Fall From a Cliff

Backpacker|May - June 2020

Fall From a Cliff
When Shaina Maytum was 21, a slip in the desert left her broken, alone, and unable to move.
By Shaina Maytum

THE BLUE UTAH SKY filled my vision as I lay motionless on my back. My right arm was bent at a grotesque angle, my back felt like it had been shattered by a boulder, and I couldn’t move one of my feet. Only one person knew where I was, and she’d left me like this an hour ago.

It was April 2008, and my friend Brie and I had just started a 3-day loop hike of Fish and Owl Canyons in southeastern Utah. Trail descriptions warned about minor routefinding challenges and short scrambles over drop-offs and pour-overs, but we felt confident, having traveled off-trail and in canyon country many times before. Brie and I were looking forward to pushing our skills to visit the ruins and petroglyphs the canyons are famous for.

We descended a series of ledges, chatting and enjoying the early spring sunshine. Eventually the cairns petered out and we couldn’t see an obvious way to the canyon floor a few hundred feet below. We’d have to do some scrambling. Looking for the best course, I sat to peer over the rim—but I leaned over too far. When I tried to shift my pack, my hips scooted forward and I started sliding down the sandstone. I clawed at the ground, but I couldn’t slow down. Then the rock fell away beneath me. I screamed.

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May - June 2020