When the Flood Waters Rise [Safety]

On the shoulders of Giant's Causeway
Houston: An Overview

Let’s talk about what NOT to do when hiking…

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In the world of adventure, there are (unfortunately) frequent missteps. Some of these are silly mistakes that are easily fixed. Others are dangerous, even deadly. Because of this, adventurers tend to preach safety above all else. Check your equipment, check your food, check the weather.

Unfortunately, sometimes listening to all of that good advice simply doesn’t happen.

So even though I know some of you probably won’t listen, I would like to impart upon you the following hiking safety advice: just because rain is not physically falling out of the sky, that does not mean flooding is no longer a risk.

I learned this the hard way when my friend Marie, over at Ardent Camper, and I decided to hike a portion of the Lone Star Trail, about an hour north of Houston, TX. The segment that we chose would have made a nice, easy day hike with time to spare. It was only about 8 miles long and mostly flat. There had been substantial rain the week leading up to our trip, but when the day of the hike dawned overcast, but dry. We decided to risk it.

The beginning of the hike went well enough. The first mile or so was relatively dry, with only a few portions of the trail covered by water. It was nothing our waterproof hiking boots, or a brief skirting off the trail, couldn’t conquer with ease.

The Lonestar Hiking Trail after a week of rain
Portions of the trail were wet, but our waterproof boots conquered them easily.

Then, we hit our first obstacle.

The trail dipped disappearing beneath a puddle of indeterminable depth. Feeling around with first a foot, and eventually a stick, we thought that maybe we could walk across. At this point, it struck us that perhaps we should turn around and go back. Unfortunately, our determination to finish the hike won out. Presuming that this simply had to be the worst of it, we shucked off our boots and socks and waded through a small pond that easily reached our thighs.

This SHOULD have been our sign to turn back immediately.
This SHOULD have been our sign to turn back immediately.

After that, we figured there was no turning back. We were in it for the long haul. The trail tricked us again, offering a long stretch of relatively dry passage.

The trail dried out significantly, and we thought the worst was over with.
The trail dried out significantly, and we thought the worst was over with.

We thought we were in the clear, we really did.

Then, several hours into our hike, we were presented with a behemoth.

The bayou had flooded. The trail was completely invisible.

Again, we thought that perhaps we should turn around.

Again, like fools, we didn’t.

Water? What water?
Water? What water?

At this point the water was, in some parts, reaching our shoulders and my daypack was being held above my head as I tried not to lose my footing.

Then, thinking that it could in no way get worse, with about a half mile left in our hike, it began to rain.

Images of flash floods decimating the already saturated forest urged us forward, and we slogged through the final portion of the trail at record speed, waiting for the sound of imminent doom.

Hiking boots were no match for the flooded trails, weighing us down and hurting more than helping.
Hiking boots were no match for the flooded trails, weighing us down and hurting more than helping.

We survived. But we were incredibly lucky, after being incredibly stupid.

Water often seems harmless, but it can be a nasty adversary, and no matter how strong you think you are, a good flash flood can claim you instantly.

Lesson learned. No more slogging on flooded trails.

Safety, whether it’s hiking safety, camping safety, traveling safety, or good old talking-to-strangers safety is important. I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I think everyone has managed to make one or two decisions that, in hindsight, probably could have been thought through a bit more.

Have you ever ignored your gut feeling, or training, in favor of trying something dangerous?

On the shoulders of Giant's Causeway
Houston: An Overview