Look to Local Guides
Maybe you don’t have time to sign up for a class or read guidebooks, but you still want to experience Utah’s wilderness and backcountry. In that case, you can hire a local guide. “If you can find somebody who can show you the ropes or who knows the area or is experienced in a particular activity, seek them out and partner up with them,” Kelsey says.“I don’t advise people go out to a new area and do a new activity all by themselves.”.
Christopher Hagedorn is a guide, wilderness instructor and owner of Get in the Wild Adventures. Hagedorn has been an outdoor adventure explorer since he was a young boy growing up in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. (Watch: Permit of Solitude: A Guided Adventure Through Robbers Roost.)
Hagedorn says he has helped guide “incredible outdoor experiences” for people from all over the world. Less experienced travelers can tap into Hagedorn’s expertise by taking advantage of one of his outdoor educational courses, a guided adventure trip, or an all-inclusive wilderness vacation.
When people take courses, they’re less likely to make mistakes. “In the wilderness, if you’re not prepared, it can get dangerous really quickly,” he says.
Lack of navigational knowledge is the most common mistake people make in the backcountry, Hagedorn says. “These days, everyone wants to rely on GPS – the art of map and compass is going away and it’s still a critical skill,” he says, adding: “A navigational error can get you into big trouble.”
Hagedorn says the root of learning how to navigate safely in the wilderness is about understanding topographical maps. “GPS devices — we all use them,” he says. “There are a lot of different analogs and apps, but at the end of the day, we’re using a screen that’s relatively small versus a big map that you can print out.
He suggests downloading phone apps before you get in the wild and don’t have service, but bring a map in addition. “To this day, I carry both, my map and compass and a GPS,” he says.
Hagedorn gave an example of a real-life navigational error that occured in 2016. A father took his two teenage children on their first technical canyoneering adventure at Robbers Roost. His plan was to descend a beginner friendly canyon in the area for a great day of adventure. They descended into the canyon and went down the first rappel and pulled their rope. As they continued down the canyon, the obstacles became more than they could handle. At this point, they could not descend the canyon or retreat. There was no escape.
Fortunately, a retired couple where the family was camped observed their departure that morning. At the end of the day, they noticed the family did not return. The couple contacted search and rescue, who arrived and rescued the family from the canyon.
As it turned out, the father made a navigational error and descended the wrong canyon. He was one canyon away (less than one-quarter mile away) from the canyon he thought he was in. The canyon he descended was one of the most difficult canyons in Southern Utah. They were quite lucky that the retired couple had observed their departure and contacted search and rescue, he says.
As for other common mistakes people make in the wilderness, he listed people getting their bodies stuck in narrow canyons, not being prepared, and not understanding their limits.
“If the conditions suggest you shouldn’t be going, reschedule your trip for another day,” he says. “Sometimes, people push forward and do something they probably shouldn’t have done.” Looking at Southern Utah specifically, the biggest thing I see is people not being prepared on the navigational side and over-estimating their abilities to get themselves out of situations they think they can get themselves out of.”
If you’re wanting to learn the skills on your own, Hagedorn suggests finding a company that teaches wilderness skills, such as backcountry navigation, and to meet with groups and learn from them. “The bottom line is to travel in the wilderness and backcountry safely, you’ll want to learn those skills,” he says.
“Take courses from as many instructors as you can, because everybody brings a different perspective to the table,” Hagedorn says. “To be the most well-rounded, look to different individuals and companies to learn those skills from.”
If you’re seeking a “challenge,” such as the Dirty Devil – Robbers Roost Wilderness Area, one of the most wild and remote landscapes in the Lower 48. Hagedorn says to be well-prepared in backcountry travel and navigational techniques, and to be prepared to survive on your own. For this reason, it's helpful to hire a professional guide to help facilitate a fun, safe adventure in this spectacular and awe inspiring redrock wilderness area.
“I imagine you’ve heard about one of the most notorious rescues in this area that was highlighted in the epic Hollywood movie, 127 Hours. Aron Ralston got his arm stuck in a canyon and was trapped for several days all alone. He survived by cutting off his own arm. Getting one's body physically stuck in canyons is another very real hazard in this area.”