Mandan News

Dan Ulmer: Dumb thing of the week

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Okay, so being eligible for social security and, worse yet being a native who has unfortunately only missed four out of the last 59 winters around here, you’d think I’d know better than to take a walk in the woods just as the ice and snow began to turn to mud.

Either of my loyal readers may recall that my house hangs out over the Heart River. We can see for 20 miles up the beautiful undulating Heart River Valley. It’s a rugged view where Old Highway 10 follows the river before disappearing into the buttes (For you recent arrivals, head west on Main and when you run out of pavement at Almont you’ve gone too far).

Anyway, just as you cross the bridge that passes NDYCC check your compass and look north. You should see a row of houses hanging out over the ridge and we’re in there somewhere.

With that out the way let’s see if I can describe how steep-deep it is from my deck to the surface of the Heart River, so hang on here. If you could draw a vertical perpendicular line (that’s up and down for you visual types) from my deck to the Heart River, the line would be somewhere in the vicinity of 400+ feet high-long.

We elder locals know this area as the Hospital Cliffs (back when the Mandan Hospital was on top of the hill). From top to bottom these cliffs range are anywhere from 75 to 150 feet of sheer drop… and, unless you know what you’re doing, don’t get too close to the edge because these cliffs are created when the hill slumps and collapses.

When perusing these cliffs there’s the upper level which looks like a slope of grass-covered prairie until you try to walk straight downhill. The hill slumps in spots so there are these huge clumps and mounds of dirt mixed with prairie grasses that traverse the hill’s face. Thus, it’s easier to follow the traverse paths than to stumble over, around and on these obstacles.

Having made it through that obstacle, the next challenge is to skirt along the edge of the actual cliffs. It’s rather daunting to realize your eye level is barely above the 100-foot Old Growth Cottonwoods. When you look down it’s a foot direct drop to the river bottom, which is most likely the last and only pristine standing Old Growth river bottom left around here (so keep the locale kinda hush-hush, okay?).

The only way to get down a cliff is to find a way to traverse it, and the deer in the neighborhood have been kind enough to blaze a passable yet spotty trail… as long as the snow isn’t melting and deer traffic haven’t turned the pathway to mud.

Both my readers know I get this cabin fever thing, so in hopes of encouraging the arrival of spring I spend as much time outside as possible. Sunday was a cool sunny day and I felt the need for a change, so I took Charley (our brown lab) and headed toward the river bottoms. To get there we have to cross two barbed wire fences and the last fence is a warning that there’s a big cliff behind it… so I crept up to its edge to check out the paths below.

Thinking it all looked passable I followed the deer path until it took a sharp downhill turn, and my shoe slipped off in the mud, causing me to land on all fours and claw my way back to the deer path.

Now most folks would re-evaluate their situation and turn around right there. Not me. I’ve been here many times before. Now if I can just get around this edge the path looks pretty safe from here… swoosh-splap-uff!… back on my feet, clinging onto clumps of grass and trees… just one more step – goosh-swap-splap… down again and again and again and again and Uf Da!

Don’t tell Dr. Klein, but it took about 25 falls before deciding to abandon this self-imposed dilemma that forced me to claw and cling onto whatever I could grab while ascending the cliff’s face. I lost track of how many times I was down on all fours breathing like a locomotive and wondering how I got myself into another one of those cardiac stress tests. Finally, and most gratefully, I reached my safe flat backyard and thought “Well that was dumb, Dan.”

So it looks like I’ll be limiting my walks to the sidewalks for a while.

Here’s hoping you survive whatever dumb things you get yourself into too.