Growing up in the 80s Saturday morning cartoons had me believe quicksand was a real threat, in the school yard my mates and I even discussed Strategies on the best ways to escape if we were ever caught. We had all the knowledge.
As I grew up the presence of quicksand and other imagined perils of childhood were slowly forgotten. I even started to believe it might not even exist outside of some remote jungle swamp. I certainly doubt it is in any way representative of what was shown on 80’s television.
What is quicksand?
Quicksand is loosely compacted sand that is saturated in water, it acts more like a liquid rather than a solid.
It normally forms where water rich in sediments gets slowed in a depression causing the particles to settle.
Soft and sticky mud is common
Throughout my trout fishing career, I certainly had plenty of experience with soft mud. I am not talking about the sticky mud that forms an annoying layer on the soles of my boots. I am speaking of mud so thick, sticky, and horrible that I sink up to my knees with every step.
This sort of mud is tedious to walk through and slows process down to a crawl. I do my best to avoid it, and most sensible fishermen can. Only more adventurous anglers like myself, who decide to take a shortcut across swamps, estuaries, or shallow lakes have much experience with it.
Soft mud is horrible, but it is not quicksand.
The day I discovered quicksand does exist.
It was a late summer morning when a mate and I decided to fish a new river. This small mountainous river, barely larger than a stream at times is poorly regarded as a fishery.
I always say the water runs cloudy for 48 weeks of the year, in the warmer months the river carves itself a path through cliffs and gorges rich in mudstone, causing the river’s waters to be thick with sediment. In the winter and spring, huge amounts of snow melt adds to the discoloration.
The only time it runs clear is in the driest of summer months when the river lacks volume, or in the middle of winter when the headwaters are frozen. So, the water in this river carries an awful amount of sediment, which makes trout fishing difficult, and despite my best efforts, I have never caught a trout while fly fishing there. I always use spinning gear and have had some great success, I suppose large streamers will also work but the river is a bit small for my 8wt.
Getting back to the story, we decided to investigate and fish a gorge, which required climbing over and around some fairly large boulders. I was wearing trail runners, and my mate was in rubber boots. So I was taking a more active route, climbing and jumping over the boulders, while he was walking around.
I climbed, onto the top of a boulder just high enough to make me think twice before leaping off, standing there I looked down and there was a large flat patch of dark sand. It looked like the perfect landing. So I took the leap.
I landed but did not stop falling and in an instant I found myself standing waist deep in a sand patch, I was actually stuck, fortunately I was not sinking further, my feet were only solid ground. I eventually convinced my mate to stop laughing and to take my rod to free up my hands, which gave me the freedom to slowly dig my way out. I did eventually get out, but the sand stole one of my shoes which took even further digging to rescue.
To this day I still wonder how deep I might have sunk if there was not a solid bottom beneath the sand.
Is quicksand a threat?
Based on my reading, quicksand is not actually a risk.
While people and animals can quite easily get stuck in it, due to the density of the sand our torso contains enough positive buoyancy to prevent us from sinking much beyond our waist. Just like in water, people will eventually float.
The biggest risk that quicksand presents is losing footwear or socks to the sanction as we pull our feet free.
How to escape from quicksand?
In my experience, I was in no way strong enough to pull myself free with brute force. I was very stuck. Even my mate could not pull me out when he tried.
To get out I had to wiggle my legs as much as possible to try and reduce the suction while using my hands to dig away as much sand as possible.
After several minutes of digging, I was able to free my legs and pulled myself free on my belly (maximizing surface area).
I also had to return to the sand patch laying on my stomach to recover my shoe and sock that I lost while getting out.