How Camping Can Kill You – Paradise
Hiking and camping alone for the last several weeks, I’ve honed my ability to sniff out danger. Sure there were some predators to worry about, but my main concern was the wrath of Mother Nature.
Here’s how I dealt with her frequent blows…
I first arrived at my campsite during a torrential downpour. As I sat in my car, staring out of the deluge, the ranger pulled up.
As we chatted, I told him I was a little afraid to put up my tent (borrowed from my friend Dave – Thanks Dave!) because of the chance of getting hit by lighting. (Did you know that a lightning bolt contains a billion volts and can reach 50,000° F?!).
Unfortunately my fears were well-founded. A young fellow was hit by lightning right in this very spot not even two years past. And four people had been killed by lightning not far away in Bryce Canyon. No Bueno.
Luckily, a few hours later, the storm subsided and I was able to set up camp. Each night I went to bed just before 9:00 (I was exhausted from all my hiking during the day), and it was all good until the middle of night when the thunderstorms would come back. I would lie in my sleeping bag and count the seconds between claps to determine if the storm was coming or going and how close it was.
Only one time did the tent illuminate from a close call, at which point I slammed on my boots, grabbed the sleeping bag, and high-tailed it back to the car. I figured the car tires would ground me if a direct strike occurred. I spent the rest of the night reclined in the passenger’s seat. It was actually pretty comfortable.
Even as I drifted back to sleep, I realized I had left the lightening zone for the bear zone. But given that it was the dead of night, I gave myself permission to only deal with one critical threat at a time.
Again the thunderstorms were a major factor during my hikes, with rock slides apparent on the trails—especially in Bryce. In fact, hundreds of us got caught at the bottom of Bryce canyon during a huge storm where it actually hailed on us.
Several hikers grouped together under rock overhangs (away from trees), seeking shelter. I walked for a while until I found a good spot, then sat down under some rocks and ate my squirrel food (checking for snakes and scorpions first), and waited for the storm to abate. (I even abandoned my GoErinGo water bottle during this storm because I thought the aluminum bottle might attract lightning – severe hardship!)
But lightning aside, it was the saturated rock that was most worrying. As I hiked there were many areas of the trail that were covered with rock debris that had slid down the mountain. I scampered over the rubble, but knew that a rock avalanche could come crashing down without warning. Buried alive is not my preferred method of death.
These daily downpours were also increasing the likelihood of flash floods. While hiking in the Narrows, a famous trail in Zion, this was a real concern since in summertime flash floods are common and hikers have been stranded, injured, and even killed.
The day I hiked, there was a sign at the start of the trail which indicated that flash floods were “probable.” This seems like an awfully high risk when hundreds of people, including little children, were literally wading into the danger zone.
Along with the warning sign, there were some helpful hints if a flash flood occurs. A sign of an imminent flood is a bunch of debris (tree limbs, grass, rock sediment) coming down the river before the onslaught of water.
But don’t think you can out-run a flash flood since the water level rises almost instantly—within seconds or minutes. The best bet is to climb to higher ground, which is pretty tough when you’re deep into the canyon and looking at sheer rock faces on either side.
After hiking the Narrows for several hours, slogging along, the water was creeping up to my waist. That’s when I decided to turn back. But even as I did my about-face, I continued to keep a sharp look-out for a ledge that I might be able to reach with my embryonic rock climbing skills.
Most days I was hiking before the park even opened. But for my afternoon hikes, I made a point to stop by the visitor’s center to check in with the rangers. This habit not only gave me insight on the best trails, but also let someone know I was hiking alone and where I might be found.
Just to be safe on the safe side, before I set out for each hike, I’d also write the trail name and my departure time on a slip of paper and left it on the driver’s seat. That way, if my car was still there at the end of the day, the park rangers would know where to look for me. It might be about 14 hours later, but better late than never.
Each night, after 3-4 hours driving the windy roads and 5-6 hours hiking the trails, I’d rush back to my campsite in time for the evening gloaming.
I loved reclining in the tent at twilight and peering out at the woods or sitting by the campfire and listening to the sounds of nature. One night I just stretched out on the picnic table and stared up at the starry night.
As a special treat, each night I was visited by a single doe, looking up at me from time to time as she grazed on the grasses surrounding the campsite. It was magical.
So despite wilderness predators and the wrath of Mother Nature, the ability to be outside inhaling the surrounding beauty was well worth it. The wonderland of Utah’s national parks is absolutely a paradise, worth every bit of discomfort and danger.
This entry was posted on Friday, July 31st, 2015 and is filed under On the Road.