Tuesday, June 11, 2013

From Canyonlands

From Canyonlands:
6/4- a.m. 6/9
Section: 160m
HT Mileage: 822m
VL Mileage: 1036.5m

I hardly slept that night while ghost-camped behind the ranger station at Hite Marina. The air was hot, the stars too bright, and I was anxious for the last section of the HT. Nevertheless, I packed my gear up and hoofed it down the access road around 7am. I had easy road walking for the first 11m before I dipped into Dark Canyon. But before I plunge into the chasm I had to descend via the Sundance Trail, infamous for what was used as a safe haven, or getaway, from the sheriff and authorities for the Wild Bunch.
Almost immediately, I knew why no one would follow anybody down this route. User trails went in every direction and the route became confusing. Cairns littered the very steep slope. Loose rock scuttled beneath my feet as I picked my way down the scree. Once down, almost 1,500ft in a mile, I was in a veritable oasis from the impending heat and dryness of the day. Cottonwoods and willows lined the creek bed and fresh water rushed down a hollowed out sphere, a grooved channel. I found a large cottonwood and snoozed.
Up canyon the creek bed stayed within the channel but laid beneath rock shelves that made for easy hiking. I kept looking up, though, as I couldn't believe how messy the canyon walls. Evident were the layers of time and rock, however, rocks, boulders, and scree appeared untidy on the steep hillsides; nothing was smoothed or appeared polished. I felt to be in an organized person's messy room where an inventory of the room was only visible to that person's eyes. 

I kept on the shelves. Small cascades spurted down purple, polished slides of rock. A darker varnish of black stained where the water flowed constantly. Canyon walls loomed over me and gave me the gift of shade. I took off my shirt and shorts, skivvies on only, and rinsed off in the water. Instantly, I felt rejuvenated.

A couple of hours later, I encountered the waterfall barrier of Youngs Canyon. I side climbed the gully, up about 25ft or so, and attained a flatter surface. This particular canyon was tight, claustrophobic even, and made for a tougher navigation. I had to up climb the southern walls by scrambling about 1,000ft to a bench that led further up canyon while avoiding enormous pour-offs. I looked down and gulped, for the heights were so precipitous. Tediously, Youngs Canyon persisted with obstacles. As evening was shutting the light of day off, I attained a saddle and hunkered down for the night feeling exhausted.

After a good night's rest I awoke early and finished off the climb out of Youngs. Up on top I briefly followed a road until I went cross-country to a feeder canyon that led to pleasant Fable Valley. Interestingly enough, in the side canyon, I followed fresh bear track. I had forgotten how high the elevation, some 7,000ft. Sign of bull elk made a show on bare barked trees where the bulls had rubbed off their season of velvet.

Once in Fable Valley I picked up a pack trail. Though it is un-maintained by any agency, this was the first actual human trail I had been on in over 300m since the Under the Rim Trail in Bryce NP. I made easy miles using the unimpeded path. Contouring with the land, I entered Beef Basin. 
True to its name, Beef Basin appears as a large bowl in where water funnels seemingly out of one end. Everything presented in front of me posed for an easy day of hiking. The heat proved otherwise. I casually followed a branch of the Beef Basin Wash thinking I knew where I was at. I crossed a road, then another. Now, the mapped suddenly looked different. I continued on the road figuring it was just unmapped, for many recent sections of the route were way different than what was on my maps. Farther and farther I went. I interpreted the land in front of me to resemble the map. At a grove of cottonwoods my question of where I was at was answered. No spring and no bathtub. I was off the grid.

Never-no-mind, I walked on. Not knowing where I was at was not necessarily knowing that I was 'lost.' Being lost has only merit when someone is expecting you at a particular time. In the spirit of wandering, a vagabond is never lost; I was merely exploring.

Did you know the Apache have no word or interpretation for 'lost?'

But, shit, I didn't know where the hell I was at! I focused and calmed down absorbing my surroundings. I listened to the land, I read the land, I studied its personality, and I instinctively moved on. 

The road went towards the higher country and I veered off at a wide canyon that led to the crest of the land from where I knew I should be. Large battleships of slickrock gleamed in the afternoon sun. I came to the head wall and scrambled and climbed up the gritty rock. I now navigated my way along a flat ridge and hit the main dirt road that I was looking for, the one that led to Canyonlands NP. Within an hour, I was back on the map and within another 2 hours I was back where I needed to be. I walked an extra 10m or so during the time of not knowing where I was at.

There was no time for cheering. The Hayduke never stops trying to give you obstacles. You solve one hard problem, then you have another harder problem to solve next. I left the safety of the road and found a feeder canyon towards Butler Canyon and Wash. I scrambled and skittered down smooth rock, the sun going down down and down. The canyon got darker but I needed to make some type of statistical motivation that day. I slid through the small Seldom Seen Bridge and made camp on a sandy bed. My water rations were extremely low, for the added 10 'lost' miles made my waterless stretch from 30m to a dry 40m. 
I slept that night with 2L and I woke up with 2L. I dreamed and nightmared of water, lucid, obsessive images and situations of water, tormented me throughout the night. I walked in a slow trance conserving energy. Thankfully, as I entered Canyonlands NP, my singular thought of not having any water was distracted from the eerie looking hoodoos surrounding me. Giant knight horses, bishops, and rooks stood guard around me. I felt to be on a chess board in a game being played by titans.

I persevered on and went along the trail leading to Big Spring trailhead, where I knew I could get water. After a 4m obstacle course over domes and fins and washes I made the overlook. I made the last 22m of the route with only 2L of water. I really needed shade and water but rather than going to the Big Spring I hitched a ride from the trailhead to the Visitor's Center from a couple from Switzerland.

Once there, I plopped on a bench in a dark corner hidden from the public. I guzzled a gallon of water in about 3 hours and napped blissfully. In the late afternoon, I found a ride with a young German couple back to the trailhead. Stunningly enough to me, I made another 12m. I was now back on pace and my spirits were boosted a bit from my VC respite.

Those 12m actually proved to be magical to me. I walked along a crimson crest fortified by 3 large pyramids. The day became cooler and the booming shadows cast long slivers a black across a red land. I left the parapets of the pyramids and clambered down a fun course to the Indian Creek drainage. I slept with the frogs' croaks sounding like sheep.

Up and at 'em at the crack of dawn, knowing I was getting close to Moab, I quickly navigated my way up out of Rustlers Canyon and hit Lockhart Road. The oppressive heat started early that day. I guzzled my water furiously. I had one chance at water before a 20m dry stretch. I couldn't conserve; the day was too hot. So, I put in my Ipod and zoned out on the road.

At one point, I sensed a vehicle behind me. Normally, I would've picked up on it but the wind was too loud and the heat too hot. I looked back and saw a Land Rover. Two dudes, Ryan and Colin, were smiling and laughing at me. I guess they had been there for about 5 minutes! They pulled up alongside me, got out, and offered me a Budweiser. We talked for 15 minutes while swigging the ice cold beer. They were re-tracing a route by vehicle they had done together some 10yrs ago, a reunion of sorts. I then realized they were the first people I had seen on actual trail or route in about a week.
They drove on as I walked on. I went down Lockhart Canyon, found water, and began the climb out back to the same road. The canyon blared with heat, my head hurt, but I kept at it. I ended up taking a 2 hour nap in some shade, but even in the shade my brain boiled. Near the tall bluffs of Hatch Mesa I went up a wrong finger canyon, one slot over from where I should be. I came to a pour-off 10ft above me. A small pyramid of rock stacked up beneath it. I gave it a go; this was my last canyon on the HT. Even standing on the pyramid I could only get my forearms on the flat sandstone surface above me.

The slit between the rock, where water ran off, was barely wide enough for me to wiggle my body through. I said, "Fuck it!" and went up anyways. I pushed down on the blazing stone with me forearms, pressing down with all my might. My teeth gritted and soon enough I could transfer my effort to my hands and push up as if doing a dip. I exerted all the strength I could muster. Slowly, up and up I went. I wriggled through the slit and put my ass cheek on the right rock surface, lifted up my legs and semi-rolled over to the side. I stood up and took deep breaths. The gusts of hot wind provided me with no relief, as well as my water, for the murky liquid was hot and salty. I turned and hiked up and connected with the road. "Yes!" I squeaked from a parched mouth. I looked down on my forearms and noticed a red stain. The heat of the rocks seared my forearms. They stung for the rest of the day.

Surprisingly, after many hours since our first encounter, I met Ryan and Colin. Their Land Rover parked with its hood up and they were underneath a shady overhang. We chatted and laughed some more. They were now making a go for Moab. But the engine in the LR was grumpy and not happy with the heat. We then played leap frog for a hour or so. I never thought I would have a Land Rover as a hiking partner!

Down a gnarly drainage (I was not so sure that that vehicle could make it down that mess) I went and found camp after finding water. In the night, I heard footsteps on the road nearby. It had to be them...
Down the home stretch I went, over Hurrah Pass and into Kane Creek canyon. I followed Ryan and Colin's footprints until I hit the heavily used Kane Creek road. Huge, thumping Jeeps passed me, motorcycles zipped on by, ATVs dusted up the road. Everything was so loud to me. Suddenly, I was in Disneyland with people who 'use' the land rather than care for it. Trash littered the road. Beer cans marked the way from whence people came. I sat in the alcove of Kane Springs, right off the road. Toilet paper was strewn about, more beer cans, and candy wrappers weeded the ivy growing around the freshwater oasis. Saddened by this, I left. I contemplated taking a crap on a sidewalk of downtown Moab and leaving it there for all to smell and look at. The thought left me; it would prove nothing. More Jeeps passed by with douche bags driving, all looking like they were from the Jersey Shore. The girls riding along side them all had skunk hair. I walked faster and faster and ended up right in the heart of Moab.

I should say that on the way into town I again met Ryan and Colin. They had another flat tire and had to walk to Moab. They found someone who would take them back out, retrieve the flattened tires, drive back to Moab, then back out again. I was worried about them. They had another long day ahead of them, maybe two. But I was sure glad they were safe and sound.

Moab has often been a place of refuge for me, a home away from home. I used to retreat to Moab quite often in my 20s when L.A. got to me. Now I was walking through. I had almost 10 days without cell service! I sat at a picnic table at the convenience store observing the same type of people blurting along the road I saw earlier. I thought it was funny I was eating the same thing as them: a gigantic soda, deep fried taquitos, and chips.

After the heat subsided a bit, I walked out of Moab as quickly as I walked into it. Up into Courthouse Wash I went and entered Arches NP, the last National Park on the HT. The taste of town, food, and rest tempted me to go faster and I did. I walked another 17m up the wash until I fell asleep for the last night on the Hayduke Trail under enormous right-angled red walls. I stayed awake most of the night staring at the Milky Way.
In the morning I completed the Hayduke Trail. It was a glorious moment, no one or no sign or monument was there signifying my accomplishment. At a road and the unmanned gate of ANP I doffed my visor, said a heartfelt thank you, teared up a bit, and walked on...

I thought of Abbey, who created the character of Hayduke. I thought of all the hard work and determination this trail evokes out of you. I thought...long and hard.


  1. love your blogs yo! keep on trekkin!

  2. Congrats.........Awesome effort!! Enjoy your break in Moab and best of luck on the upcoming sections.

    1. swami, thx! Moab has been treating me well during my break. Havent had a break like this or more thannone true rest day since prior the start of the VL!