The daffodils are budding and bringing hope that another very wet (and unusually cold) British winter is finally on its way out – and that the mud that goes with it might actually dry up a bit so that we don’t get caked in the brown stuff every time we venture outside. Even trips into the local park to exercise dogs and children becomes an expedition resulting in big clean up operations upon reaching home again. As for the experience of getting your welly boot stuck and putting your sock down in the mud…
Usually mud is harmless, just a bit of wet dirt really, but what if you got properly trapped in a deep mud bog or quicksand? We’ve all read news stories in the past about people having to be rescued from mud on riverbanks and estuaries. And we have all seen at least one film where an unlucky character has met their end by disappearing into quicksand. From a survival perspective, both mud bogs and quicksand should be approached the same way. If you ever stumble across it on your travels or you have ever wondered about it, what should you do?
Everybody knows what a mud bog or deep mud is, but what exactly is quicksand? It happens when there is a lot of water saturating a fine silt, sand, clay or mud. When there is a lot of water flowing through, the silt or sand particles become a thick suspension within the water, therefore they move far more easily under stress. So the ground can appear solid, until it is agitated by movement, or stress and it liquifies easily.
The more it is subjected to movement, the more fluid it becomes and this is when people, animals or vehicles can begin to sink and be pulled down by the suction effect. It is then hard to get out of because the viscosity (density) of the sediment thickens again quickly, requiring a massive amount of force to pull anything back out of it. Research estimates that the force required to pull your foot out of quicksand at the rate of 1 centimetre per second is the equivalent to the force needed to lift a medium sized car.
Despite the movie scenes, you’re unlikely to drown in quicksand, even in full arm-waving panic mode as we are not dense enough, instead we actually float in it. As quicksand usually forms in coastal and waterside locations, most drowning deaths occur because someone has not been able to free themselves before the high tide returns. If you get stuck in it, you’re unlikely to sink much further than your waist (unless you are carrying something really heavy – obviously ditch this fast if you get a sinking feeling).
Due to the force required, getting someone to merely pull you out is probably not going to work, unless they really can lift a medium sized car. What you need to do is create space that water can flow into to help loosen the grip. Do this by wriggling the stuck body part slowly and progressively (like you would have any other choice) until you can free it.
The other action to take is to increase your body surface across the surface of the mud to enable you to float better. Manoeuvre yourself gradually into a position where you can lie or sit with your back against the mud and continue working the rest free. Once your limbs are free, roll sideways across on to safer ground. While patiently hoping that you can do this before the tide, wild animals, hot sun or dehydration gets to you first.
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