The Kindness of (Young) Strangers

Last weekend Pam and I went canyoneering in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the vast expanse of public land between Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.

Canyoneering may not be the correct term, as it generally describes the exploration of remote canyons requiring technical equipment and skills.

Leaving Peek A Boo slot canyon.

Our destination was two popular slot canyons, Peek A Boo and Spooky, cut deep in sandstone bluffs a little over a mile’s hike down a fairly steep slickrock slope and across flat desert. Reaching the parking area required driving 26 bumpy miles through a classic Western landscape of sagebrush and rolling hills; cliffs in the endless distance.

I forgot my rule about doing strenuous things in the morning. It took two hours to get there, and we didn’t leave home until 10AM.

A lot of young families were there. As it turned out, that was a very good thing.

People tend to be friendly in the wilderness: a gemütlichkeit not dissimilar to what skiers experience on snow. Different generations attached through a common thread.

Those who had been there before were happy to explain what to expect in the slots.

Yours truly slithering through Spooky.

Website references describe Peek A Boo and Spooky as among the world’s most spectacular slots. They also characterize them as relatively easy. Peek A Boo is a series of sculpted terraces, requiring use of shallow foot and handholds to heft yourself from one level to the next.

Both of us needed assistance, and the other hikers, mostly in their 20s and early 30s, were more than willing to help. Thighs became steps, strong arms became hoists. They were strangers to us and to each other, and they took the time and effort — without our asking — to help and encourage these two older adventurers.

We should not have been there. Mid-way in, I was exhausted and we decided to turn around. A few young families scrambled down the steep rocks with ease.

Not us. We struggled, and when we reached the final descent, another stranger, this time a muscular 40 year old calmly talked us down the steep face. He literally carried Pam off the cliff.

It took a few minutes to collect ourselves, before hiking to Spooky, an adjacent slot. Except for the fixed rope assisted climb at the end of Spooky — we didn’t get that far — the primary requirement to explore it is not to be too overweight. It’s a deep, narrow, sinuous fissure. Even for the thinnest person, it is navigated with front and back to the walls.

On the way home, exhausted from the experience, we made a pact: no more attempts to go beyond our physical limits. Ten years ago — which doesn’t seem that long — Peek-A-Boo would have been a breeze. As septuagenarians, it is no longer for us. That said, we both know highly-fit and agile contemporaries who would have conquered the canyons with ease.

For the future we plan to choose hikes that will not overly tax us or place us in danger. Age-appropriate hikes where, as much as we appreciate it, we won’t need to rely on the kindness of young strangers.


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One Comment

  1. What a sobering message from the slot canyon hike. I haven’t heard of these 2 before and will read up on them. I’m 60 and work out regularly, but I don’t know if I’d be fit enough to take them on.

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