Mike North: Sometimes the only way out of danger is ... up

July 17, 2012 

Mike North

Whether you're hiking or hunting your way through the wilderness, eventually, you're bound to wind up in a hazardous situation.

Often, these situations aren't the result of feral animals or precarious weather. They're instead manufactured by the outdoorsman himself.

Small bits of knowledge can go a long way toward getting yourself out of a bind and back to the warm fire of your campsite.

One technique that's helped me get out of a jam more than once is actually known as a jam in the rock climbing world. Finger jams, hand jams and foot jams are all free-climbing methods that can come in handy, especially when rock climbing without carabiners, ropes and cams.

It was nearly 10 years ago when I was deer hunting in the Sierra Nevada and found myself at the bottom of a rocky canyon. I decided to find my way out by scaling the side of the chasm, which didn't look very steep until I started my ascent.

It didn't take long until I was climbing vertical sections of granite rock facings, which are especially slippery rock formations since they accumulate thin layers of gravel on them.

Every step became trickier, and there were a few points where I would have preferred to go back down, but at a few hundred feet above the floor of the canyon, climbing back down would be even harder than going up.

Looking down didn't help my nerves, either.

It was then that I recalled the technique I'd seen rock climbers put to use while free climbing.

I started using various types of hand jams to maneuver my way across and up the granite rock facing and to the top edge of the canyon.

Hand jams are executed by placing your hand in a crevasse in the rocks and either twisting it, creating a "C" shape or making a fist to create tight friction that allows you to anchor yourself to the rock and use all your strength to power yourself up and over large boulders and cliff facings.

Similarly, finger and foot jams can be used when appropriate.

After reaching the top of the canyon, it was a good feeling to stand on flat ground, and somewhat bewildering to look hundreds of feet down to where I started.

Though the climb turned into a memorable mountain experience, I've since become more acquainted with trails that run left and right instead of up and down. It's easier on the hands.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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