Best To Put Your Foot Down Only When You Know Your Footing

I had a recent experience that I want to share, given the reinforcement it will provide for ‘lessons learned’ both literally and metaphorically.

Fortunately I did everything right or it might have been a bit worse…

As often as I can and weather permitting, I enjoy a near daily hike somewhere out on the property. It’s not only good exercise but it further familiarizes me with the hidden acres out there, the ‘nooks and crannies’, as I enjoy being outdoors, the wildlife, and other things and hidden treasures that I meet see.

The sequence of events:


I told Mrs.J that I was going out for a hike.
(Important to tell someone that you’re doing something like that)

I told Mrs.J approximately WHERE I planned to hike.
(Equally important to let someone know when possible)

Even though I only planned on being out for about an hour, I geared up with my ‘every-day-carry’ for this particular regular event…

Knife (with a FireSteel)
Pocket flashlight
Handheld GPS (although I know the area – it’s just ‘for fun’ ;) )
Compass (backup for GPS)
2-way GMRS radio (home & mobile we always monitor the same channel)
Handgun (there are predators out there)

I also had my ice-cleats strapped on to my boots.

I decided to walk down past our natural spring (our water source) into a particular area that I have not yet explored in detail. While following the contour near and around the bottom of a particularly steep hill I noticed some exposed water up ahead. We have a few small brooks and streams that flow on the backside of our property and this was a new one for me…

The snow was about a foot deep and the brook only looked a few feet wide. I figured that I would carefully approach and cross over. After taking a few more steps my left foot suddenly dropped several inches as I heard ‘crack’ when an apparent ice sheet snapped under my weight.

Having suddenly been thrown a little off balance I instinctively thrust my right foot for better footing so as not to fall down. Well the force of that step broke through the ice and down into a bog of cold mucky mud. My foot sank over the top of my boot and I was still sinking into the muck like quicksand.

Immediately I sat down and spread my weight more evenly, which stopped the downward pull…

“Now what?!” I thought…

First I calmed myself as visions of being stuck out there first crossed my mind, including the thought of becoming a fossil deep down in the mud and being discovered a thousand years later by some archeologist.

Knowing that I had my 2-way radio with me was a HUGE relief. I mean that was the biggest calming asset that I had at the moment… I knew that I could easily contact Mrs.J back at base and describe my location.

I tried to lift my foot. Not happening. It was no different from being stuck in cement.

Fortunately the rest of my body was not in the mud, just my foot, so I was able to use my arms to grasp under my leg just above the knee and PULL without sinking my butt into the muck.

It took FOREVER (seemingly) but I was able to slowly pull my foot out of the cold wet muck.

So what are more lessons learned?

When in the snow and especially unfamiliar areas, you don’t know exactly what’s underneath. I knew that there was no water deep enough to get into serious trouble, but I did not know that there apparently is a bog of ‘quicksand’ out there!

If you see water ahead, take special notice of your footing!
When in doubt, get the heck out…

What if I could not get my foot out of the muck?

If I did not have the 2-way radio, and if I had not told Mrs.J approximately where I was going, it probably would have taken some considerable time to find me.

Note: Having an ordinary whistle could be a very important asset if lost or stuck in the woods! Continuously shouting for help will not be nearly as effective because the sound of your voice will only travel a fraction that of a blasting whistle. Plus you will fatigue far quicker.

Observation: You can be walking along or moving about during one’s ordinary day and in the blink of an eye you can be in unexpected trouble. This is where an every-day-carry kit ‘might’ come in handy (depending on the trouble).


  1. Glad it turned out ok for you Ken. Always expect the unexpected and always be prepared. Good read.

  2. Perhaps a good time to put in a plug for muck boots. In the south we may not confront the frozen situation you found yourself in, but we do have numerous encounters with “muck”, usually in and around stock ponds or swamps and marshes. The situation you encountered, not being able to pull your boot (and the foot inside) was caused by the suction/vacuum encapsulating them.

    With “pull on” boots, you can simply pull your foot out of the boot to escape. Then you can run your hand down the side of the boot to the sole, in the process opening an air path to break the vacuum, facilitating the retrieval.

    Modern “muck boots” come in many designs, including insulated that I would guess will meet the needs of you snow bound northerners.

    This suggestion is no way intended to be a substitute for the other EDC Ken mentioned, just a possible solution for prevention of “getting stuck in the mud”.

    1. @Dennis, All good tips. I do have a pair of Muck Boots, and I suppose that they would have served me better that day than my LLBean winter boots. The last thing I expected was to encounter mud!

      Another lesson: Expect the unexpected.

    1. The problem with snow shoes is that they don’t perform well while in the dense woods. The ‘footprint’ is too big and they get caught up on things (depending on ‘the woods’ that you’re dealing with I suppose). Great on trails and fields though.

      1. True.

        I just looked at my ice cleats. (several pairs) Ergodyne, and YakTracks (YakTraks? YakTracs?) I like the ergodynes… they are ice cleats. The yak’s are ‘springs’
        Glad you didn’t find yourself in water hip deep… that would not have been fun.

  3. Interesting spin after yesterday’s article; being somewhat prepared for even a jaunt in the wood by someone that understands there are unknown obstacles in life (otherwise known as Murphy’ Law) that WILL come up and bite one in the butt, or foot, as your story tells.

    I will admit I read the title of the article and 1/2 expected something different, more on the lines of “If you make a stand” you had better know the ground you stand on, Sally Q. Yates comes to mind. I have and probably always will make a stand on what I “know” and at times what I think I know. It’s the later that does get me into trouble at times, much the same as Ken’s “quicksand”.

    Both are lessons to be learned by everyone/anyone that actually lives a full and fruitful life. I know a LOT of folks, unfortunately, that are so afraid of getting stuck in that quagmire and sit in front of a TV (or book) and let others tell them their life. We are here on this third-rock for a reason, to live and enjoy the life we have, please do so when y-all still can, do not end your life with a question— “what if I had …”—just get out and do it, BUT be prepared as well as you can.

    Wanted to toss this in just for grins, which I TOTALLY agree with; Quote, Hunter S. Thompson

    “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

    Enjoy the Ride my friends. Just be aware of your footing.

  4. Wow, does that bring back memories Ken. While exploring our land while camping, I did a similar thing, only it was summer. I wanted to explore near the pond, so I proceeded to cross a grassy area but it looked a little soft. So I decided to get a bit of a running start to cross an area about 6 feet across quickly. My left foot sank immediately up to my knee the minute I hit this patch of land. Luckily with my momentum my right foot was already at the edge of this patch and a bush was with-in reach. This all with a 5 month old strapped to my back. Grabbed the bush and pulled for all I was worth even as my right foot sank up to my ankle. DH was with-in yelling distance but I made it out without needing his help. Scary though.

  5. A walking stick or staff will help reveal some of these hazard’s before you step. They are also great for working with rattle snakes. I like a 6 foot staff myself;)

    1. I always carried a walking stick while hiking in the woods, never gave it much thought while exploring near our campsite. I guess it could have saved me a bit of grief.

      1. Perhaps there is even a “survival stick”, durable, rugged synthetic material w/survival supplies inside. Perhaps an LED strobe on top underneath an unbreakable cap. Just an idea. Grey, been on Lake of the Woods many a time fishing for northern! Probably not the lake you were talking about, but you mentioned Ontario. Excellent Pike fishing, especially from a canoe!

        1. CR, Checked a map for Lake of the Woods, big area. I was more east and a tick north, so long ago I can’t even remember the main lake. I do know the lake we portaged to was Green Lake. We did not get the big Northern, mostly in the 6-8 lb. range. A previous year of the other people got a 33 pounder. Best I have done is 12 pounds. We actually got tired of catching the 3-4 pounders. Big small mouth bass up there.

          And to keep it somewhat on track, we went in May, right after ice out, snow one day, sunburn the next, clouds of black flies. A jitterbug on slow troll, like watching Jaws after the lure, they would miss and try again.

    2. Back in the old fashioned Boy Scouts we were always encouraged to carry a good solid staff at least as long as your height while out bush-walking or hiking through the woods.
      Even the Boy Scouts founder (Baden Powell) had a section in his original scouting book on the uses of and how to apply staves.
      One of the uses listed : extracting yourself from a bog.

      Many, many uses.

  6. Your mention of using a whistle as a signal device is a wise statement. Your story reminded me of a brother-in-law that became stranded while riding snow mobiles with friends in a wooded and mountainous area of Idaho. His machine stalled and slid down into a ravine. He was stuck and hidden from view. As he worked to free the machine, he wore himself out and could not scale the ravine walls to walk back to camp. He began to call for help and further exhausted himself. When help entered his area he tried to call to his friends but couldn’t muster much more than a normal tone of voice. He prepared himself to die there of exposure as the day started to become night. At that moment his friends checked the ravine and found him.

    A whistle could have led his friends to him much quicker as he feels his was saved from death only by divine intervention.

  7. I had the same experience as you did, Ken. I learned best not explore frozen backwater and ponds in winter from it. I was lucky to have my sled dogs with me as I ventured on ice down a trail to pull some cattails for my mom from a swampy area. Although it was 20 below zero, these backwaters have hidden springs and thinner ice because muck is like a mulch pile producing heat underneath.

    I fell through up to my waist in muck and had my dogs pull me out. They pulled as I held on to the sled and yelled “Hike!” a command for them to run. I was pulled out on the ice like a dead fish. I lost my boots to become the fossils. I raced home in the sled a mile away, jumped in mom’s bathtub with warm water because I was hypothermic and my feet went numb. I wore thick wool socks that day.

    After taking a couple hours recovering, washing and drying off my snow suit, I went to the garage where I threw Cody and Mariah with the sled with steaks for the dogs, a reward for saving my life. I was shocked to see when I opened the door that they rewarded themselves by eating all the elk rawhide webbing off the dog sled. I threw them the steaks anyway, and later rewebbed the dog sled. They always went with me as my buddy system when going on walks and exploring the woods for 15 years. They hauled heavy freight often for my business on that dogsled when snowed in on a mountain, and were the most wonderful pals. They had better footing than I did that day…the 4 footed type.

    1. @Stardust, Up to your waist?! Wow, Good thing you were able to hang on to that sled while the dogs pulled you out.

      I had not expected to encounter mud during the January cold up here. Your explanation of how it can still be thawed is a good one. Given that I wasn’t too far from our own natural spring, it appears that there is more spring water activity going on in that area than I thought – while seeping and ‘feeding’ the vicinity to create a mucky swamp even during the winter.

      1. Those “moon boots” I wore kept me from moving up because they filled full of muck and water and the foot part of the boot makes it harder to get out of the suction, so I pointed my toes and feet and came out easier without them. When I read your article, you left your boots on, so you know the feet are the hardest to move with the boots on.

        Talk about muck, some of our swamps will hide an elephant standing upright.

    2. @ Stardust

      How often do they prove it to be true… Man’s or Woman’s best friend, and yes quite often our savior, the Dog. As I sit here typing this with Blue laying by my side


  8. As a young lad, I once had to walk home in only my socks – had to leave boots in the mud and retrieve them when the soil froze solid. You only want to learn that lesson once.

  9. So Ken, a question…has the idyllic winter wonderland of the Whites turned into a hellish white landscape of desolation yet?

    1. I like the way you put that ;)

      The landscape has been white since 3rd week of November. As I look out the window at the Presidential Range on this clear sunny day (a rare thing this winter), that immense protruding hunk of granite is indeed looking desolate and entirely white. That said, I would love to spend 24 hours up there in the weather observatory ;)

      1. As would I my friend, as would I…down here in the southern tier, it has been a relatively mild January, but it looks like February will see a return of winter for us…not looking forward to it. I have about had it with lugging firewood and trying to livestock water liquid for the year…looking forward to spring, just need to get to it…

  10. Ken, glad a predator didn’t happen along while you were in a compromising position!

    I always bring my walking staff with me any time I venture out even on my land. Mine is 2 meters. I’m making some for the Grand-kids that live here now.(That has a great ring to it!!)

    I use it to probe ahead of me when I’m not sure of the terrain.

    I see others are of the same mind in the comments.

    A nice project to do when the weather is bad. Don’t forget to make one for Mrs. J…Just remind her it’s for walking not bonking you in the head!!LOL!!

    1. Looks like it’s time to find that walking stick. In fact, the sun is shining and I think I’ll go out for another hike – looking for that stick… Be back later…

      1. Okay, returned with a few candidates for a stick. We’ll see if any survive the next steps as I saw off the stubs…

  11. I’ve fortunately only gotten a wet foot a couple of times busting through ice on edges of swampy areas rabbit hunting in the winter. Nothing like a soaker in January with felt pack boots, weigh a ton and can hold some water. Not far from the vehicle and cut the hunt short.

    Some areas I have learned to avoid in the great outdoors:

    Cranberry bogs: I have been hunting and watched a person (my Grandfather) cross a big one using a poke stick so he didn’t fall through. No thanks, I go around, but the partridge do love to sit by the evergreens on the tiny hillocks in those things. Rather buy a chicken then take a chance. He made it to the other side, I did age a little watching him, he wouldn’t change his mind.

    Muskeg: Only saw it on the edge of a lake we were pike fishing on in Ontario above Lake Superior. Was warned to stay off of it, we heeded the warning from the local folks.

    Unknown Areas: we portaged two 14 foot aluminum boats (and motors) over a hill to inaccessible small lake in Ontario. Going down the hill is always a trip. The camp owner told us to look for the metal plaque fastened to the rock wall shoreline on the far side. It was mounted on the rock at the location ,stamped with two names and the date, that two canoeists tipped over were found standing up underwater in quicksand. We did find the plaque, it was eerie and sad to read and be there. We were slow motor trolling in the middle of the same small lake, the front of the boat to about 1/2 way along the length rose up and stopped moving forward. Looking over the side, we had ridden up a very large boulder. I got out of the front of he boat, standing on the boulder in about 2 inches of water, and pushed the boat off. Going slow in unknown area was the lesson and now a rule. After that happened we decided to portage back, like right now. We got the first two messages, didn’t hang around for the third one.

    Fishing up there, two people in the boat, one running the motor, the other in front looking for rocks on each side and in front telling the boat driver to go left, right or stop/back up. Different world.

    Sorry for the long post, wandered down memory lane again.

    1. Hey, Grey, I found out to always watch for “floating” docks in shallow water in these glacial lakes…don’t get out of your boat in the water to reach the shore. If there are no posts to hold the docks, it’s usually because quicksand will take you under. I used an oar to push my boat in 1 foot of water in this bay to look at a cabin for sale and it went over 6 feet deep in muck right next to the shore. It was a good thing I put my oar there or I would have been eulogized with the same sign you saw.

      So beautiful that cabin’s view was like a Hammm’s commercial, turquoise blue water, islands and forests, but so deadly.

      1. Stardust, hard to find the words about that one, talk about an instantaneous adrenaline blast. Without being sarcastic, sometimes less adventure is fine with me.

  12. Thanks for the story Ken: shows it can happen to all of us.

    For several seasons, I went up to my district early to scout and give trail reports. I was alone so the rescue would be hours away. I remember being much more conservative about crossing snow bridges over swollen creeks, (I did not do it.) Despite having all the gear you just mentioned, sometimes it is best just to stay on the established, safe, known trail especially if/when you are going solo.

    I would go back to quarters and phone in the trail conditions after brewing a cup of coffee and putting on dry clothes.

  13. Well I found out one can loose their “footing” inside their own house as well…lol. Slipped and fell hard in the early morning while half asleep. Not expecting that. Outside working on the house, doing chores, working the garden…..nope. Getting up to go the bathroom, yeah.

    I wish I had a fantastic story of my survival for y’all. I guess getting up off the floor while all 3 of my dogs sat and watched me is as exciting as it got. The hubby was snoring away and heard nothing. That happened Saturday and I still can barely move.

  14. @ Texasgirl

    “…floor while all 3 of my dogs sat and watched me…”

    I do at times believe that is exactly why they are called “watch dogs”….

    They sit there watching as if to say “why in the heck did ya do that??” :-)


  15. What an experience! This is one of the alluring features of being outdoors in the rural areas — there is an element of nature’s wildness that we just can’t predict. And that wildness is exciting, at times.

    The worst ‘ice’ experiences I’ve had were during winter kayaking in whitewater in 20-degree weather. I have flipped a few times in some of the Class 4 rapids, but was prepared with a wetsuit and a drysuit topper. Rivers don’t totally freeze around here that often, but the water temp can be in the mid-30s. By planning for a possible toss-out when paddling in winter, only the face and upper neck feels the cold ‘rush.’ It’s not bad and you don’t get hypothermia since the wetsuit is an insulator to the body.

    Are you planning to mark this area off somehow?

    1. Yes, Ken will put up a sign saying “this way to free stuff” for looters. lol

    2. Are you planning to mark this area off somehow?

      Since the location is so remote, no one else is around here – except us. With that said, I’m definitely going to check it out in more detail in the spring when I can see the ground, to see how extensive this (bog) may or may not be.

      1. Ken

        good you will check it out carefully come good weather.

        hopefully it is not a “new” sink hole or some such…

        am surprised you would not have noticed it prior, if it is not new. You seem like such a particular/careful/watchful sort, I am really surprised you would not have noticed it/prior. That is what makes me wonder if it is “new”/sinkhole.

        1. Anon, Like I said in the article, it is within an area which had not been explored (until now). Haven’t been here long enough yet to have covered all this land, some of which is not easy to traverse…as I recently discovered ?

      2. Please keep us posted on your discovery and what the area turns out to be. I’m so curious. A bog would be so awesome!!

        Some of our region is prone to the sink hole phenomenons. There is even special home insurance for sink hole coverage (at least, around this region) — a fact that doesn’t get relayed to regularly insured home owners. So if a home is damaged or destroyed by a sink hole, the basic HOI won’t pay out.

  16. Ken

    “Note: Having an ordinary whistle could be a very important asset ”

    so…did you have a whistle?

    I am betting that if you can continuously blew short bursts on it, it would have eventually percolated through to your home/wife/dog, and one of them would have suddenly realised there was a unusual noise and gone to investigate.

    I now carry a whistle on my keychain. It is a bit bulky, so I am on the lookout for one with smaller profile..but still loud.

    1. Yes, I have several. They are part of my various kits. I advocate that everyone should keep one in their own kit.

      1. I don’t pack a whistle because I whistle loudly and whistle even louder when I use my fingers. That’s always been my mindset until the past year — let’s just say that picking a horse’s hooves, and then having a need to whistle loudly on a trail doesn’t really give me a good feeling nowadays…I’m getting a whistle or 2!

  17. @ Anon, have you seen the whistle on the Baer Gryls survival knife? Perhaps the company could advise on where to obtain one without the knife. Unless you also need a knife that is. In that case, although I personally don’t own one, the upgraded Pro version looks like a decent purchase.

  18. UST JetScream Micro Whistle. One on my keyring, one on the zipper pull on my winter jacket. 1.5″x1″x.25″, orange, pealess, floats, 112dB. Don’t want to be “that old person” who slipped/tripped and laid on the ground for hours. Also, gives me piece of mind in the parking lot outside the big box store.

    1. nobody’s business


      good to know there are better options than what I have. will be looking.

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