11 May 2008

Holy Sh!t - That was close!!!

Running the student field trip for the last few days, all going well, nice bunch of students, not especially wild but pretty hard working. We had a good couple of days up in the Book Cliffs and now we are staying in Moab.

Yesterday was the day off so after a big night in the Rio they all went off to do their own thing, some biking and some jeeping and a few hiking. I hooked up with some guys who wanted to go and see upheaval dome - I have seen it on the satellite image and its one of the few places I haven’t been to out here. There is lots of discussion about whether it is a salt dome or a meteorite crater, I must admit that it looked like a salt dome to me and the "expert" who was with us seemed to agree, but maybe the jury is still out. Good to see a bit more of Canyonlands.

After that I headed off on my own to check out some other salt domes which Chris Edwards had told me about - they geology out here is stunning, there is so much variety. Headed up Castle Valley and took lots of pics. Brought back good memories of climbing the tower with Mark Shea and then a couple of years later with Andy F - happy days. Great sections, then I headed up Onion Creek. Had never been up there before and it was a wild place, driving on a dirt road, continually crossing a small river. The road goes down through the blood red Chinle in to the chaotic salt and then up out the other-side.

I had just turned around and was heading down the road for home. The road was loose with a big drop in to the valley the one side. A pickup came towards me and I pulled in to let it past. The guy gave a friendly wave and as I watched him pass me in the mirror he suddenly and without warning lost the back-end. His truck lurched and slide, just gripping by two wheels to the edge of the road - at that point I honestly thought I was watching someone die!

We both jumped out of our respective vehicles and surveyed the scene. He suggested he could probably lock the hubs and drive back on to the road, I suggested that was not the brightest thing to do - and maybe at least getting a rope onto and hooking up to my car could be a good idea.

Fortunately he had a towing strap and we hooked it up and tried to use the Mercury Mountain (luxury SUV - designed for posing around town and not being in the desert!) to pull him back on to the road. This failed and and at one point I was seriously concerned that his truck would tip and take mine with it - ah well it's only a hire car!

Then we spent an hour or so of digging with a canoe paddle, building up the road with rocks, excavating various bits of the underside that were breached and trying to tow again. We were getting there but not very fast.

Since this was a fairly well maintained dirt road and a busy canyon, it was inevitable that somebody else would come also sooner or later. The first people to arrive was a totally useless, fat bloke and his even fatter wife on a couple of ATVs. She was even carrying her little runt dog in a pouch. They contributed nothing, just stood there looking bemused and slightly annoyed that the road was blocked. The next guy to turn up, turned around very quickly and drove off, obviously didn't want to be involved at all - nice!

Then along came a super hero. Circa 70 years old, 5'6", huge belly, even bigger grey beard, driving a massive pickup truck. He got out, wandered around, had a look, wandered around some more. This guy did nothing fast, but did install a certain degree of confidence, was that him or his very big truck? Probably a bit of both.

Moving a speeds that would make the growth of an oak tree look quick, he took control of the situation, clambered very slowly into the back of his immaculate truck, took out a ball hitch, hooked up the towline and then with no effort at all, gently heaved the stranded truck back onto the road. Result!!!

Then he unhooked his truck, packed everything up and headed off at the same slow speed. What a man! This left me and my new found friend standing by the side of the road, slightly bemused and very happy. We exchanged details, I promised to send him some pics, he promised me a meal in his restaurant in Colorado if I was ever that we and we parted company!

Interesting afternoon - several lessons to learn there
1. Its very easy for a small slip to turn very nasty very quick - complacency kills!
2. Mercury Mountaineers are shit for towing!
3. Canoe paddles make good shovels
4. Having patience with very slow old people might just save your day!

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