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.

Aram Mitchell

Renewal in the Wilderness, 135 Sherman Street, Portland, ME, 04101