Wednesday, May 29, 2013

From Grand Staircase

From Grand staircase:
p.m. 5/23-a.m. 5/28
Section: 130m
HT Mileage: 520m
VL Mileage: 757.5m

I procrastinated leaving Tropic. I needed a zero day and my body was telling me so. But with Memorial Day in full swing, all the room in town were booked. By a random chance I ran into Steve Roberts, who is partial owner of Escalante Outfitters and would be hosting me while in Escalante, my next town stop. I had already spoken with him by phone and gave him a time to pick me up on Hole in the Rock Road but he found me dawdling in front of the market. Meeting him spurred me on to get going! Some encouraging instigation from Gila and I moseyed out of town. Surprisingly enough, despite my late start, I still made 20m and camped in the canyon corridor of the Paria River after hiking down the narrow canyon of sheep Creek which had glimmering white walls sprayed from the afternoon sunshine. My spirit swelled and I felt good to be out of town. I slept under a cottonwood that night while the moon rose, orange bright and huge, and made the Navajo sandstone walls shimmer with a resplendent night light. Like in an amphitheater the light reverberated off the walls to give my visual senses a cacophony of sound through a visual sense; the moonglow spoke to me.

In the morning, the red walls looked pink. The walls, polished and still shimmering, reached heights hundreds of feet above the wide rover bottom. I packed up camped and headed downriver, forded the Paria about 50 times. The river bottom mix between firm sand and gravelly rock. After a while I learned the texture of the bottom through feel and sight, and would pick a line to have the better course of action. The miles flew on by and I felt relaxed, though tired. Russian Olive trees bloomed on the banks and provided me with the sweet smell of Spring. songbirds chimed amid the trees and canyon wren whirred among the lofty walls. I felt soothed but I just wanted to sleep.
At the confluence of Cottonwood Creek and the Paria, I headed north but instead of taking Hackberry Canyon, which I had heard was amazing and had a cool slot canyon problem, I just blew by it and continued walking up the dirt road. I was still stuck on town mode and I needed some coma walking. At first, I felt guilty and walked with my head down. Eventually, I rose my head and broadened my shoulders and gazed in wonder at the Cockscomb, a pointy escarpment protruding between to mesas in the Cottonwood Creek corridor. It seemed to plumb up exactly in a straight line.

I began to live with my decision. And while sitting in the shade beneath a huge water tank having shaved off about 5m and some time, I felt very comfortable with my decision. In fact, I felt motivated to move on further. I lingered in the shade and observed a cow and her 2 calves guzzling from the other 2 tanks. One of the calves was a troublemaker and climbed into the one of the tanks. He got stuck between the rim of the tank and the bar preventing a calf like himself to go any further into the water. He thrashed around and the scene put a smile on my face. Contented, I guzzled water myself. I picked myself up and walked on. I ran into the same cow and calves at the tank on the sagebrush-lined cattle trail. The calf who got stuck in the tank squared me off. The little guy and me began jarring back and forth with each other, taunting the other with jabbing moves. This little dude was playing with me. I knew he was a troublemaker! This went on for about 5 minutes, this jostling and rough-housing. He got within 10ft of me and would fake left. I would fake right, then left. His tail flickered wildly, and his mom groaned from behind deeply. I don't think she was pleased with him or me but she just watched. I was ready to grab the calf and wrestle him but he turned tail and circled around in front of me and ran to the cover of his mother. I felt a great ball of positive energy well up in my belly and continued on until I found camp on a high ridge over looking a broad valley of rock and juniper. The moon rose full and I had a night light shining on me for the duration of the night.

Awake and motivated, I mashed a desolate dirt road to Paradise Canyon. The canyon was peaceful and solitude reigned within my soul. I took deep breaths and inhaled my surroundings. After a few hours I encountered Last Chance Creek. At the head of the creek, Badland-esque environment enveloped any sense of calm I had earlier that morning. Hoodoos and barren ridgelines scarred the wide canyon. Swirls of blacks, beiges, tans, yellows, and reds made for a pleasant site but the land was inhospitable. As I walked along a bench I found a well-spigot spouting off with water. A pool welled up around the spigot and I walked along a plank to get a bottle full of water. The water tasted satisfactory though it smelled like sulphuric farts. I took a liter and bolted. Later down canyon I found the creek bottom to be laden with potholes of groundwater, quenching to my thirst.

Last Chance Creek had a firm wash bottom and made for swift travel. To my surprise, I made 36m that day, which set up the next leg, a 30m waterless stretch, more attainable. I set up camp on top of a shale bench and watched the bats zip around above me in the twilight. They chirped and snagged insects out of the air, some getting close above me. I thought the whites of my eyes would draw them to me face of I kept them open wide enough, so I lowered my skull cap to my brow and enjoyed the wonderment of the sounds of the desert.

Up early to tackle the challenging day, I walked until I overshot Reese Canyon. I backtracked about 1/4m and moved quickly through the canyon heading up-wash. I shot up a side canyon in hopes of attaining a ridge but I must've took a wrong side canyon. I think it is sometimes easier to navigate up-canyon than down-canyon. The way down, you can just stick to the main gullet while heading up you have to make sure you pick the right finger among many choices that look the same. After some trudging around along ridges and sandy flanks I hit the divide separating the canyons of Reese and Navajo. I walked a jeep track but could not find the jeep track heading down into Navajo Canyon. So, I chose a drainage to descend. Navigating through the narrow drainage I hit a 30ft pour-off. Almost rim-rocked, I found a way down on the side but when looking back up to the ledge I was standing on i felt a exhilarated feeling of thrill and fear, for the ledge was wafer thin. If it had not held my weight, I would've had a 15ft fall. I took a moment to gather myself. I needed to be more careful in my steps.

Once in the drainage of Navajo Canyon, I meandered through a narrow slot section, then wended through a barren, desolate canyon. There was no trace of human nor animal sign in the canyon. Again, in a Badland type environment, Hell came to mind but I found the place to be serene and peaceful despite the uncompromising position I was in being with no water and miles away from anything. Pure wilderness thought and reality, philosophy at its most profound...

A coal seam lined the canyon and eroded the bed I was walking in. Spongy and flaky, the black flakes held a bituminous smell reminiscent of the dog days of summer in L.A. with the pavement redolent of tar, the heat rays shimmering from the scorched streets. I made some more quick miles to Croton Canyon which eventually became Rogers Canyon.

Rogers Canyon was the worst looking canyon I had ever seen. Littered with house-sized boulders and choked with salt cedar, I laboriously plodded my way up-canyon. The oppressive heat of the day provided me with no relief and I could find no shade. My water rations became precariously low but further upcreek I found potholes of water in plunge pools beneath massive boulders. I instinctively drained a liter and filled up a gallons worth of water. This proved to be a foolish mistake as about an hour later and taking my first swig of the new found water I realized it was heavily alkaline, too much so to drink. The water tasted like bleach and left me with a vomit-like after taste. I still had 15 or so slow miles to my reliable water source so I was in kind of a serious situation, especially with the slow walking pace through Rogers. But, persistent as I am, I gutted it out and pursued forward.

found Monday Canyon and walked up its northeasterly course. This canyon provided no relief from the slow plodding but I now had shade. I rested at various times trying to conserve my energy. I came to a series of large pour-offs, the tallest being 30 or so feet. I climbed up the side of each of them and after attaining the slickrock top of the second one I found a pool of fresh water from winter snowmelt or rain run-off. I rapidly dumped my alkaline water and laid up next to the pothole and guzzled a couple of liters. This oasis up-lifted my mental state and I almost galloped up the canyon.

But my positive luck would come to a halt as again, while going up-canyon, I chose a wrong finger, or at least I believe I did, in attaining the 50 Mile Mountain plateau. I slowly moved my way up this tight and narrow drainage. Some spots had me up-climbing pour-offs through slots and wedges some 15-20ft. I kept at it, now extremely determined to get to the top. At a higher elevation, my view opened up and the brush appeared. Gambel oak throttled the hill side and I clambered through the thickets. Bushwhacking at its finest. Above the thickets I had open terrain, but it went straight up. I put my rear in gear and did what I do best: mash up! I pressed my hands against my quads and vigorously moved uphill. Each step digging deep into the dirt while the earth moved back down beneath me. Up and up I went and crested the plateau, of course, not knowing where I was at. Nevertheless, I was greeted with astonishing views of a spectacular sunset to the west. I looked east, as dusk settled in with a purple veil over the plateau, and I spotted a grove of aspens and headed my course towards it. I figured a spring would be near by and would put me back on course.

Up in the grove, I ran into 2 strikingly coal black horses and 2 good-looking mules. I thought people might be around but I was wrong, not a soul in sight. I slept that night not knowing where the hell I was at.

In the morning, I took a course I believed the direction to go. Led by my inner bearing I miraculously found Mudhole Spring in which the tank teemed over the brim with fresh water. I felt confident in where I was at now. I found a set course of trail which proved to be reliable and consistent with the map. Suddenly, at a crest, the land and the map blended in continuity and I could interpret the lay of the land; I was in a good spot.

But as soon as I got to a forested knoll and the drainage heading off the Straight Cliffs, I lost trail. I took a plunge, figuratively, down a gully in hopes of finding the pack trail leading off the cliffs. If I couldn't find the pack trail I was prepared to bushwhack my way down, which I knew deep in my mind was a gargantuan task and mighty risky.

Down the gully I went, sliding down the loose dirt occasionally and scaling down pour-offs. I ended up on top of a large pour-off and felt stuck. Looking down I saw massive cliffs with sheer rock faces a couple of hundred feet high. Suddenly, I saw spotted what looked like a trail switchbacking down another chute. I scampered down and stood above trail from a large boulder above. Relieved and ecstatic, I now had a safe way down. I took a moment sitting in the middle of the pack trail and meditated: sanctity of trail.

From a protruding cliff I texted Steve to pick me up earlier, if he could. At the Hurricane Wash trailhead, 3,000ft below from where I thought I would have the toughest day of my life, I walked north along Hole in the Rock Road in hopes of running directly into Steve. Around noon, a red truck came booming down the highway. An hour later and a few beers guzzled and I was in Escalante!

Steve graciously hosted me in his old brickhouse Mormon style home. I relaxed and had a great dinner with Steve, Caroline, Karl, and Malanda, all friends of Steve. We spoke of the Vagabond Loop and other interesting things. I truly enjoyed my time amongst these special people, friends. After all, the idea and name for the VL came from my time here in Escalante last fall while visiting during Everett Ruess Days. Surreal and aptly poignant, the sense of wandering settled in within my spirit; the reason the VL exists formulated more so here in Escalante.



From Bryce

From Bryce:
5/20-p.m. 5/23
Section: 105m
Hayduke Mileage: 390m
VL Mileage: 627.5m

I had a great stay in Jacob Lake. The people were friendly and I was showered with pleasant social interaction. I met 2 couples from San Diego, a father/daughter team from Boston, and a young couple from L.A. All had great personalities and interest in what I was doing. I passed along tips about ultralite backpacking and hints to Grand Canyon backcountry hikes.

left Jacob Lake after a big breakfast and instead of taking the AZT down to stateline I took the road in Orderville Canyon, which I hoped would shave off a couple of miles. The day flew on by and towards dusk I sat in the same spot where Lint, S.O.L., and I sat upon our completion of the AZT. A couple, also from San Diego, chatted me up. They seemed a little wary of me at first but soon loosened up, especially the woman. The man seemed to be a little on guard and stood facing me sideways the whole time. The woman asked me 'Why?' I told her of my neck injury a couple of years ago and how my perspective on life changed, that I didn't want to have any regrets and say 'I wish I would've' when I turned 40. The man blurted out, kind of snarky, "Well, we always have regrets." I held some compassion for him. I could see the pain behind his eyes. Small regrets we can all get over, but large ones, the few that we have, are almost impossible to get over. Sure, I have small regrets: I should've pursed some girl more, I should've went there, etc. yadda yadda yadda. I can get over that crap; that's small, petty stuff. But had I not chose to pursue my passions and goals, namely the PCT and the lifestyle associated with it, I could never forgive myself. You only get few chances in life. You better grab it...

As I left the couple I ventured back into the Vagabond Loop. I cannot tell you how excited I was feeling. Finally, positive miles!

I slept at the Wire Pass trailhead in hopes of waking up early and seeing the 'Wave.' When I did waken the parking lot was flooded with cars. People were stretching at the kiosks, a line formed at the bathroom privy. I hurriedly packed and left for the 'Wave.' Wouldn't you know it, at the climb out of the wash heading towards the 'Wave' a ranger 'carded' me. She caught me at a weird time. I drifted in thought and when she asked me I could give her no other reply than that I didn't have one. She chastised me for a bit but thankfully gave me no reprimand. I had to promise her that I would leave Buckskin Gulch as soon as possible.

I entered the narrow gulch. The walls got narrower and narrower. The purple walls still felt cool from the night and the morning light hadn't made its way through the chasm. A raven flew in between the walls, as wide as my arm span, gliding from side to side to avert splattering into a wall. This kept on for a couple of miles but unfortunately the HT does not follow the narrow meanders of the true Buckskin Gulch.

Off in the wide wash the canyon walls opened up to let the heat in. Eventually, I attained the highway. Much of the rest of the day followed Park Wash. I had no real obstacle except for some sandy stretches. The wash widened to reveal red Navajo sandstone buttes. A few miles later, the White Cliffs appeared, huge buttresses refulgent with sunlight appeared like icebergs floating in the desert.

Easy walking led me to a backcountry entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park, the definite highlight of this section. I connected with the Under the Rim Trail which traverses the park beneath the coral pink cliffs. Hoodoos columned up towards the top of the rim, so crammed they were they appeared to be jockeying for some sort of advantageous position. Water and ice has ravaged the land to form an inhospitable, yet strikingly beautiful landscape. Natural bridges, alcoves, amphitheaters, potholes, and hollows decorated the cliffs. The trail laboriously went up and down, from ridge down to drainage, then back up to ridge. Over and over the trail undulated. I kept at it, motivated by the scene. I slept on a high ridge with the wind blowing incessantly. Organ-shaped pillars, all orange-pink, towered above my camp. The moon, almost full, kept the cliffs glowing throughout the night. What an amazing camp!
Why bore you, here are some photos. What a place!