Flooding leads to ‘terrifying’ two days in river canyonWhen Kevin Elliott’s mother died 16 years ago, her ashes were spread over the North Shore of Lake Superior. Ever since, Elliott of Moorhead, Minn., has tried to take at least one camping trip to the North Shore every year.
By: Tom Olsen, Lake County News-Chronicle
When Kevin Elliott’s mother died 16 years ago, her ashes were spread over the North Shore of Lake Superior. Ever since, Elliott of Moorhead, Minn., has tried to take at least one camping trip to the North Shore every year.
That all changed last week when he was stranded for two days in a river canyon without supplies during the region’s historic rainfall and flooding — an experience Elliott called “horrifying.”
“It used to be my favorite place to go, but I’ll never go up there camping again,” he said.
Elliott and friend Brian Morse were halfway through a nine-day stay at a campsite in a river canyon at George H. Crosby Manitou State Park, near Finland and Little Marais, when the torrential rains and flooding started Tuesday night.
Deep in the canyon and out of cell phone range, Elliott and Morse were cut off from all outside communication. They didn’t hear the National Weather Service’s flash flood warning.
Much to their surprise, the Manitou River quickly began rising in the dark and washed away all of their supplies, including their tent, food and fresh water.
“The sound of the water coming down and the river rising so fast was terrifying,” Elliott said. “I had last stayed in that spot about three years ago and I never saw that river rise an inch, even in heavy rain.”
All of the trails leading out of the canyon turned into heavy streams and were impassible, Elliott said, leaving them stranded in the canyon without food or shelter during the height of the rain and flooding.
“We just knew we had to go straight up,” he said. “The river was rising so fast we could hardly keep up.”
Elliott said they tried grabbing anything solid — mainly rocks and tree roots — to continue finding higher ground, away from the river, while trying not to slide down the slippery surfaces.
The rain stopped on Wednesday, but trails were still destroyed and the two thirsty campers knew the only way out was to keep climbing up.
“It took a lot of energy to climb out of there and not having anything to drink to hydrate yourself, that was the toughest part,” Elliott said.
On Thursday night — a full two days after the flood washed away their camp — Elliott and Morse finally emerged from the canyon.
Still, they had to walk several miles to get to Morse’s car in a parking lot and drove and pushed the car down the park’s access road and seven miles to Finland. It was stop and go as they encountered water over the road. They ended up at a hotel in Duluth.
“We literally crawled out of that forest,” he said. “The whole experience is still kind of a blur.”
Elliott said he was thankful to come out of the canyon alive, but was frustrated that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which operates the park, didn’t rescue them once the flooding started.
He said they were registered at the park and saw park rangers passing through before the flood.
“People knew we were there,” he said. “Being that low of an area, it seems that they could have concentrated on some of those more vulnerable areas.”
Park manager Phil Leversedge said the DNR has emergency procedures in place and searched the entire campground, including the river canyon, by Wednesday afternoon and didn’t find any signs of Elliott and Morse.
“It’s hard to get somebody in to look for everyone at every campsite,” Leversedge said. “It’s kind of like the Boundary Waters. It’s a wilderness area. You have some level of responsibility for your own safety.”
Elliott said the DNR should take more steps to warn campers about the risks.
“They need to post signs or warn you when you register that you’re at risk when camping there,” he said. “They need to inform people that they might not be rescued from there.”
Leversedge, who was unaware of Elliott and Morse’s story, said he might be open to some changes in emergency procedures.
“In my 20 years, that was probably the quickest flash flooding I’ve seen,” Leversedge said. “I’d like to talk with them and see if there’s anything they think we could’ve done differently.”