Quicksand!

Yesterday while descending Water Canyon with a small CAD I learned a little something about quicksand. Over the past several years I have experienced quicksand, quickmud, and various other mires, but NOTHING like what I experienced in Water Canyon on 4/18.

After descending into Middle Water Canyon, we got past the first three raps and started heading down the long hallway into Lower Water Canyon. About half way through this section, we experienced a couple of sloppy, sucking sand areas, but nothing above the knees, which made extraction casual. Moments later, however, I stepped off of a rock in the middle of the watercourse and INSTANTLY sank to my crotch into thin, watery sand. It was somewhat entertaining initially, and I took 10 seconds or so to have the moment captured photographically for all to see. Within those 10 seconds, the sand solidified around my legs and developed the consistency of concrete. I was unable to move any muscle below my waist, so I started digging and scooping water and sand to attempt to free myself from the sucky obstacle. After 10 minutes of digging, damming up the flow to better remove sand and water from the area, and attempting to lay flat, I was still unable to free myself. Enlisting help from the others, we were still unable to make headway with the extraction, as all attempts to dig out were thwarted by sand filling back into the hole. I also realized that no matter what force was used, there was NO WAY that I would be able to be “pulled free” without separating all of my joints below the waist. Reassessing the dilemma, we began to approach the problem more seriously…

First, we built platforms for people to lie on so they wouldn’t be pulled into the quicksand. We used tools (stones, helmets, sticks) to improve our digging abilities. We had multiple people digging to better stay ahead of the refilling of sand… all this seemed to have little-to-no effect. This went on for 40 minutes before I began to feel some physical pain from the constriction. One of my clients, Adam, and I discussed the fact I was quickly becoming a victim of compression or “crush” syndrome. As the sand kept refilling the cavity around me it becamenoticeably tighter and eventually was hindering blood flow in my legs, causing minor amounts of ischemia;  after 40 minutes, this was creating severe and uncontrollable lower leg cramps that I could not remedy, as it was impossible to move my legs. Yikes.

Adam and I digging frantically to try to make progress

Adam and I dug in again, this time at a faster pace, agitating the sand and then quickly digging it out. Eventually, we freed my right leg. Amber, another client, climbed into the mix to help excavate and extract. She worked VERY quickly digging (not unlike a dog digging a hole) and was able to reach my foot, which made it possible to pull the left leg out. Whew! A close call I never could have imagined from my prior experiences. As we continued down-canyon, I noticed many more areas of the canyon which had potential to hold this sort of quicksand and should be crossed with care.

Quicksand lessons learned:

1. If you sink into quicksand, even a slight amount, work very quickly to pull yourself from it (preferably in a flat or lying position). Don’t stop moving! Immediately start, and don’t stop working your way out.

2. No matter how entertaining it may be, don’t take 5-10 seconds to take a picture, as this is all the time it can take for the sand to solidify.

3. Dig VERY QUICKLY while agitating the sand to better free yourself. Think you’re digging quickly enough? No, you’re not!

4. Ask for help. In certain positions, it is virtually impossible to quickly dig yourself out if the angle is awkward.

5. If the sand continues to fill it could potentially get tighter causing much more severe issues.

6. Maintain good communication with anyone buried in quicksand, as claustrophobia can easily take hold.

Great to learn lessons like this. Painful, but a worthy lesson in an area I thought I had mastered in my past.

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