Fight or Flight

I learned something about myself this weekend when several of my friends and I were put in a potentially life threatening situation, and I’m dissapointed in my reaction.The background:
Richard, Cat, Andy and I all went camping in Capital Reef this weekend, we all got back Monday. On Sunday we took a hike that was recommended by one of the park rangers, the Sulfer Canyon hike. This is a 5.5 mile hike, first down a “dry” river bed, which after about 2 miles runs into what should be another “dry” river bed that snakes down a fairly wide canyon (Sulfer Canyon). The first riverbed was dry, when we started, but obviously saturated from the previous day’s rain storm that had prevented us from completing that day’s hike. The second creek, as it probably should be called, is about 20′ wide at its widest, but generally from 10-15′, and, at most, mid-calf deep, but generally mid-shoe height. The end of the hike was the visitor center where we had one of our two cars parked

The day was beautiful when we started. Not a cloud in the sky. We started down the trail around 12:30 after completing a 3 mile hike nearby, and having finished lunch. We had been told that there were a total of three waterfalls that we would have to cross. We crossed the first two easily, but the third, roughly 4.5 miles into the hike, was nearly inpassable. It might have been passable if we had done a series of 10′ downclimbs on sand stone, but we had more pressing matters at hand by the time we figured that out. We had heard thunder and saw a dark cloud approaching, and we proceeded to miss-judge how long it would take for the storm to hit us. Luckly, we made it to high ground and under a very spacious overhang before the hail and then rain hit.

The downclimb was now off, wet sandstone is not something inexperienced rock climbers should be doing, especially without protection or ropes. This left us with the 4.5 miles back up stream to our car that we had taken to the trail head. Andy rightly pointed out waiting until the small tributary waterfall across the way stopped before we headed up stream, to reduce the risk of flooding problems. If the tributaries aren’t feeding it, then we should be safer. Richard took point, occasionally with Andy or Cat taking the lead for areas that Richard knew his boots would easily handle but wasn’t sure if theirs would. I took up rear guard, my reasoning was that I wasn’t going to let anything happen to my friends come hell or high water, for I am nothing without my friends.

Partially up the river, while we are actually moving in it rather than on the shore, which we had to do occasionally due to the fact that the water had risen an inch or two, depending on the location, we all stopped as we noticed something curious in the chocolate colored water. Bubbles, and some organic matter floating on top. While looking down at it, I noticed that the water level was rising. Part of my brain kicks in and realizes what this means, a flash flood is approaching. So, we are standing in a creek that is about to flash flood, and I realize it and what do I do? I look back, find a shallower spot and move quickly to that point before I run across. I don’t yell flood, I don’t say anything, I just turn and move instinctually to a safer spot to cross and then stop and wait. I don’t know why I stopped, I wasn’t in a particularly stable position, just a shallower one, so even if something bad did happen, I was in no position to do anything useful. I know that I was thinking, “This look like all the classic signs of a flash flood. Everyone should start crossing. This looks like an ideal spot for crossing since it’s the shallowest. I should tell them to come here to get out of the water now.” Luckly, Richard says outloud, “The water is rising.” and everyone takes off running out of the river, myself included. The water at that point didn’t rise that much, so the danger wasn’t that high there, but that’s not the point, the point is I did nothing.

I am ashamed of myself. I always thought that when a situation like that occured that I would be ready and able to help anyone, friends or not, in need, and yet I was silent. I moved with instinct like a spooked animal rather than a sentient human. It shook me to the core right after I realized that everyone was safe. I tried to make up for it during the rest of the hike by being extra vigallent, and observant of potential danger, and even volenteering for stuff that could have been more dangerous than it turned out to be, but it doesn’t excuse my actions.

Actions speak louder than words. Actions are more concrete than personal beliefs. Actions define a person. My actions on Sunday, in that creek bed, during a potentially dangerous situation for my friends, pegged me as a selfish coward, and I am displeased. I used to think that I would be willing to give my life for my friends. I can no longer hold that belief as being true because the facts of the trip show that I hesitated when they needed me to act.

11 Responses to “Fight or Flight”

I think you judge yourself too harshly, Stephen. In all my time knowing you, you’ve been a forthright and steadfast friend. Had someone been caught by the flash flood, I’m certain you would have attempted to help them. A moment of weakness does not make void a life of honor and integrity.

Paradoxdruid - September 6th, 2005 at 11:29 am

I think Andrew has a really good point. It sounds like you acted instinctually towards self-preservation. Any other reaction to such a situation would show some suicidal tendancies. Humanity didn’t evolve intelligence through acts of “bravery”. We are not lemmings!

Aside from that, it was a good reaction to help your friends too. You certainly couldn’t have helped anyone else if you yourself had been caught in the flood. And your brain wanted to warn just couldn’t find your mouth 😉 Trust your knows more than just good Scotch.

Besides all of this, I can think of many good examples where you put your friends above, if not your life, at least yourself. Tubing in Boulder Creek? (*twitch* *twitch*) Looking for Lily that one night? Don’t let one instinctual reaction (that was right one in the first place!) over-shadow who you are!

Maybe your expectations for yourself (and humanity in general) have been blown out of proportions by too much City of Heroes? 😛

Mallorn - September 6th, 2005 at 1:29 pm

Whether or not it was the right reaction, I still feel like I failed myself, if no one else. It was a commitment to myself that I made after I realized what real friends were. It isn’t pleasant to have something that you believed to be a core facet of your being be shown to be untrue, even just a little. Perhaps I am being too hard on myself, and you [Mallorn] know all too well how harsh I can be on myself at time.

Sorry, if the post seems out of place, but it was something I needed to get out in the air last night. My conscience was screaming at me and this seemed like as good a place as any.

stephen - September 6th, 2005 at 2:50 pm

Stephen, you said ??Sorry, if the post seems out of place??

It couldn’t be in a better place. This is the sort of interesting topic that I love to see. 😀

Paradoxdruid - September 6th, 2005 at 3:20 pm

I think you’re being too hard on yourself. The three of us hardly were longer in responding to the initial flood then you were it seemed. And actually your actions later on certainly showed concern for us. When Cat slipped during the second to last crossing I completely froze until you started telling us to keep moving in order to pull her out. This was a more dangerous situation that I think you showed a correct response, while I didn’t respond in any way except just to keep holding on to her hand. Rather than judge your actions on the single instance, it’s better to look at how you reacted during the entire hike out, which I think we all handeled as well as could have been expected.

mcmillan - September 7th, 2005 at 12:27 pm

“When Cat slipped during the second to last crossing I completely froze until you started telling us to keep moving in order to pull her out. ”

Wow, sounds like you guys had quite the adventure. Aside from the flash flooding, did you guys mean for the hike to be this tough when you decided to go on it originally? Maybe I’m just a bit of a hiking wuss, but that does sound rather difficult…

Teisha - September 7th, 2005 at 12:56 pm

Hear, hear…no more of these extreme sports!

Mallorn - September 7th, 2005 at 1:30 pm

“…Perhaps I am being too hard on myself, and you [Mallorn] know all too well how harsh I can be on myself at time.”

Of course! And I operate under the assumption that it’s better to be too hard on yourself than let yourself off easy. Because that’s why you have friends. We’re your reality check!

So set yourself (impossibly) high standards — you never know what you can achieve — but if you ever get tired of climbing that endless mountain, stop off at the ski lodge and we’ll have a cup of cocoa waiting for you 😛

Hmm, maybe I have a future in writing fortune cookie sayings?

Mallorn - September 6th, 2005 at 4:22 pm

The flood certainly was the greatest cause of the adventure. Until the rain came we were able to cross at most places without too much difficulty. Without the flooding it would have been a nice, though kind of long, hike down a canyon.

mcmillan - September 8th, 2005 at 8:36 am

I actually kind of miss hiking, but the kind of “hiking” I grew up with — in semi-arid Southern CA, where I lived until the age of 11, we had a huge farmer’s field across the street from us (at least 100 acres with usually no produce, but occasionally tons of watermellons) and near the far edge of the field, on the other side from us, there were these rocky hills that weren’t/couldn’t be ploughed and so remained rather wild (lots of snakes, rabbits, misc. insect swarms, and a temporal pond — really rare in a desert-like environment). Anyway, nearly every Saturday my sister and I would go out there with my grandmother (while my parents got out) and we’d “hike” all over these hills. I’ve been told the quasi-scientific term for this is “boldering,” as opposed to typical “who can get to the top of that huge, steep mountain first” “hiking.” To me it’s really important to have some sort of wild scenery when I take the time to go out and enjoy nature, and possibly do some real trail-blazing, as opposed to just traveling some well-worn dirt path up a mountain side. (Maybe I’m just out of shape though 🙂 ) Anyway, is that at all a real distinction between “hiking” and “boldering”? How do other people feel about this?

Teisha - September 11th, 2005 at 5:25 pm

I wouldn’t really consider what you described bouldering. That’s basically rock climbing where you stay fairly low to the ground so there’s not a need for ropes and harnesses.

I’ll admit I like being able to go someplace that lets me feel like I’m the only one that’s been in the area, though well-worn trails seem to be the most common experience nowadays. I’d also say that “who can get to the top of the mountain first” really is a bad way to look at being outdoors. I really enjoy just being out there, though it is nice to have goals sometimes.

mcmillan - September 12th, 2005 at 7:56 pm

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