Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Dangers of Hiking Alone...

It is easy to get complacent about hiking alone, especially when you are in an urban park, but danger can lurk everywhere. On this day, I was hiking along in Bradley Lake Park in Puyallup, WA. It is behind the Walmart and Pierce College is on the other side, so you don't really expect a true wilderness experience. It is a nice little fishing lake with a playground and a paved path and some other trails through the woods.

It was along one of the trails through the woods where I came upon trouble. I was hiking along a connector trail from a main trail to the paved path around the lake and there was a muddy section in the middle of the trail. It appeared that folks had walked through the mud. There were also small logs and branches in the mud to act as "bridges" through it. You could also tell that many people had walked around the muddy area, widening the trail and even creating other trails around this area. I decided to go for less impact and continue through the mud along the branches. Right in the middle of this area, my left foot slipped off of the small log that I was walking along and I sunk into the mud up to my knee. Now, off balance, my right foot also slipped and now I was sinking into the mud with both legs covered almost over my knees!! I tried to pull my leg up and it would not come, the mud was like cement, holding me down. Finally, I was able to slip my right foot out of my shoe and get my leg up and onto more stable ground. But my lovely (relatively new!!) Keen hiking shoe was still in the mud. I did not want to lose it, so I reached down for it. Now my arm was in the mud up to my shoulder!! I was feeling around for the shoe and finally could feel it. Grabbing the laces I pulled and pulled, trying to wrest it free from the mud. At this point my left leg is still in the mud and with the pressure I was exerting trying to remove my shoe, it was sinking deeper. I never really panicked, knowing that dozens of dog walkers, joggers and fishermen were close by on the asphalt trail around the lake. If I started screaming, I am sure that help would arrive. Perhaps it was foolish to try to save my shoes, but I really liked them and hated the thought of sacrificing them to the mud bog. With a loud "ZWUP", the shoe came up, now completely full of mud. I threw it to solid ground and then worked on my left leg and shoe. I still could not get my leg out of the muck without my foot coming out of the shoe. So I went ahead and slipped out of the shoe and proceeded to try and dig that shoe out of the bog. It was much harder to retrieve. It was deeper than the previous shoe! But I was successful!

Now, in my stocking feet, covered from head to toe with disgusting black mud, I made my way back up to the original trail I had been on and around to the asphalt trail. The first lady who I met in the opposite direction exclaimed, "what happened to you!" "Don't go off the main trail!" I countered. I made it down to the paved path around the lake and actually walked directly into the lake to rinse off. I still had to walk back 1/2 mile to the parking lot and my car. I got a lot of strange looks from the fishermen and dog walkers around the lake, but I was safe and my shoes were saved! Luckily, my backpack was securely on my back (not just hanging off my shoulder) and my camera, keys and phone were also securely zipped up in the pockets. I didn't get any photos of my embarassment. I was so incredibly dirty, I didn't want to get my camera out. And all I could think of was returning to my car and going home to shower.

More info about how to survive a mud bog or quicksand can be found here

The moral of the story is that ANYTHING can happen on even the most benign trail. So when hiking alone, always follow these guidelines:

  • Take well-known or popular trails -- Solo hiking isn't the greatest time to be trying to find the great lost trail or discover a whole new way to a favorite lake. Stick to the beaten path. There's plenty of solitude even on the popular trails and help is never far away.
  • Be aware of your surroundings -- Resist the urge to listen to that Ipod. Keep an eye out for signs of bears, cougars and other predators. Look for fresh tracks, droppings or scratches in the trees. Listen for noises in the forest close to the path. If anything doesn't seem right in any area of the forest, turn back.
  • Check weather and trail advisories ahead of time -- Before even considering hiking alone, check the local national, state/provincial, or municipal web site for predator warnings, trail closures, trail conditions and weather forecasts.
  • Bring a whistle -- If injured or lost, a whistle will carry further than yelling and can be heard over wind and rain conditions.

Ryan and I have raised $885 for the WTA so far this month and we only have a few more days left! We are 59% towards our goal of $1500. It's not too late for you to contribute something. If the check is in the mail, I have a grace period until September 10th to get it to the Washington Trails Association. Or you can contribute instantly with a credit card on the website.

Before I got caught in the mud, I had done 1.5 miles around the Lake Loop Trail bringing my hikeathon total up to 47 miles. I will be hiking a couple of miles on the PCT with Ryan when I see him again before the end of the month! His blog is

and we have a webpage on the WTA website

and my individual fund-raising page:

It looks like I can hike 50 miles on my own at home, on my layovers at work and while joining Ryan on the PCT. If you don’t want to donate via credit card on the website, checks can be made out to Washington Trails Association and sent to me at the address below. Thanks so much for any help you can provide! And stay safe out there!!

Amanda Arkebauer, PO Box 16131, Seattle, WA 98116


Anonymous said...

Brer Rabbit comes to mind, for some reason. What a crazy thing!


Amanda from Seattle said...

PS: I did get the letterboxes!! :-)

Also I just inadvertently deleted two comments to this blog entry. I was trying to delete them from my yahoo mailbox and ended up deleting them completely!! Sorry guys

Anonymous said...

(trying again) Reminds me of an ancient story on letterboxing-usa yahoo group. I think it was Psychomommy who got stuck in mud and had to be rescued by firemen.

Rabid Quilter from California said...

Cheeze Amanda! I've always been too chicken to hike alone--anywhere! It's a dirty gob but somebody's got to do it--LOL! I'm in awe of people like you Funhog and Delphineas who are fearless.


Anonymous said...

Glad you're safe! Put the shoes in a shadow box with your blog. What a memory!

Jen V said...

How scary! Glad to hear you got out ok.

Anonymous said...

Local news reports a strange mud-woman bathing in local pond. Film at 11....


Pam said...

It can also happen when hiking alone with small children. I was recently at a letterboxing event that included several area county parks, so not everyone at the event was in the same paark. I slipped in the mud and had to get back up the onto the trail. With a 5 year old along, I was his caretaker and he couldn't help me. It was a little frightening, but we made it through.

Tara said...

That was one scary story and glad you are safe.