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Spring Hiking Safety: Flash Flood Danger

Spring Hiking Safety: Flash Flood Danger

With mud and high water season nearly upon us, I was reminded of an experience we had over the summer which underscored the importance of being very careful and aware when your trail crosses a waterway.

July 2014: Grace Camp in John's Brook Valley, Adirondacks, NY
July 2014: Grace Camp in John’s Brook Valley, Adirondacks, NY

In August 2014 Dora, Chris, and I stayed at Grace Camp in John’s Brook Valley, Adirondacks, for the first time.  We loved the cabin and it was only a short 3.5 mile hike to get to it!  But more about the camp and cabin in another post.

This post is about what we observed before, during, and after a thunderstorm in the mountains. During this trip, while hiking up Big Slide mountain, the three of us followed the path across Big Slide Brook several times as it lead us up the mountain.

It was an overcast day and no rain had yet fallen, but the skies began to really darken as we neared the summit.  With only .4 mile to the summit we heard thunder and decided to turn around, knowing summits are dangerous during electrical storms.

The thunder wasn’t our only concern. Having crossed Big Slide Brook several times on the way up, we became concerned that the trail would become impassable on our way back down.

July 2014: A nice water crossing, BEFORE the storm. Hiking up Big Slide Mountain via the John's Brook trail from John's Brook Valley, Adirondacks, NY
July 2014: A nice water crossing, BEFORE the storm. Hiking up Big Slide Mountain via the John’s Brook trail from John’s Brook Valley, Adirondacks, NY
July 2014: A nice water crossing, BEFORE the storm. Hiking up Big Slide Mountain via the John's Brook trail from John's Brook Valley, Adirondacks, NY
July 2014: A nice water crossing, BEFORE the storm. Hiking up Big Slide Mountain via the John’s Brook trail from John’s Brook Valley, Adirondacks, NY
July 2014: One of many beautiful little cascades along the trail. Hiking up Big Slide Mountain via the John's Brook trail from John's Brook Valley, Adirondacks, NY
July 2014: One of many beautiful little cascades along the trail. Hiking up Big Slide Mountain via the John’s Brook trail from John’s Brook Valley, Adirondacks, NY

As it turned out, the hike back to camp went quicker than we planned.  And it never did rain on us.  In fact, when we got back to camp it was partly sunny so we went to John’s Brook to hang out.  We were having a blast just kicking our feet in the water and throwing rocks around.  This was about 3:30pm.  Then the skies got darker so we headed back to the cabin to cook dinner.

Around 4pm it started to rain lightly.  By 4:30 pm, it was pouring rain with HUGE thunder and lots of lightning.  After dinner, the thunder had slowed some so Chris went down to the brook to shoot some video of the water at about 5:30pm.  It was still raining hard but the brook hadn’t risen too much, so he headed back to the cabin.

While sitting on the porch at about 7pm, I could hear what sounded like a train.  We headed back to the brook and WHOA had the water risen and become much louder!  I wish we had a decibel meter to get a reading!  It took only 1.5 hours for the water in the brook to rise several feet and become super dangerous.  By 7:15pm it had stopped raining but the water kept on crashing down because we could hear the “train” from the cabin for at least 2 hours afterward.

At dusk, 2 backpackers with full packs stopped by looking for alternate crossing of Orebed Brook.  They told us they couldn’t cross the brook to get to the lean to they were staying at and were looking for alternate ways to their lean to.  We were not too familiar with the lean to locations so we could only offer them some food.  They were well equipped for the wet weather and they went along their way. I told them if they had to cross anything crazy, they should come back to the cabin. We didn’t see them again that night, or hear of any problems when we stopped by John’s Brook Lodge, so I assume they found safe shelter some place.

Here are photos looking upstream on John’s Brook at 3:30pm, 5:30pm, and 7:00pm:

Flash Flood of John's Brook, Adirondacks, NY: the view upstream at 3:30pm
Flash Flood of John’s Brook, Adirondacks, NY: the view upstream at 3:30pm
Flash Flood of John's Brook, Adirondacks, NY: the view upstream at 5:30pm
Flash Flood of John’s Brook, Adirondacks, NY: the view upstream at 5:30pm
Flash Flood of John's Brook, Adirondacks, NY: the view upstream at 7pm
Flash Flood of John’s Brook, Adirondacks, NY: the view upstream at 7pm


Here are photos looking downstream at John’s Brook at 3:30pm, 5:30pm, and 7:00pm:

Dora having a blast playing in John's Brook at 330pm, several hours later, this place looked totally different and dangerous!
Dora having a blast playing in John’s Brook at 330pm, several hours later, this place looked totally different and dangerous!
Flash Flood of John's Brook, Adirondacks, NY: the view downstream at 5:30pm
Flash Flood of John’s Brook, Adirondacks, NY: (we took this off the video, sorry it’s so blurry!) the view downstream at 5:30pm
Flash Flood of John's Brook, Adirondacks, NY: the view downstream at 7pm
Flash Flood of John’s Brook, Adirondacks, NY: the view downstream at 7pm

Here is a video we compiled of the experience (try full screen mode in some mobile browsers):

Never underestimate the elements, and be sure that wherever you go, that you can get back safely!

While this flood was caused by a sudden, heavy downpour, streams can swell significantly just from an early morning snowfall and an afternoon melt. So always be certain you can get back in a high water situation before you cross any waterway, no matter how benign it may seem at the moment!

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