July 22, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield

Don't Underestimate...

Listening to Search and Rescue


Here in southern Utah we have easy access to some of the most beautiful and interesting landscape in the world. And one of those things in the Grand Canyon.

The north rim of the Grand Canyon is only a couple of hours away from St. George, so we decided to drive down on Saturday and spend the day hiking in that area.

Most of the trails on the north rim are not scenic, as a matter of fact only one of them actually goes down into the canyon. It’s called the North Kaibob trail, and it’s the trail we decided to follow. You can follow the trail all the way to the Colorado River. It's a 14 mile hike with nearly a mile drop in elevation. If you want to make the round trip it's a two day hike. But we weren't going that far, our little excursion was only going to be a few hours long.

The only thing I don’t like about hiking those types of trails is starting with the downhill portion. I am an avid runner, and normally I start my runs going uphill rather than downhill. There is something about getting the uphill out of the way that is very satisfying. But on a hike like this of course you have no choice. You do the “easy” part first, knowing all the while that you will eventually have to climb back up.

As we entered the trail, there was a big sign showing a map of the area, the elevation, the distances and the stops along the way. And there was an interesting line written in bold.

“You are responsible for your own safety. Don’t underestimate the Grand Canyon.”

That line stuck with me. Don't underestimate the Grand Canyon.

As we approached some of the lower areas of the canyon we came across a woman who was clearly part of the park service. She pointed out that there was some drinking water available in a fountain right there. And then she asked, “where are you headed?”

We had reviewed the maps and had a pretty good idea of the destinations along the way, so we mentioned that we might stop and turn around at the tunnel or the spring, we weren’t sure yet.

In a friendly tone she discouraged us from going much past a certain point on the trail. She talked of exposure to the sun, heat, and lack of water. We assured her that we had recently returned from a long hike in the Himalayas and that we were pretty well prepared for difficult experiences.

She went on the explain that she was part of the search and rescue team in the Grand Canyon. And suddenly that warning at the trail head came back to my mind. “Don't underestimate the Grand Canyon.”

This woman probably sees thousands of people going along these trails, and has probably been involved in carrying many people out. She knows that people “underestimate” what they are getting into and she is trying to prevent people from getting themselves in trouble. She is actively trying to make sure she doesn't have to actually search or rescue.

We all see the grand canyon in movies, photographs, post cards and documentaries. The Grand Canyon is such an inspiring and beautiful place that people travel from all over the world to see it. All this exposure has led people to think of the Grand Canyon as an attraction, something like Disneyland. The warning on the sign and the woman on the trail make it obvious that visitors tend to have an innocent or naïve notion about it.

The truth is, the Grand Canyon is sitting there poised to kill you. And they know it's easy for visitors to get in over their head.

Getting in over your head isn't always a bad thing. A great deal of personal growth comes from getting in over your head. Whether it’s starting a business, getting married, buying a house or making almost any commitment. Stepping into the unknown is at the heart of growth and success, and it frequently means you are in over your head.

Getting in over your head can be dangerous, but I think that underestimating a challenge takes the danger to a new level. You can get in over your head and still be prepared. But underestimating tends to cause us to put our guard down.

If I know I am starting a hike that is over my ability, I bring extra water, I wear better shoes, I make sure I have food, a flashlight, shelter, etc. But if I underestimate a hike that's over my ability, it normally means I approached the experience unprepared.

Underestimation leads to overconfidence and even arrogance. We let our guard down, we don’t feel urgency or a need to prepare, and we stop listening to the warning voices.

No matter what we face in life, there are warning voices available to us. People who have gone before. The question is, are we humble and patient enough to listen

Do we take the search and rescue team seriously, or do we think it doesn’t apply to us?

Are we willing to stop and read the signs, or do we see it as an impediment to our progress?

I have been fortunate in my life to be surrounded by wise people who have guided me. I have often ignored their council at my own peril, but where I have listened, I have benefitted, improved and avoided pitfalls.

Are your listening to the voices of warning?


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