.
The horses were cut loose before the flood
boo radley says
A few things are unclear to me about this adventure. Did you purposely go down there knowing rain was in the forecast? Why would you continue if there was no indication that the weather had changed? One thing people don’t realize about these types of floods is that it doesn’t need to be pouring or even raining at all in these canyons because they are collecting water from hundreds of square miles of land. Glad you are safe but it seems to have been a very foolish decision to hike down there in inclement weather.
Nicholas Pappagallo says
We didn’t purposely put ourselves in danger, the guides were not even privy to the info of an flash flood since many of them were stuck with us. We continued because it flooded and then “drained” out to no water, I think I added an image of that. Everyone including us kept hiking. I agree I learned a lot about flash flood and that is 100% true – it was not raining when the big flood “flashed” I am glad we are safe too.
Just found this post, where is part two?! I’m dying to know the rest!!
Nicholas Pappagallo says
Ha! Wow this is an old one – I never did sit down and write out part 2 of this, but since you found it maybe I will do a video and link to it telling the whole story … thinking 🙂
CAROLINE SERR says
Thank you for sharing your story Nicholas.
And last night is another flash flood. Feeling so sad that I will cancel my trip there next week.
Nicholas Pappagallo says
Oh no, so sorry to hear but honestly its no fun when the water is all muddy