Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wilderness Risks

Gopher Snake

Occasionally, some unfortunate soul will engage Dangerous in a conversation about wilderness travel. Whenever these discussions occur, I find a shady spot and lie down for a long nap. Eventually, the unfortunate person who asked discovers they have a pressing dentist appointment, and they rush off to have a root canal without anesthetic. After listening to Dangerous, anything the dentist does to them is painless.

Whenever these conversations occur, someone always wants to know about backcountry dangers. You might think that bear and lion encounters occupy most of these conversations. Actually, that's not the case. Snakes are what concern most people when talking wilderness travel with Dangerous. Sleeping on the ground, especially in the desert, conjures up the horror of a rattler crawling into their sleeping bag during the night. Well I can tell you first hand that bears, lions, and snakes are the least of your worries when riding or hiking with Dangerous and his buddies.

Exhausted Sheep Dog

I can't give you a priority list of all the backcountry dangers we face when heading into the wilderness. Hiking has its risks while riding horses presents another set of possible disasters. The time of year compounds any classification. When it's hot in the desert, you face heat exhaustion, and when its cold hypothermia is a threat at any altitude. I can tell you that physical exhaustion and boredom are my greatest fears.

As you know, sheep dogs are really upbeat and positive. There isn't much that gets us down, but a quick look at my picture above tells you that there are times when Dangerous seriously challenges my happy-go-lucky nature. After swimming the Escalante River at flood stage for the 23rd time, my enthusiasm can seriously wane. Sometimes Dangerous forgets that I have to swim all these crossings with my pack on while he and his buddies wades knee or hip deep. By the end of the day, I am usually not the only hiker who gives Dangerous hell and wants and extended rest.

Utah Takes a Swim

As Dangerous' loyal friend, I will follow him about anywhere, but there are times when I hesitate. He and his buddies might be pressing the upper backpacking age limit, but they still try some trails that cause me to pause and consider. Sometimes I put my paws on the edge of a cliff and gaze into the great beyond, and I occasionally hesitate on some steep, rocky trails Dangerous leads us on. Sheep dogs usually fall end-over-end which can result in serious bodily injury. Unlike Dangerous, I can't grab my ankles and roll. Utah Jack demonstrated this technique on a recent trip to Bluff. He showed Dangerous, Nature Dan, and me the tuck-and-roll method while scouting and entry into White Canyon. Unfortunately, all you get to see is the end result. Dangerous' camera draw was too slow to catch Utah's dive into extremely cold water on a windy November day. Before going with us, you ought to contact some first time hikers who never returned for another desert adventure.

Scary Trail

Steep precipitous trails are bad on foot, but you ought to see them from horse back. A 200 foot drop suddenly becomes 400 feet when you climb on Dottie or Little Guy. It isn't the added four feet you gain sitting in the saddle, but the unpredictable nature of a mare in "heat." I have watched Dottie dance out from under Dangerous on more than one occasion, and when you are negotiating a narrow, rocky trail, you always hope she keeps her purchase. It isn't often that Dangerous and his riding buddies get down and walk, but as you can see, they do occasionally. On this particularly narrow trail, everyone walked the narrow section that dropped off both sides.

Escalante Canyon Waterfall

If forced to choose, I believe the biggest danger facing the High Plateau hikers and riders is weather. My buddies aren't fair weather hikers and riders. They ride in wind, rain, and snow, but they always avoid thunder storms. The back of a horse is no place to be when lightening is cracking around you. Dangerous is more afraid of lightening than bears or cougars. Lightening is scary, but flash floods are worse. Dangerous and Utah have survived three different flash floods while hiking the Escalante River. I was with them during the last one. We started down canyon with dark clouds above and rain in the air. Utah wanted to camp next to the wash, but Dangerous, Denver Dan, and Nature Dan were insistent that we didn't. About 2:00 AM, we woke with two giant waterfalls cascading down the slick rock on either side of us. The wash sounded like there was a freight train headed to Lake Powell under a full head of steam. It was too dark to take pictures, but you can see Dangerous and me sitting next to one waterfall that was still flowing the next morning.

Well, maybe you want to share some of your backcountry dangers with me. I would love to hear about them! By the way, tomorrow Dangerous, Dottie, and me are going to Grover. We will be gone a few days gathering new material. After that, the High Plateau hikers gather for our trip down the Escalante, so you might not hear from me for a while. If you are still interested, check back soon for more Red Rock Rosie adventures.

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