“Casual” Can Lead to Catastrophe Outdoors | Outdoor Leadership Skills

Cozy Temps on the Canyon Rim but Dangerous Ice on the Canyon Floor. A Perfect Recipe for Humble Pie.

“Sign me up!” I thought as I glanced at an invitation to a Christian Outdoor Leaders conference. Why not go, I love fun, learning outdoor leadership skills, and mixing it up with like-minded people. Plus, I was heading to the comfortable warmth of Prescott, Arizona and escaping the February cold of Colorado. It sounded casual. Dropping the registration form in the mail, I had no idea what I was really signing up for. Soon I would find out.

Man, did it ever start off nice. Rolled into a beautiful property with toasty temps. Perfect. Found a tent site with stunning desert views. Restful. As I picked up my registration packet I couldn’t help but overhear folks chatting it up about the ‘outdoor leadership skills and thrills’ options for the off-site afternoon. Interested. A group of people were amped about ‘canyoneering’. Just a half day trip to a local narrow slot canyon, like those pictured in Utah. Hooked.

I was a first-timer canyoneer. So far so good. When I sheepishly inquired about scrounging some gear, I found out that I could borrow a wetsuit. Then they told me to bring as little else as possible (hmmm… that sounded a little off, but I’m new to this, so I’ll go along). Light and fast, be ready to be mobile and be wet…don’t carry anything you don’t absolutely need. What’s more casual then not carrying anything? Sounds cool. I had no idea I would be eating that pun for lunch very soon.

Not What I Signed Up For

The conference ‘out-sourced’ a local guide to lead us. This guy’s outdoor leadership skills and experience sounded impressive. I’d never hiked in Chaco’s and a wetsuit before. Pretty casual. I was almost overdressed compared to the dozen other outdoor leaders with me. Hiking in a wet suit is kinda weird especially after about 45 minutes of hiking through forest and not in a canyon. Where’s the canyon?

Sometimes casual is too casual

Oh, the guide had never been to this canyon before. Oh, there it is. Finally, let’s get in. Oh, where the canyon’s stream? This frozen slippery snake of ice? We’re supposed to be hiking in this? I need crampons? I guess it is February…maybe a little early. We gotta at least we see the main part of the canyon. Wow, this isn’t that fun and it’s getting late. We gotta get back to the cars. It will take too long to retrace our steps, let’s climb up this gully and just cut back across the forest to the highway. I think we’re lost.

When did we get lost? Really lost. And none of the ‘outdoor leaders’ or the ‘guide’ brought a map, compass, flashlight, warm layers, water, food, or a way to start a fire?  Nothing. It gets dark fast in February. Maybe we were a little too casual, okay, maybe we were total busts. About dusk we stumbled upon some other campers who gave us a lighter. One girl had a cell phone. We called for help but the phone died halfway through the call. We settled in for a long uncertain night. At least we had a fire. At least I had a wetsuit?

Learning the Hard Way

The only person who wasn’t completely overjoyed to see the Sherriff’s SUV pull up close to our fire was our guide being rescued by the local SAR team he typically works with. But it was a relief to everyone else. Our call was just long enough to trigger a search party. Our ‘skills and thrills’ ordeal was finally over. Talk about a crucial lesson for a bunch of proven outdoor leaders. Our casual approach and over-confidence for a benign sounding excursion combined to get us into real trouble. Lesson learned. Pride swallowed.


  • What have you learned the hard way? How have you passed along that lesson? Try not to look down so quickly at those Israelites lost for 40 years or those disciples asking to sit on the right/left hand of Jesus. With honest reflection, that is us. And without God’s grace and goodness, that is our human condition.

Guest Blogger | Izzy is the manager of Wilderness Ranch, a Young Life backpacking program in Creede CO.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

One thought on ““Casual” Can Lead to Catastrophe Outdoors | Outdoor Leadership Skills

Comments are closed.