Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
Booby Trap
by Ram

Our good friend Dave Pitney is out and about, living our dreams—or not. Here is the story of how close he came to not having that opportunity.

• Part I — The Day, March 1998 •
9th day of a 13–day canyon trip

Friends assembled from as far away as British Columbia and Boston. A fantastic time was being had by all, as we pounded day after day down a variety of canyons. Day 9 found us in the Waterpocket Fold. We had been planning a through hike, but construction on the Pleasant Valley Road denied us access (for no damn good reason either). So we decided to hike up the canyon and tried to find routes out of the canyon to the bench land above. About half way up to the dryfall, that usually stops upward progress in this canyon, we came upon a log suspended across the canyon. This log was 4 feet long, 1 ½ feet in diameter in places, and was lodged into the wall by 2 branches on one side and the trunk on the other. It was positioned 2 feet above the sandy wash. Although, not a difficult obstacle, it was one of those impediments that was ‘just at the wrong height’ to be conveniently bypassed. Myself and another chose to belly under and out.

• Part II — The Second •

Our hero, Mr. Pitney, was third. Now please understand, after spending a decade at a large corporation ‘working’ in marketing in support of engineers, he had grown to have a disdain for most of them. But they must have rubbed off on him. For at this time, he decided to rearrange the environment. It was really a simple concept. Walk over, lift up gently on the log, allow it to fall to the canyon floor, and then walk by.


I am certain that most debris wedged in canyons do not have the surprise that this log provided. When our hero lifted on the log, by all reports it shifted 180 degrees at the speed of lightning. The log, afterwards, was estimated to weigh some 40 pounds! When it shifted, if any vital organs had been in the way the victim would not have suffered long. On this day, Mr. Pitney almost got away unscathed.


Jodie and I, who were ahead of Dave, turned at the sound and saw Dave retreating back down the canyon, arm held high in the air, repeating emphatically the word “OUT, OUT, OUT.” We know, now, that he was demanding a course of action. At the time, we just drifted back toward him to see what was happening. He first met our friend Steven Ziff, who now will share his experience. He describes the injuries and our hero’s condition:

“I think it was the left hand, but not sure. The colour (Canadian spelling) of his face was WHITE. After it happened, he ran back to the rest of the group (me, Barb and Nick), leaving you and Jodie, who eventually met us again. All I recall seeing is Dave slowly jogging out of a narrow section, holding his hand and speaking of pain but not yelling. Nick and I tried to keep him still but he kept wanting to move around. The skin was peeled back off the bone of his left middle finger? Or was it the index finger? Two other fingers were damaged to a lesser degree. Either way, it was pretty gross but surprisingly little blood.

While we were looking at the wound, Dave kept saying he felt fine, even though I wanted to lay him down. When he got sight of the wound, he went limp (he was sitting down at this point, with pack still on) for about 5 seconds. We got his pack off, laid him down on the ground with feet elevated above his heart and covered him with fleece to keep him warm. This seemed to help.

After the bandage job by Nick and his first aid kit, we walked him out. Wound had a big flap on it. I was busy keeping him awake, making positive comments, and making sure he did not fall over (while he was up). Because of the way the wound was, they just cut the flap off (it was too destroyed to sew back on) and bandaged him up and adios. Surprisingly, there was no bruising or crushed bones. There could have been! Lucky ducky!”

Now Steven, Dave and I started down the canyon. The others continued on up. No reason to waste a beautiful day. Trying to figure out what a person with 3 working limbs person can and can’t do, going through a narrow canyon with moderate downclimbs, required some thought. What we came up with was putting me in the lead, emulating his limitations by putting my hand in a makeshift sling, problem solving, and offering suggestions and support in conjunction with Steven who was behind him. I would add, at this point, that the famous levity and humor, that has endeared Mr. Pitney to us for so long, was reemerging. Fun? No, but there was a purpose and style.

When the last difficulties were surmounted, Steven retraced his steps to join the group (did I say it was a beautiful day?) while Dave and I continued the 2 ½ miles out to the vehicle. Dave at this time thanked me for my support. I reminded him that you always “dance with who brung ya” and, after 400 or so days together in the wilderness, that it was no sacrifice at all (did I say it was beautiful day?). I also reminded him, “Better him than me.” I got to drive his vehicle for the first and only time. Off we went to the clinic at Bicknell.

• Part III — Consequences •

Upon arrival at the clinic, the nurse took our hero back and soaked his wounds in iodine. The doctor came in and examined the wounds and said, “Damn, damn, I need a younger set of eyes in here with me. There’s nothing to attach anything to.”

Dave looked up at her, with wide eyes and a smile and said, “No, no! Don’t be saying things like that.”

The younger male doctor came in, looked over the situation and said “Ummmmm, I think we can do something here.”

Dave at this point went about a bit of self–effacing humor and a bit of storytelling. It would be fair to say, and if you’ll excuse me, he had everyone in ‘stitches.’ The medical staff said they would be back in a minute to conclude repairs. I, with a sense of wonder, told Dave that he was being a remarkably good sport about what was happening. He looked at me with glowing, knowing eyes and a nod. He proceeded to say “It is very important right now that they enjoy their work.”

What perspective! Repairs completed, we reunited with our group for dinner and spirits. Dave, tough cookie that he is, went out the next day and hiked those Capitol Reef trails that we never seemed to get around to because there was always better things to do.

• Part IV — The Lesson •

I had a couple of months to mull over the “it’s very important that they enjoy their work” comment. Then this needle–phobic found himself in a nurses hands about to have blood drawn for his annual checkup. It only seemed natural to tell the story of Pitney’s clinic visit. Abby, the nurse, was laughing away and every 30 seconds another nurse popped out of another room, checking out what all the commotion was. While I sat there, needle in arm, the nurses, with a degree of gaiety that was somewhat unsettling, recounted all of the revenge that they had taken upon the rude, the drunk and the mean–spirited that they had treated in the emergency rooms of our fair land. A needle twist here, a jab there. You get the idea. The lesson is obvious: politeness counts. By the way, this was the most painless injection I had ever had.

• Part V — The Booby Trap •

We have postulated that the force of a flood had wedged this log into the canyon with stored up energy; when released by Dave, it reacted with startling force. We have since referred to the event as the ‘spring–loaded log.’ We have since been told that wood can’t store up much energy; so it wasn’t truly spring–loaded, but still quite dangerous.

Oh by the way, guess what? We leave these logs alone now.


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