A Trivial Piece of Knowledge That Might Save Your Life One Day Cover

A Trivial Piece of Knowledge That Might Save Your Life One Day

Being able to tell the four cardinal directions from the sun.

This has saved my life once already. Here’s the story.

In 2013, I was touring through the US with one of my best friends. We spent a couple days in Page, AZ visiting some national parks and local sights. Another friend had told me about a cool, less tourist-y spot called Yellow Rock.

On the day we wanted to explore that, my friend didn’t feel well, and decided to stay home. So I went by myself.

I took our (admittedly awesome) rental car, drove for about an hour and parked…in the middle of nowhere.

I mean, this is what the spot looks like on Google Maps:

There was a map close to the rock, which made the path to the rock seem pretty straightforward…but it wasn’t.

After walking around an empty riverbed…

…climbing the wrong ridge…

…and asking the only person I bumped into, who didn’t know anything either, I eventually found the right path, which was marked by nothing but tiny, tiny, stone towers, like the ones you see in spas and zen places:

I made my way along it, until finally, the goal was in sight:

So over the hump and away I went, once I saw the rock, the path was clear: up, up and up he goes!

The ascent was steep, but I made it! I enjoyed the fresh air at the top, had my last water and juice, took a couple of pictures, made some time lapses and even sent a message to my friend, because on top of the rock, I actually had cell reception.


Soon, it was getting late, dusk slowly started to settle in and I was all out of food – time to get back!

But…wait..where the hell did I come from?

Here’s what I saw when I looked back:

Because the hill I had climbed to even get to the rock part was so high and there was no clearly treaded path to the rock itself, I couldn’t make out the path I’d taken to get there. Shit!

Since I’d faced the rock straight on after climbing the first ridge, I thought: “Hm, the path back should be pretty straightforward also!”

I walked back down and went as “straight” as I could, but soon found myself facing a very steep decline, almost cliff-like, which I figured I would have to rather slide down than walk, if even.

Nope, that’s not it. I turned around and found myself to the side of the rock – I had veered off to the right – crap!

Later, I realized that…

…when actually…

As I was seriously considering calling 911 and already saw myself paying thousands of dollars for a very embarrassing helicopter rescue, I remembered something: the road is east of the rock!

Okay, awesome, now…where is east? Ah! My iPhone has a compass app!

I fumble it out…and…nothing – because the damned compass app needed an internet connection to work – and at the bottom of the rock there was no reception.

Alright, gotta do this the old school way…how does the poem go again?

East, the sun will start its day,
Travel along the Southern way,
West it settles in at night,
North shall never see its’s light.

(very liberally translated from German)

Since the sun was slowly setting behind the rock, I now knew I had to have it in my back to be on track.

I returned to the bottom of Yellow Rock, turned back around, and started making my way again, step by step, back to the ridge.

You can’t believe how relieved I was when I saw this:

I found the empty riverbed from there and then walked along it until I came back to where I had parked the car.

The wheels spun as I turned back on the gravel road and from there it was full throttle, back to the hotel.

When I walked to our room, my friend just came out, refreshed, having worked out and taken a shower.

He looked at me and asked: “And? How was it?”

Did this day turn into a good story? Yes.

Was it an experience worth making? 100%.

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely.

Would I do it again this way? No. Freakin’. Way.

What’s the lesson? Know your cardinal directions!

PS: If you think this was a willy-nilly Sunday afternoon kind of hike, here’s a video of me at the top of the first ridge, soaking wet:

I even recorded the whole ascent of that, which took 20 minutes (and I was fast!), you can skip around a bit to get a feel for it here:

Lastly, here’s some footage from me driving to the rock – I didn’t have the nerves to record on the way home. I made it into a short time lapse so it’s more fun to watch – but you can see how remote the area is!