August 2nd, 1999

by Steven H. McGarthwaite (aka ParnelliMN)

"Quick-sand (kwik sand), noun. 1. A bed of loose sand mixed with water forming a soft, shifting mass that yields easily to pressure and tends to engulf any object resting on it surface. 2. Often quicksands, A place or situation into which entry can be swift and sudden but from which extrication can be difficult or impossible: "this theory of the future entrapped [them] in the quicksand's of Vietnam." Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (From: American Heritage Dictionary)

Earlier this year, I was out prospecting trout streams that were listed in the Minnesota Trout Stream Registry, and was doing some spot reconnaissance. When to my surprise and endangerment, I encountered and became involved with quicksand. Needless to say I survived the situation, but it was only by luck and some effort to remain calm, when your only thought, and instinct is to struggle and escape. Only by understanding what quicksand is, and how it comes into being, can you avoid it, or if in its clutches escape from its perils.

"Sands are loose fragments of minerals or rocks. Smaller than gravel and larger than silt and clay, sand particles range from 0.0008 to 0.08 inch in diameter. They are formed by the abrasion or breakdown of rocks through the action of water, ice, or air. Sand accumulates in areas where sediments are transported and deposited, such as in desert and beach environments. dry sand is blown by the wind. Sand also occurs in fan-shaped sedimentary deposits at the mouths of mountain canyons."(From Compton's Encyclopedia)

I was scouting the Hey Creek, near Red Wing, Minnesota, checking on the makeup of the stream. I found it to be a narrow creek with very high sandy banks, and the creek bottom was a mixture of smooth gravel stones, and patches of course sand. There was many public assess points, and a large portion of Lower Hey Creek ran thru State Property. The creek was shallow (about 12" to 18" depth), with a swift and clear water flow.

As I was moving upstream, the creek bed twisted and turned, I was taking my time to try the pools, and undercuts at each turn. Periodically I would have to cross over to the other side to continue on upstream, either because of the underbrush on top of the banks, or because of the choice areas to present a cast.

It was at one of these crossings where the banks on both side permitted accessible travel, that I encountered the quicksand. The water upstream was tumbling over a layer of large stones that were across the creek bed, and below them was a shallow sandy bottom with a water depth of about 18 inches, and was about 10 feet wide. I started across when about midstream, I suddenly sank 3 feet into the creek bottom, causing the water to enter my hip waders and bring the water up to my chest.

The force of the water, the grip of the sand, prevented any attempt at my escaping. I found myself facing upstream, trapped, without a human being within voice range.

The sand encased my legs up to just above the knees, and the flow of the water was, trying to cause my legs to bend where they were never meant to bend. The coldness of the water was a shock to the body, and was rapidly drawing my body heat away.

Only because I did not panic, do I truly believe that I survived that day. I realized the problem I was in, and decide the best course of action was not resistance, but the opposite. I basically leaned back and floated my upper body (that was still free of the sand) downstream, and moving my legs slowly (with as much movement as possible,) did I extract myself from this deadly trap. By using the force of the water, and removing the vertical weight of my body, I was released by the quicksand that held me immobile for what seemed an eternity, but was more likely just several minutes.

I drifted downstream, to a place that had smooth stone bottom, it was there that I halted my progress. I left the stream, a very cold and wet, tired fly angler, very grateful to be alive, and not seriously injured.

"Quicksand, any sand that is saturated with water so that it loses its ability to support weight and behaves like a liquid; usually found in hollows at the mouths of large rivers or along flat stretches of streams or beaches." (From: Compton's Encyclopedia)

That was the end of that days exploring, and after returning to my car (wet and muscles very sore,) I headed home a wiser and humbler person. ~ Steven H. McGarthwaite

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