You’re Safe…At Least ’Til the Rocks Fall on Your Head

Are you a rule breaker? Or a rule follower? I find people are usually one or the other. There are neural connections in your brain that either electrify the pattern, “I want to be free!” or ones that say, “I like structure—compliance is efficient!” I’m generally a rule follower—I know, ho hum, that’s boring. But my rule-orientation does have some limits. When I was in Utah in July, I hiked to Timpanogos Cave—which is in the Wasatch Mountains, about 6,700 feet above sea level. The only way to get to the cave is by climbing about a mile and a half on a paved trail, which brings you up 1,065 feet in 45 minutes. So, yes, you pretty much threaten your life to get there. It’s a paved trail but that’s because of all the switchbacks and because they know a simple tree root could lead to your quick demise. They say the hike is “very strenuous.” They tell you in pre-hike literature that “Hiking shoes, water, flashlights and sunscreen will make your visit safe and enjoyable.” And they tell you about red-striped sections on the trail where you must NOT stop or stand because of falling rock. Sure, it’s not Mount Everest. But, when you see that red line, what do you do? Immediately stop and look up. You ask, why is this marked a red-striped section? Where do the rocks come from, and how big are they? I mean, what else can one do at that moment? You want to have a chance to evaluate the big metamorphic boulder before it falls on your head. When life is staring you dead in the eye, you want to stare back, right? Forget the sheer cliffs to your right that dive into the tops of Douglas Firs and that call to you with a simple mis-step. Forget the kids running down the trail who do not move out of your way, so you hold your breath as they zing by. Forget that you read that a ranger went off the trail in the spring and actually died. Just enjoy the hike, and the cool caves lit by your flashlight at the top. But still, even if you’re a rule-breaker, you might want to pay attention to one small area—the one marked “DANGER: STAY ON TRAIL. RATTLESNAKE HABITAT.” In that section, even the bravest buccaneer should listen.


P.S. Mount Timpanogos is said to resemble the profile of a sleeping woman. The woman reportedly died of grief after her lover was killed. I think he was a swashbuckler and was hit by a rock.