A Step In The Wrong Direction

Posted by Isabelle LaMotte on 15th Oct 2017

A Step In The Wrong Direction

As a child, my parents warned me not to play with fire, but they never said anything about the dangers of sand.

The 110 miles from Moab to Hite was my first river trip. I had been white water rafting once before at summer camp and I grew up with a river running through my backyard but that is about all I have listed on my river resume. Before we even put our kayaks in the Colorado I was convinced that spending my days on water was something I could get accustomed to.

I was right - I quickly fell in love with the ribbons of sandstone and the curves of the river. I felt myself quickly adapting to the life of river folk. It all felt like a dream until night number six. After setting up camp at Rapid 19 John graciously cooked the crew a steak and potato dinner over the fire pan. I was so looking forward to bragging to my brother about what I ate on the trip, this meal easily found its place at the top of the list. What I didn’t know was that I’d have an even bigger story to tell that would come to overshadow the details of this feast.

Two nights prior, our five-person team sat around the campfire reading chapter twelve of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire aloud. Taylor and I insisted on finishing the nearly 60-page chapter before we got off the river. We took it upon ourselves to move the fire-pan from between boulders that blocked the coals from the wind, in order to find a more suitable spot to read the book by firelight. Step one, find tools capable of holding hot pan without getting burnt. Step two, lift pan with tools - slowly and carefully. Step three, walk with pan to desired location. Unfortunately, step three was cut short. Taylor and I successfully lifted the pan, cautiously as to not spill any of the coals still glowing with heat. The mistake came with my first move - I planted my foot where the pan had been sitting just seconds before. Step four, dropfirepan&yell&holdfoot in whichever order seems appropriate at the time.

The subsequent hours were filled with bouts of moaning, tears, and a few curse words my mother would not have been proud to hear coming from her daughter’s mouth. But from this dreadful mistake I learned three essential lessons:

  1. In the backcountry it is imperative to hold a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings - the consequences are exponentially greater out there. This is a rule that I have always been told, but sometimes a real life experience is needed to really drive a point home.
  2. It is obligatory to have at least one member of your team trained in wilderness first aid. In this case Micah had his certification in Wilderness First Responder. His ability to keep my foot dry, clean, and protected with limited resources was extremely important in ensuring my health until we could seek expert medical attention in the front country.
  3. Having team members that you trust is your most valuable tool. I’ve known Micah for four years now and trust him with my life, but before this project started I did not know Taylor very well. After this week I trust both of those boys indefinitely. In expedition work that relationship is vital.

Soon after getting back to Durango the tough decision was made, and within 48 hours I was on a plane back home to Vermont. This broke my heart, but I have to remind myself that worse injuries could have transpired. I am now handling some behind the scenes work for the project while I rest up at home and should be able to join the group again in a few weeks. As John’s wife Suzette reminded me, this is all part of having a career in the outdoors. And how lucky I am to say that I have offices on the peaks of mountains, deep in river valleys, and everywhere in between.