Last year, I was following a seasoned westerner into a steep canyon. Once on the canyon floor we must have barely walked for ten minutes when he stopped and turned. He made me turn. “Can you find your way back?” He asked me. I stood aghast. The trail that I had used a few minutes ago seemed to have disappeared. The canyon stood in front of me like a wall. He laughed. I felt like an idiot.
In order to correct this situation, I planned a trip to Utah prepared to walk some canyons alone and to get myself out unharmed. Like swimming in the open ocean, skiing down a slow covered in fresh powder or diving from an airplane tethered to a parachute, the only way to do it, is to do it.
* * * * *
I had spent a month in preparation for there are many ways to die in this rugged country.
One can as easily die here of thirst as of drowning. Of over-confidence or panic. Of heat or cold. Of under-preparation or over-carrying. Of heart ache – loneliness or overexertion, or heart burst – premature jubilation or being unknowledgeable. Of being overtly cautious or extrovertly ambitious. Death can be cruel, quick and ruthless or kind, slow and caring.
I had read everything that was there to read. I was dressed in layers, shod in appropriate shoes, carried a gallon of water in different bottles in various pockets of my backpack. I had a generous supply of almonds and fruit-bars with me. A waterproof copy of the BLM terrain map of the Grand Gulch was secreted in a compartment on my back. I had color photocopies of the canyons I was planning to enter tucked in my shirt pocket. I had a hi-fidelity GPS app running on my fully charged iPhone and I carried a fully charged backup charger.
Heck, I even had a three inch knife with Bear Grylls’ signature inscribed on the hilt.
I felt prepared.