Methods for Maneuvering Through Spring Mud, Vol. 1

Elaine expertly moves through the mud on Sun Prairie North.
My fellow Landmark crew member, Elaine, expertly moves through the mud on Sun Prairie North. (Photo by Tim Brtis)

By Tim Brtis

There is more to walking through mud than just moving each leg in turn.

During my time working with Adventures and Scientists for Conservation’s Landmark project to survey wildlife on the American Prairie Reserve, I’ve learned that proper technique can be the difference between voyaging through the mud at a swift 1.2 mph and struggling in one spot for 15 minutes. Becoming stuck can drain valuable energy, and if freedom isn’t regained you might run the risk of attracting a hungry, circling turkey vulture.

I hereby propose the compilation of an academically thorough guide to mud maneuvering.

I will begin the effort by sharing the knowledge a coworker and I have compiled here. However, because I don’t possess every stratagem related to mud walking, I plan to consult experts from around the world for future volumes.

Lesson 1: Techniques for Efficient Movement
It’s best to avoid becoming stuck. Maintaining your liberty may require one or more of the following techniques.

The Pointed-Foot Technique
While trudging through an increasingly mucky area, I could feel the ground playfully tugging at my feet with each step. Eventually, the mud got greedy and did not let go. With my next step denied, I was pulled back to the gluttonous ground, which then took my second foot.

“Walk on the balls of your feet, and you don’t stick as much!” Elaine called over to me. I tried walking in place using this technique and was promptly liberated.

Walking on the balls of your feet keeps your heels from planting in the mud, thereby preventing suction from forming between the mud and the bottom of your boots. Science.

The Don’t-Slow-Down Method
While venturing further into that same mud field, I found that if I stopped or slowed down, I sank. Sparked by this discovery, I came up with the Don’t-Slow-Down Method. It was simple and worked, so I didn’t question it. This method didn’t seem as important for Elaine. If she stopped, she would sink some, but not to the point of becoming stuck. Further research is necessary to understand this phenomenon.

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Tim’s snack provides some extra encouragement. (Photo by Tim Brtis)

Lesson 2: Techniques to Get Unstuck
Proper technique can be energetically taxing and may result in a misstep. In an unfortunate circumstance, this can mean getting stuck. Here are some remedies.

The Lift-Your-Heel Strategy
While sunk in mud, it may be possible to lift your heel enough to break the suction between the bottom of your boot and the mud. This will make it much easier to remove the rest of your foot. Science.

The Toe-Pull Procedure
When your foot becomes too stuck for the Lift-Your-Heel Strategy, you may need to employ the Toe-Pull Procedure. This involves reaching your hand down into the mud, finding the toe of your boot, and pulling your toe high enough to allow air under your foot. This will break the seal and allow you to pull the rest of your foot out.

The Yank-Your-Foot System
Repeatedly yanking your foot until it comes out of the mud is possible, but unwise in deep mud unless you’re looking for creative ways to burn calories. It can consume large amounts of energy and cause your other foot to become more stuck. Below is an expert demonstration of this system:

Tim Brtis graduated from University of Wyoming in May of 2012, with a double major in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology and Management, and Environment and Natural Resources. He has done wildlife research in southeast Alaska, was an environmental educator in South Carolina, held an aviculture and environmental education position in Connecticut, and worked as a seasonal animal keeper and a clinical assistant volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Illinois.

Learn more about Landmark and other ASC projects on our website, the Field Notes blog, and by following us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google+

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Meet the Author
Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration. National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor's 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow and in 2018 one of the Grist 50 "Fixers." Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Read more updates from Gregg and others on the Adventure Scientists team at Follow Adventure Scientists on Instagram @adventurescientists, on Facebook @adventurescientists, and on Twitter @AdvScientists.