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Galena Peak

20 August 2003

By: Ron Zappen

Flash flood in Mill Creek

On August 20th I hiked to Galena Peak (9324') from Forest Falls up Mill Creek in the San Bernardino Mountains. It was overcast, but that kept the temperature down for when the going got steep. Is that headwall getting steeper? While eating lunch on the summit I heard some thunder and decided to get out.

Just as I got down from the peak and the headwall at the upper end of the canyon it started raining and hailing. About 15 minutes later just as I got to a place where I wasn't in the bottom of the channel, I hear a rumble and roar. When I looked back I saw a wall of rocks (and a little water) bouncing down the channel and vaulting over barriers. I moved a little higher on the south side of the gully and watched my first "flash flood" march by. It was awesome. Mostly rock, sand and gravel; many 2 to 3 feet in diameter and a few as much as 8 feet! Then as the rain increased, rock falls came down the north side cliffs. The noise was deafening and the masses of moving rock; not a little frightening! Only a few boulders came down my side of the canyon and I watched four Bighorn Sheep dodge them. I kept moving downstream with one eye on the slopes above me and one on the rocks at my feet until I came to a narrows.^M^MI found shelter under part of a downed tree trunk. It was an area amongst trees that had not been scoured by rock and water flows. I waited there about 50 minutes or about 15 minutes after the rain stopped. While waiting I could watch the rock falls across the river. I've read about how rain can move vast amounts of material in a very short time, and now I've seen it. AWESOME! Once it stopped the rain didn't start again and I was able to hike out (crossing the stream) without difficulty.

Keep that in mind when you hear thunder in the mountains. I've always had proper concern for lightning, but I've never really thought about flash floods in the mountains. That's something that happens in the desert, right! It only takes a short but heavy rain in a steep canyon. If I'd been about 15-20 minutes later coming down and didn't bivouac on the headwall, I could have been caught in the beginning of that flood. There would be NO chance of surviving being churned with those rocks!

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