Scouting: the activity of gathering information or searching an area.
Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary
Have you ever researched an area on-line or with maps, only to realize what you thought should be there is something entirely different?
How did you feel in that moment? Was it anger, regret, or discouragement?
On a recent waterfall scouting trip, I was reintroduced to failure, but what I took away was three lessons that will keep me (and hopefully you) motivated to continue to explore.
1. FAILURE – Sharpens Research and Planning Skills
I have found myself reinvigorated to find new waterfalls in Southern Illinois, but there was just one problem. All the “known” waterfalls have been documented, which means there is little to no information on the internet on these elusive off-trail waterfalls.
This leads one into the depths of USGS Topographical Maps, scouring the fine elevation squiggles looking for a hint of potential water flowing over a rocky ledge.
The topo map below shows an area near Devil’s Kitchen Lake in Southern Illinois. This stream looked like a good candidate for waterfalls, because of the large creek cutting through the landscape. The elevation change on side streams looked promising, with the potential for even more side trips along the way.
Success: Even though as we will see, this area did not produce any waterfalls, it did help refine the way I see the landscape. The squiggly lines did not lie about the area. They told a story, that one had to interpret to understand. I had misinterpreted the story and learned for next time that not all squiggly lines are created the same.
2. FAILURE – Reinforces Putting Boots to a Plan
Approaching the area, it was noticed that waypoint Trail Parking ? did not have the side-trail expected, but it did seem like a good place to start. Getting out of the vehicle, I headed down towards the creek.
What the topo map did not show was how overgrown the first .20 miles were. Small thorns reached up to snatch at skin and clothing. Downed trees made it difficult to make a straight line to the creek. It felt like a miserable introduction to a potential waterfall area.
These “unknowns” are the outcome of putting any plan into motion. Just sitting back in the comfort of the home and looking at maps never tells the true story.
That for me and many others is one of the headaches and joys of exploring.
Finally, reaching the creek, it was noticed that it lacked one key ingredient for waterfalls. There were no sandstone bluffs or rocky outcrops, just steep hills on both sides. That did not discourage me, I continued up the creek to waypoint Possible Waterfall #2.
What I found was a valley that contained a slowly descending stream, that was loaded with rocks. The elevation change was not abrupt enough to create waterfalls.
The same scenario played out for waypoint Possible Waterfall #3, but it was more encouraging, because before this area was a small sandstone bluff that soon disappeared as I approached the waypoint. What it did produce was a beautiful rock-filled stream.
Success: I had learned a valuable lesson in that even though my planning had failed, I was able to put this 2 hour, 3 mile hike into perspective. As I stated before, some people only plan, making sure they painstakingly dot their i’s and cross their t’s, forgetting the main part. If you never put a plan into motion, you will always be left with a void of knowledge and information about reality.
It painstakingly reminds me of my college days, where I spent hours listening to professors “preach” about their topic of “expertise”, only later to find out that they had never stepped foot into the real world with their information. Their knowledge only existed in a false academic bubble controlled by government bureaucracy. Oops, sorry for the ranting 😉
Even though there was potential for failure, I had to tell myself to get up off my butt and put the boots to the trail, and discover if the plan is correct or needs tweaked to match the reality in the field.
3. Failure – Perseverance Fuels New Discovery
Perseverance: steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
The last word in the definition of perseverance, discouragement, is what I felt after bushwhacking off-trail for over two hours in the drizzling cold rain, but there was, also, the feeling of gratitude and hope.
The gratitude came from opportunity of just being out in nature exploring. My journey had taken me to a stream that in itself would be a beautiful entity to photograph when the conditions were right.
The hope was that I would take this “boots knowledge” and continue more detailed planning for the next scouting mission down an unknown creek and up an unknown valley, where my persistence would reveal wonders in the Southern Illinois backcountry.
Success: If you zig-zag your way up enough creeks in the correct terrain, you will eventually find your goal. You may even be surprised on what else you find as your perseverance produces results, which is what happened later the same day. We’ll leave that for another article, though.
Below are some photos from the days scouting the area. Click on the photo to expand.
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