Quicksand

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Titans

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Before you get stuck in quicksand - how can you tell you are approaching it? What is your experience or advise?

Today we approached a slot canyon deep in White Rocks Canyon off Churwell, Utah. Water was dripping down everywhere (snow melting). At the entry point there was a pool of water. Probably just fine, but Rick sank in quickly, as you would expect around a pool of water. We thought it was too wet to enter. It looked like you could jump across the gap.
(But I remembered @b.stark TR helping a woman out of the quicksand close to a wall like that)

So how do you recognize it?

20F63D43-032B-4849-9891-C944CCF90382.jpeg
 

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regehr

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#2
I've never worried about it much but I did really amuse my kids a few years ago we found a pool of quicksand that had water bubbling up through from below, and was much looser than I was expecting. I stuck my leg in expecting to encounter some resistance and was at least knee deep before I could try to fix it, at which point of course my shoe came off...
 

LarryBoy

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#3
I find it's worse right next to walls, particularly where water flows at a wall and is forced to turn and run parallel to the wall. It's the worst just a few feet downstream of where the water turns. I hope that makes sense; kinda hard to describe in words. Also worst in the low pressure/lee/downstream side of any rocks sitting in the middle of the stream.
 

regehr

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#4
I mean, I think in principle you can get into trouble with quicksand but I've never seen anything like that happen. Has anyone had actual trouble with it? Supposedly even in the worst case it's dense enough that you won't sink far if you stop struggling. Course that doens't get you loose.
 
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#5
Never really thought about quicksand before, what do you do if you are solo and get stuck? Cross your fingers and hope someone comes by? Freeze in the cold mud?
 

Nick

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#6
I find it's worse right next to walls, particularly where water flows at a wall and is forced to turn and run parallel to the wall. It's the worst just a few feet downstream of where the water turns. I hope that makes sense; kinda hard to describe in words. Also worst in the low pressure/lee/downstream side of any rocks sitting in the middle of the stream.
This ^

There's quicksand and then there's stagnant pools with silt mud like the photo above. I consider the two to be usually, but not always, different things. Quicksand usually occurs with flowing water and can be hard to see at all. Or often it's on the banks where water is suspended in the sand. Usually one step is a warning and you can scurry out of the way. One time on the upper Escalante we rounded a corner and I went from walking in 2" deep water to being up to my thighs in a matter of seconds. On another trip on the middle Escalante, we were doing a big loop right after a massive flood event. Nearly every corner was dangerous quicksand. The actual consistency was not really sandy or muddy at all. It was gravely. One minute I'm in calf to knee deep water, the next my legs are encased in what feels like concrete and I'm forced to nearly kiss the river as I try to keep as much of my pack out of the water as possible.

This was me in the first incident I mentioned.


This was more like silt mud quicksand mix in the Lower Black Box.
 

Titans

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I find it's worse right next to walls, particularly where water flows at a wall and is forced to turn and run parallel to the wall. It's the worst just a few feet downstream of where the water turns. I hope that makes sense; kinda hard to describe in words. Also worst in the low pressure/lee/downstream side of any rocks sitting in the middle of the stream.
Makes sense !
 

b.stark

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#8
I'll admit my experience with quicksand in desert areas is very limited, most of my experience with it is in sandy rivers here in Nebraska. Easiest way I tend to recognize it, where sand is the surface material, is that it starts to get a bit squishy and you see significant water around your footsteps. The sand seems to start to liquify around your feet. Here it's usually a pretty gradual change. Often there are spots of it that are barely even noticeable until you stand still for a while and begin sinking.

Here is is usually associated with streams, rivers, or sometimes springs. Along rivers and streams, downstream ends of sandbars or upper ends of old channels are common places to find it. Basically anywhere water is moving downstream/downhill through sand then begins coming back out of it. In springy spots, natural water pressure pushes the water up through the sand to give the quicksand effect. So also, anywhere where there is a spring in even a flat sandy area can have some quicksand.

Typically it's not much of a threat. Nebraska actually has tons of it because a huge part of the state is sand, and most rivers are very sandy. I worry more about getting stuck in mud than quicksand here. Best thing to do is to just find a different way when things get squishy. Of course in a narrow canyon that's not always possible. If it's not too bad and you're not too heavy, moving quickly will get you across some that's not too bad (or will just get you in deep if you've misjudged...). The best thing to do if you do get stuck is to find a way to distribute your weight across the sand and work on getting whatever part of you is stuck out. Trekking poles, sticks, a pack, sit or lay down.... usually something like that works. If youre stuck good you may have to try to dig a bit.

That woman in coyote gulch is the only person I've ever seen really stuck in quicksand, and I found out later she was carrying something like 11 liters of water, as well as heavy gear in general, so a heavy pack was probably what really got her in trouble. I laid down a couple small cottonwood logs to get close and ensure I didn't sink in and it didn't take long to get her out. She had sunk in knee deep.
 

Titans

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This ^

There's quicksand and then there's stagnant pools with silt mud like the photo above. I consider the two to be usually, but not always, different things. Quicksand usually occurs with flowing water and can be hard to see at all. Or often it's on the banks where water is suspended in the sand. Usually one step is a warning and you can scurry out of the way. One time on the upper Escalante we rounded a corner and I went from walking in 2" deep water to being up to my thighs in a matter of seconds. On another trip on the middle Escalante, we were doing a big loop right after a massive flood event. Nearly every corner was dangerous quicksand. The actual consistency was not really sandy or muddy at all. It was gravely. One minute I'm in calf to knee deep water, the next my legs are encased in what feels like concrete and I'm forced to nearly kiss the river as I try to keep as much of my pack out of the water as possible.

This was me in the first incident I mentioned.


This was more like silt mud quicksand mix in the Lower Black Box.
WOW ! Thanks for the explanation @Nick . Incredible it can go that quick.
I never thought much about it, until I read @b.stark TR, think that was also from Escalante
 

Titans

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I'll admit my experience with quicksand in desert areas is very limited, most of my experience with it is in sandy rivers here in Nebraska. Easiest way I tend to recognize it, where sand is the surface material, is that it starts to get a bit squishy and you see significant water around your footsteps. The sand seems to start to liquify around your feet. Here it's usually a pretty gradual change. Often there are spots of it that are barely even noticeable until you stand still for a while and begin sinking.

Here is is usually associated with streams, rivers, or sometimes springs. Along rivers and streams, downstream ends of sandbars or upper ends of old channels are common places to find it. Basically anywhere water is moving downstream/downhill through sand then begins coming back out of it. In springy spots, natural water pressure pushes the water up through the sand to give the quicksand effect. So also, anywhere where there is a spring in even a flat sandy area can have some quicksand.

Typically it's not much of a threat. Nebraska actually has tons of it because a huge part of the state is sand, and most rivers are very sandy. I worry more about getting stuck in mud than quicksand here. Best thing to do is to just find a different way when things get squishy. Of course in a narrow canyon that's not always possible. If it's not too bad and you're not too heavy, moving quickly will get you across some that's not too bad (or will just get you in deep if you've misjudged...). The best thing to do if you do get stuck is to find a way to distribute your weight across the sand and work on getting whatever part of you is stuck out. Trekking poles, sticks, a pack, sit or lay down.... usually something like that works. If youre stuck good you may have to try to dig a bit.

That woman in coyote gulch is the only person I've ever seen really stuck in quicksand, and I found out later she was carrying something like 11 liters of water, as well as heavy gear in general, so a heavy pack was probably what really got her in trouble. I laid down a couple small cottonwood logs to get close and ensure I didn't sink in and it didn't take long to get her out. She had sunk in knee deep.
Thanks for the explanation @b.stark
It was likely just silted mud as Nick explained above. Rick stepped to the edge, it was ofcourse squishy and water surrounded the foot quickly.
It makes sense that it happens a lot next to flowing water or springs.
 

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#11
I’ve hit some knee/thigh deep stuff but have always been able to get out ok. In addition to the above, I’ve experienced it bad where side canyons drain into a larger waterway (specifically Stevens into the Escalante).

Several years ago I was talking to a ranger in Arches and a local woman had spent the previous night stuck in quicksand in Courthouse Wash (I’ve experienced some serious stuff in there as well). Her friends called in the morning after when she missed book club and they couldn’t get ahold of her.
 

LarryBoy

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#12
I’ve hit some knee/thigh deep stuff but have always been able to get out ok. In addition to the above, I’ve experienced it bad where side canyons drain into a larger waterway (specifically Stevens into the Escalante).

Several years ago I was talking to a ranger in Arches and a local woman had spent the previous night stuck in quicksand in Courthouse Wash (I’ve experienced some serious stuff in there as well). Her friends called in the morning after when she missed book club and they couldn’t get ahold of her.
Ewww yes both of those spots are nasty. Drawing on the distinction that Nick drew, I'd say Courthouse is the moving water, "true" quicksand, while Lower Stevens is the stagnant water silty glop. Both equally nasty but in their own special way.
 
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Ewww yes both of those spots are nasty. Drawing on the distinction that Nick drew, I'd say Courthouse is the moving water, "true" quicksand, while Lower Stevens is the stagnant water silty glop. Both equally nasty but in their own special way.
I should have clarified that the Stevens experience was actually in the Escalante right where Stevens flows in, so still moving but definitely a bit different still. I assume the tributary somehow can affect the structure of the streambed where it comes in.
 
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#14
This ^

There's quicksand and then there's stagnant pools with silt mud like the photo above. I consider the two to be usually, but not always, different things. Quicksand usually occurs with flowing water and can be hard to see at all. Or often it's on the banks where water is suspended in the sand. Usually one step is a warning and you can scurry out of the way. One time on the upper Escalante we rounded a corner and I went from walking in 2" deep water to being up to my thighs in a matter of seconds. On another trip on the middle Escalante, we were doing a big loop right after a massive flood event. Nearly every corner was dangerous quicksand. The actual consistency was not really sandy or muddy at all. It was gravely. One minute I'm in calf to knee deep water, the next my legs are encased in what feels like concrete and I'm forced to nearly kiss the river as I try to keep as much of my pack out of the water as possible.

This was me in the first incident I mentioned.


This was more like silt mud quicksand mix in the Lower Black Box.
I hit this silt-mud quicksand hiking in the Virgin River narrows about 200 yards upstream from Big Springs. Sunk up to over my beltline and I was hiking alone. I quickly bent over placing my chest on the muck, then shoving my hiking poles under my chest to help bouyancy. I remembered I had a dry pack intentionally filled wirh some air in my backpack so I dug it out and shoved that under my chest. It helped. I then, one leg at a time slowly turned it in a circular motion to free it from the suction. Once I got one unstuck, I did the same for the second leg. After lying there exhausted, I started the swim/crabcrawl as best I could. I finally got a grasp of a bush and tried to pull myself out but no way. So more "swimming" until I got most of my upper body out and I was exhausted and laid there for a while. I finally pulled/kicked all the way out.
I got to Big Springs and met two photographers who told me that I looked like I just crawled out of a WWI trench.
 

Titans

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I hit this silt-mud quicksand hiking in the Virgin River narrows about 200 yards upstream from Big Springs. Sunk up to over my beltline and I was hiking alone. I quickly bent over placing my chest on the muck, then shoving my hiking poles under my chest to help bouyancy. I remembered I had a dry pack intentionally filled wirh some air in my backpack so I dug it out and shoved that under my chest. It helped. I then, one leg at a time slowly turned it in a circular motion to free it from the suction. Once I got one unstuck, I did the same for the second leg. After lying there exhausted, I started the swim/crabcrawl as best I could. I finally got a grasp of a bush and tried to pull myself out but no way. So more "swimming" until I got most of my upper body out and I was exhausted and laid there for a while. I finally pulled/kicked all the way out.
I got to Big Springs and met two photographers who told me that I looked like I just crawled out of a WWI trench.
:eek: Wow!
 
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#16
There used to be a lot of quicksand along the San Rafael River, but the advent of tamarisk has dried a lot of that up. The old-time cowboys there used to have to ride bog, pulling the cattle out with ropes. I had one of them tell me one time that if I ever got stuck in serious quicksand, I should lie down and roll, as it distributes the weight. I have fortunately never had to put his theory into practice, and I’m not really sure how one would do that if you’re stuck up to your thighs, but it sounds kind of like what @Carcass did.
 

slc_dan

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#18
Worst for me has been where lake powell retracts. Specifically from 40-mile to the lake.
 
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#19
There used to be a lot of quicksand along the San Rafael River, but the advent of tamarisk has dried a lot of that up. The old-time cowboys there used to have to ride bog, pulling the cattle out with ropes. I had one of them tell me one time that if I ever got stuck in serious quicksand, I should lie down and roll, as it distributes the weight. I have fortunately never had to put his theory into practice, and I’m not really sure how one would do that if you’re stuck up to your thighs, but it sounds kind of like what @Carcass did.
Spreading your weight will stop any "sinking" if you hit a deep spot. Technically, you will never "go under " because at some point, density takes over and you will "float." Good luck getting out by yourself though.

Knee/thigh deep, you should be able to use you walking stick and put it down by you leg and swirl it to free your leg, but if you are still in quicksand, it will sink again with the next step.

"Swimming" won't be pretty and it is exhausting and awkward, but it works.
 
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#20
I've had my dogs get into mild quicksand but they always stopped sinking when they got up to their tummies. They did kind of swim themselves out, though I was nearby and could pull them out. But then, they don't weigh all that much.

(We're talking narrow washes with no real danger to a human, as I could easily jump across and avoid it, as well as pull them out. They quickly learned to stay off the sand when it was soupy.)

Having a bit of a pot belly might be a good thing, so enjoy the upcoming holidays and eat well.
 

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