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Monday, August 24, 2009

Come and Play, Don't Come and Die

On Saturday I hiked in the popular Peek-a-boo/Spooky Gulch area in south-central Utah. A loop hike there takes people through two incredible slot canyons, in a moderate adventure suitable for families.

As we came out, a number of people were heading in and some did not seem prepared for the difficult of the route. In that remote, harsh region, even a moderately challenging canyon can turn into a death trap if you don't follow basic safety rules.

Every year, a few people get injured (or worse) in such canyons. Recently a solo hiker suffered serious injury but was saved in a dramatic helicopter rescue. My experience and the news events prompted me to post this review of some basic safety measures.

1. Know where you are going. We visited with one group who asked, "When we get to the top of this gulch do we go left or right?" In the backcountry, you're asking for big trouble if you don't know the route. Get a map and learn how to read it. Get GPS coordinates. Read guidebooks. Talk to people. But don't go in until you know where you are going.

2. Know the difficulty of the route. We passed 3 different families where the father was carrying a baby in a baby-pack while shepherding two or three other children who were under age 6. Anyone under about age 12 will need considerable help getting through Spooky and Peek-a-boo. You've got to climb up ledges, over rocks and down dry falls. Younger kids need to be boosted over many obstacles and handed over others. The younger the child, the more help he/she will require.

Spooky and Peek-a-boo are so narrow you've got to scoot through sideways. If you are wearing a pack you've got to hold it out to your side as you scoot. In many places you can't move forward if you are carrying a child. You've got to hand the child to someone who has already climbed the cliff or dropped down the dry fall. You've got to do that multiple times for every child. You need a team to get one child through. Three or four children make the trek very difficult.

3. Don't hike alone. We passed one tourist who was hiking all by himself. I know it's tempting. You've saved and juggled vacation time to take the trip. You've read the guidebooks and you want to see all of the best in the area. You're in good shape and you're an experienced hiker. But every year several such people die in Utah. Some of them probably would have survived if they had been hiking with a companion.

The rescue efforts last week reinforce that point. They involved a multi-day search for an outdoorsmen who disappeared in rugged terrain. A companion may have been able to call in help within a matter of minutes, and perhaps minimize injuries or save a life.

There are numerous sources for information about hiking/canyoneering routes. Often overlooked are the knowledgeable staffers in visitor and information centers. In the national parks, talk to rangers in the visitors centers. You'll also find knowledgeable staffers in visitor centers in St George, Moab, Kanab, Escalante and other areas.

Come and play - safely.

- Dave Webb


  • At 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I don't know what the final outcome of the Hoerchel story is, but the initial investigation found the wounds to be self inflicted. This article, while serving a good purpose, needs to be updated for accuracy.


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