VIDEO: Flash flood washes away hiker in Hawaii

Flash flood washes away hikers

We don’t normally share videos other than our own, but this one so perfectly captures the phenomenon of a rapidly rising river that it is really worth watching.

Most people have a general sense that rivers in spate (i.e. flowing at faster and higher levels than normal) are dangerous, and care should be taken and maybe avoiding the area completely is the best idea. Whilst this is all true, something that is less commonly known is that rivers can rise very suddenly and without warning. The cause may be natural (a sudden downpour upstream etc) or man-made (a dam release or failure, opening of flood control measures) but rivers and streams can rise in seconds.

This video, shot by a drone, shows a group of hikers in Hawaii climbing on and around a waterfall. The footage clearly shows how quickly the river rises from being a strong flow to a raging torrent, washing one hiker (Sean) over the falls and into the plunge pool below.

Everybody made it out safely thankfully (including a helicopter rescue to extract them – see full story HERE) and the video and the background story can be used as a learning point for anybody who may have to cross or work near flowing water.

Our tips for dealing with rivers and river crossings:

  • Plan your route – look at a good map and see where your planned route takes you. Avoid river crossings if at all possible, and if necessary look for marked crossing points. A mile detour to avoid a river crossing is always worth it.
  • Have a backup route – even marked crossings like footbridges can be washed away so having a longer route that takes you over safer ground is worth building into your plan. Also, be aware that what was an ankle-deep paddle on your inward journey may now be a raging torrent when you return later that day.
  • Study the water – calf-depth water moving at a moderate rate can be enough to knock you off your feet, and most people will struggle to stand in anything deeper without being washed away. If a river crossing is looking likely then check what is upstream and downstream of your position and make a judgment on the best place to cross. Look for shallower water and gravel beds rather than boulders and white water, and be careful of overhanging banks and loose rocks on river edges that can tip you in.
  • Practice your techniques – if you absolutely HAVE to make a river crossing without a bridge or other aid then practice some techniques before you need them. Strategies such as facing upstream to spot any drifting debris coming towards you, unbuckling heavy rucksacks and using a walking pole or staff to steady yourself and probe for unseen holes underwater are all useful. A full description of techniques can be found on the British Mountaineering Council website.

Richard Prideaux is a partner of Original Outdoors and our lead instructor. For more than a decade he has worked in outdoor education, expedition leadership, safety and management, mountain rescue and SAR and coaching and personal development.

He has also worked with international restaurants and chefs as a professional forager and advisor and appeared on several television and radio productions.

He lives in North Wales on the borders of Snowdonia National Park.

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