Navigating the Obstacles

I woke up yesterday morning to a familiar sensation. It was an intensified version of a feeling I felt several weeks ago while I was guiding a backpacking trip through a wilderness canyon.

I woke up with a sinking feeling in my gut, a sense of dread and confusion. I was profoundly unsure of what to do.

I was camped out in the desert canyon right across from a natural spring of delicious water. I was there with a small group of people. We were a couple days into a 40 mile trek. The first several miles had been grueling. Wilderness isn’t meant to be easy after all. But the itinerary I had planned for the remainder of the trip was much lighter. The plan was good. All was well.


Then, during the night around 3:00 a.m., a flash flood ripped through the canyon turning what had previously been a navigable river into a raging enigma. We were now surrounded by swift and muddy water on three sides. We were backed up against a canyon wall that stretched a hundred feet above our heads. We were cut off from our water supply across the river.

For a long while I just stared at the river in wonder. As a guide, I was prepared for the possibility of such an event but it still hit like… well, like tons of heavy silt rambling past my place of rest. I wondered how long we would be stuck. I wondered how we’d find our way safely to the end of the trail.

When I woke up that morning I was overwhelmed. Then I remembered—we had water filters, plenty of food, shelter and excellent company. I did not stop feeling overwhelmed and afraid, but my shock at the power of the flood was balanced by a confidence in our group, our resolve, our provisions and our resilience.

Every array of wilderness obstacles requires a different range of moment-to-moment skill and morale. For this obstacle, well, you kind of had to be there to understand its particular force and to appreciate our tactics of navigation. But I will tell you this: Navigating it took a combination of care and courage, organization and commitment, candor and solidarity, pancakes and pep talks. And it was scary. And it was hard. And we made it.