Stuck

Today I continued my experience with a Boy Scout troop in Coyote Gulch. The book “Utah’s Favorite Hiking Trails” by David Day includes a description of this canyon located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Here are some excerpts posted at utahtrails.com/Coyote.html:

“ . . . Jacob Hamblin is an immense arch, cut through a fin of sandstone created by a meander in the streambed. It probably would not look so big were it on top of the mesa, but being confronted with this enormous geological sculpture in the narrow confines of the canyon makes one feel as insignificant as an ant . . . ”

“The route out of Coyote Gulch is also near Jacob Hamblin Arch. Walking downstream from the arch you will .notice that the streambed makes a long, sweeping turn to the north as it curves around a sloping fin of sandstone that comes down from the south rim. The fin reaches the canyon floor about 150 yards below the arch, and from there it is possible to scramble up and out of the canyon. The difficult part of the climb lasts for only 100 feet, and if you can get up the first 20 feet you will have no difficulty with the rest. Look carefully at the stone face near the bottom and you will notice depressions in the stone which you can use for toe holds. You can thank the prehistoric Indians for these toe holds. They were chipped out of the stone at least a thousand years ago by canyon dwellers who used this same route in and out of the canyon.”

Our group attempted to exit Coyote Gulch by climbing the rock near Jacob Hamblin Arch. We made our way to the base of a rock face that was at about a 45 degree angle. I started up, my backpack on my back, and wearing my Vasque Sundowner boots. I made pretty good progress for about 15 feet, and was encouraged by the handholds I saw in the rock. Suddenly, however, I found that I could not find a safe way to make any more progress. I searched in vain for a handhold, or a foothold that was in reach. I realized I had been foolish in attacking that mountainside without knowing how to handle it. I kept searching for a way up. I then realized that the stiff soles of my hiking boots gave me very poor support in the small handhold into which I had inserted the thick toe of my boot. I strained to exert force at just the right angle to obtain support without slipping. With the backpack weighing me down, I was unable to look about to gain any perspective. During this predicament two young Scout leaders climbed up and passed me, resting at a ledge above me. They were unable to offer any assistance to help me make may way up, and I finally called out that I was stuck, that I needed help down. Another Scout leader appeared below me, and patiently told me where to place my foot, my hand, then my foot, little by little, until I made it to the base. When I reached the bottom, I realized that I had been sweating profusely. A Scout asked if I was tired, and I responded that I was more worried and scared than tired – – my concentration level had been pretty high. I was extremely grateful to the Scout leader who led me out of the predicament.

I learned a great lesson today. Or did I?

When I was about 3 years old my family lived in a townhouse in a new development on the outskirts of the Minneapolis area. This development still did not have any lawn, and we enjoyed finding and disturbing plentiful numbers of salamanders in the window wells.

One day I found myself a couple of buildings away from home, and knew it was time to head back. But I faced a decision. A diagram of my position relative to my home would indicate a triangle – – below I’ve provided a rough diagram. My position is denoted “C,” “B” denotes a street corner just down the sidewalk from “C,” and “A” denotes my home just a few blocks up the street from “B.” The segments A – B and B – C are the legs of the triangle, and the segment A – C is the hypotenuse of the triangle.

………………………………………………..C (my position)
………………………………………../……..|
…………………………………./……………|
……………………………../………………..|
…………………………/…………………….|
……………………./…………………………|
………………./………………………………|
…………../…………………………………..|
……../………………………………………..|
A (my home)____________B (street corner)

I applied my 3 year-old mind to this situation for some time. I had arrived at my current position by walking from A to B, and then from B to C. This was a conventional route that was all on a finished sidewalk. This seemed like a safe route home, but long.

Drawing on some intuitive geometry enjoyed by 3 year-olds, I realized that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. From my position at C I could see my home at A. Since lawns had not been put in, to walk from C to A I would have to walk through a large dirt field behind the townhouses; however, due to recent snow or rain, the field had been transformed into a quagmire of very wet mud. I gave this more thought, and realized that while this barrier was formidable, it was not insurmountable. I saw a couple of plywood scraps, and devised a plan. I would simply place a piece of plywood on the mud, step onto the plywood, then pick up a second piece of plywood and place it just beyond the first piece; I could then step safely onto the second piece of plywood. I could then repeat this process until I arrived at my home. Eureka! I had found the solution.

I put my plan into action, and all was going well until I had to move a piece of plywood for the second or third time. By then so much mud had accumulated on the bottom side of board that the board was too heavy for me to pick up. I had made so much progress that I could not get back to the sidewalk without walking through the mud. Walking in mud, of course, was not an option. If I walked through the mud I’d possibly lose my shoes, and I’d certainly return home a muddy mess – – I would be a goner, sure to incur the wrath of my parents! I sized up my situation, and realized that I was stuck. I had been stranded for some time when a kind woman saw me from the back window of her townhome, saw my plight, possibly heard my cries, ventured into the mud, carried me out of the quagmire, and delivered me to my parents. I had been saved!

An oft-quoted poem comes to mind.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost)

(This entry written on May 27 relates to an experience I had on April 7, 2006)

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