October 7, 2012

Limits… Do You Have Them?

I learned a little something about myself this weekend.  I’m not quite as foolhardy as I used to be.

I am taking a photography class, and needed some landscape shots.  I packed up my gear and headed out to Toadstool Geologic Park, outside of Crawford, Nebraska.  And of course, I packed up three or four geocache coordinates to take with me.  I’m not silly, am I?

My first destination is a geocache at the Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed.  A tiny bit of history: the Hudson-Meng facility is part of the Fossil Freeway here in Nebraska / South Dakota, and a very important Paleoindian archaeological site.  For me, though, it’s the site of a geocache!  Or it was.

We suffered some huge wildfires around here last month and though the firefighters were able to keep the fire from damaging any of the buildings out here, it devastated the grasslands, and my geocache.  It was NO WHERE to be found, and the yucca bushes it was supposedly near were crispy critters.  (On the good side, the fire exposed another fossil site they are excavating.)

Disappointing!  So I head off to Toadstool, another stop on the Fossil Freeway, and one of the strangest places you have ever seen.  It’s like you drove off the prairie and landed on the moon!  It’s a miniature Badlands National Park, or a washed out version of the Painted Desert.  The cache, however, was GRRRREAT!  It is a themed cache, based around the animals that lived in this area during the Oligocene period.

Okay, important stuff done, I get my pictures and head out.  But not without noticing I’m very close to just one more cache. Sugarloaf Butte is just a few miles away, and there’s a benchmark on the butte, what’s to lose?

This is the part where I tell you about having lost my moxie, and how you need to know your limitations.  Sugarloaf Butte isn’t very big, or very high.  But it is made from rough sandstone.  Rough, crumbly, sharp edged sandstone with quartz crystals poking out of the ground everywhere.  In the middle of nothing, 20 miles from the nearest house or town.  With no marked trail to the top… am I setting this stage yet?

I got within 200 foot of the cache when I realized I was out in prairie rattlesnake country, on a 90-degree day, with no cell service.  And I hadn’t told anyone where I was going, and my hands were already torn up from getting that far up the side of the butte.

The first rule of any outdoor sport, especially a solo one, is KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS.  I found mine that day, on Sugarloaf Butte.  Twenty years ago, I would have climbed that butte without thinking twice about the fact that I was alone, or acknowledging the dangers.  Today, if I had company, or cell service (and a good pair of leather gloves), I probably would have taken off up that butte anyway.  But not alone without a way to call for help.

To paraphrase my father, “Mother Nature doesn’t reward stupidity.”

So, no matter how gung-ho you are to find that next cache, be smart and be safe.  Know your limitations.

Peace Out!

Image Credit: John R. McNair / Shutterstock

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