We resigned to take the Sublime Route out, the one that Steck describes. A storm is rolling in. Wind gusts are at 40mph. Snow level is down to 5500ft. We are right in the wheelhouse, especially with what is immediately ahead. We felt really sketched on a 40ft exposed downclimb in shitty conditions. From the Tuna-Flint saddle, we route-found our way over through the Supai traversing along hillsides and cliff bands. A little overgrown but not too bad. Then after a quick jaunt through the Hermit Shale, we followed a deer track up a steep and broken talus slope with the Coconino. Finally, after two small cliff systems within the Toroweap the Kaibab loomed above us. We scaled through broken cliffs and crumbly towers until finally popping out on top of the plateau. I watched the shadow blobs of clouds swiftly moving against the awesome backdrop. Down in the canyons below showed how quickly the front was moving in with the shadowy clouds. The shapes twisted and morphed, moved swiftly yet lugubriously and lethargic. We were in for a thrashing.
I had ceased thinking about missing the gnarly downclimb. I began to sense we were are on a detour because we needed to be. Plus, the route finding going up preoccupied me. At the top of the Kaibab rim, I crawled up onto flat land, like out of some muck. The feeling of scrambling onto the top of the rim was an odd mixture of escape from the depths of something and an accomplishment akin to summiting a mountain. I knew we would be safe. And, certainly that mattered most than our egos.
The plan was to get to Swamp Point ahead of the storm. We thought we had a window the next morning to get down through the freezing chutes of Saddle Canyon. The wind howled through the stout ponderosas. The tall trees thundered and swayed in the nastiest of gusts leaning the tall trees precariously too close to snapping. We had all our layers on and hiked on in that programmatic drudgery of storm-walking. At Swamp Point, we found a dug out hollow in the gambel oak and a grove of ponderosas. We huddled in as the wind crashed the point.
Long snowy roads. Fall time dead. Ponderosa still towering above and wavering. The flakes float down softly atop a soggy 3 inches of snow. Boiling snow for breakfast. Never thought those words would form from my mouth along this desert route.
Long snowy roads. To go down is too dangerous. Hypothermia is a legit concern. Freezing chutes. I have been there before. Even in the late Spring the water was neck deep on my 6'5'' frame, the coldest water I know.
Long snowy roads. We hardly stop, our hands in our pockets, all our clothes on; we march for heat. We use our titanium cups to slurp from crusty brown icy puddles. We needed the water, so cold our brains freeze. The wind bites at our toes. The countless deer tracks tantalize us. How could we miss so much.
Long snowy roads. We finally found a spring, a Quaking Aspen. We heat up black bean soup and our spirits rise.
Long snowy roads. A squall moves in, drops the temperature. We were just warm enough. Thank god we are not down below. Just too dangerous. We plow our way through. The squall lasted an hour. We walked another hour on long snowy roads to dry off and heat back up.
Long snowy roads. We found a camp. A cold camp under skyward ponderosas, but hardly any snow on the ground. We expect 25 degrees tonight. I scuff the duff away for insulation under my tarp awnings. We will need everything we can get. A coyote broke the icy air and we burrowed in for the dead cold. We knew it and hunkered in for it curled up.
Long snowy roads. Our food cache lies ahead. No regrets. We are safe and not willing to insensibly risk our lives. We will walk to our buckets tomorrow morning, frozen and clear, on long snowy roads.
It must have been sub 25 degrees, easily. My tarp was icy and as crisp as an airy tortilla chip. I slept like I hadn’t before, completely encapsulated, fetal knees to nose. Cramped and taut in a laid down crouch just to maintain warmth. I tossed and turned with memories feeling like dreams; I think I slept. My shoes were frozen. I wedged my feet into place, hurriedly packed up, and marched down the road towards the cache. My feet stung. Katie wasn’t too far behind me.
The cache felt like a big stepping stone, as we defrosted in the morning sun, finally warming up. At least we made it somewhere. The storm has cleared out. The sun feels warm and cold at the same time. We had been frozen from within. Now, the Esplanade will be soon enough. I have dreamt of this place. Some formation, some place, I have been waiting for so so long. I can get caught up in this beautiful thing called meandering. This simple endeavor in life, meandering. See a seam, take it. Dodge a cactus patch, lunge over black sage, stomp across the sharp limestone, find the Supai rim, skate over slickrock. Just let the feet and soul meander in unison. Live life differently, meanderingly.
Feeling inland once atop the Fishtail Mesa Saddle. Lush to the north, like the inner Utah Red Rock Desert. To the immediate south and west the enormous Grand Canyon world-system, the massive corridor of layers, barren rock and severe cuts and cliffs. Indian Hollow is tantalizing. Pockets of clear and cold water, lush vegetation cling to the walls and line the creek bed, cottonwoods yawn and arch over the same bed and sprouting up over the next ledge system; overhangs, pour offs and small waterfalls display an array of color and sounds, the ripples of sand in the water pockets frozen or least waiting for the pendulum to swing back and shapeshift anew. Slickrock oozes into the bed like frozen pink and orange yogurt. Birds tweet, coyotes leave track, this canyon is luscious and vivacious. We meander at the will of the drainage.
A river of rubble careening down Jumpup Canyon, you can see the invisible motion of a flash flood -- the channels, the pools, the mud flow, rubble and rubble tumbling in an aisle 20 feet wide with the Redwall shooting 300 feet straight up, even higher in places. The walls are stained like a picture of a lava lamp, the lower channel a subway tunnel, smooth and worn, polished, gray. Say it slow -- gggrraaayy. That type of gray. We walked down Jumpup at dusk as darkness enveloped from below rather than from above. We slept on a sand bar and gazed at our sliver of heaven above, our universe of stars cut out by the narrow canyon walls above.
No sound, dead silence, absolutely still, not even a whisper of wind. Utter blackness like a tomb, a vault tomb where an echo exists and spider webs are flung. A new moon, although we wouldn’t see her anyways from our confined pocket of night sky.
We walk down the dark corridor, empty tunnel, dry and cold. The walls light up, the dark recesses glow gloomily red; daylight is above us. The confluence with Kanab Creek is a giant triangle within a labyrinth. Kanab is bigger, wider, taller. We find large pools, basically clear, and full up our water bladders. Too cold to wash off. We are still tentatively frozen from within. Our thawing and heating up is the crucial tenet of impermanence. Please, let the world spin and bring in other currents, preferably a warmer one, one that sunburns the hell out of my cheeks and nose. I'll risk the chap.
Flipoff Canyon, a little special pocket of goodness, like a little bubble of pork belly fat that bursts in your mouth with such an incredible flavor of amazement. House sized boulders jam up the tumble-away and we climb as if within a treehouse tumbling away. Beautiful clear pools tiled with blue green rocks shimmer in the morning light. I can see why some cultures call springs ‘ojos.’ The pools are an oracle, a gift in which you can see worlds. The eyes have it. Pink slickrock chutes slither down from under a pour off. We clamber like a tyke onto a bunk bed; so many ways to go tumbling up.
The Esplanade… we made it. A well-traveled foot path greets us and we walk in glee. This is what we love to do. It is simple. We love to walk. Contouring in and around drainages usually on red shale above a sliver of a white rim, below that the hamburger shaped blocks of Supai. The sun doesn’t get too hot today, and all that water I drank in the morning is paying off. I finally feel like myself. That simple act of meandering in a vast landscape. That’s me.
We are still inland, so far away from the inner gorge of the deepest. We are in the massive crater of the drainages that funnel into the main drainage of Kanab Creek. Around each massive bay we go. Some take hours upon hours, like Scotty’s Hollow, some will take days. From above, the canyons curl like a snake tail slithering away from you. The walls just plummet, away from you.
As the sun casts behind Kanab Point, Fishtail Mesa lights up, a chandelier adorned in striated rock, browns, tans, reds, orange, all of the color lit up more with the setting sun. We contour atop a platform and I spot some potholes gleaming in the remaining light. We wiggle down there and scoop up water with our tin cups. This feels ritualistic. I should be worshipping something. The desert meadow is highlighted by the standing pooled water. The air is clung with wetness, the smell is sweet from the grasses and sage. Everything is vibrantly green here. Cryptobiotic soil is everywhere too. This place here is a meadow, just in the desert.
We walk along a rim and I teeter over looking down below. A faint trail emerges. I see a point out from the apogee of the drainage. I want to camp there. So, we go to there. And, we lay down on slabs of pink rock as the cool air begins to sink. The night sky is immense. Every star is out, millions and billions, a complete opposite campsite of our corridor the night before. Tonight, we are in the big wide open blackness of the desert Esplanade.
Always the best camping out in this wide universe. Under the stars, atop some rock, in the open air, surrounded by incredible vistas, the morning creeps up and we prep breakfast in the dark. Soon, we are eating our breakfast in the dawn, the rosy hue rising over the Kaibab Plateau. We needed the hot liquid to warm us up from the desert cold. Soon, we are adorned in the orange and pink morning light and trudging afoot.
We continue to contour on the Esplanade. Our first jut was Kanab Point, then Paguekwash Point. We made fairly quick progress in the brisk morning. We ooh and aahed incessantly, like we oohed and aahed enough to be annoying. In 150 Mile Canyon, the northeast arm, I had to pick my jaw up from the crusty dirt floor. The drainages fell away precipitously into narrow chasms. One word to describe the view: geometrically unbelievable. I couldn’t fathom the formations of the chasms. I could see the Colorado River corridor not too far away. How did all of this happen? I get it, time is the culprit, erosion too. But, I sincerely cannot have the intelligence to figure this incredible marvel out. So, I just shake my head and gaze in absolute wonder. Unbelievable geometry, I’ll say it again.
I stumble upon a rams horn shed, giant and curled almost so the point would’ve touched the base of the skull. Even though it is hollow, the horn is heavy. I trace my hand over the keratin feeling the age of this desert beast. We stumble forward a few feet leaving the horn. Instantly, we get a waft of something rank and rotten. I looked over at a large catclaw. Under the canopy a dead ram decayed in the stale grass. A smaller set of horns, we wondered if the larger horned ram had killed this younger ram and lost a horn in the battle. The flesh was gone. The legs gnawed, even one of the legs had been severed off and deposited under a large jagged limestone boulder. The boulder was stained with splats of vulture shit. This young ram had been picked clean by the scavengers. I assume the skeleton won’t last long in this harsh desert environment. It’ll almost melt way in the brutality of the sun. Not a bad notion, come to think of it. I'll take melting away in the desert sun as a death fate.
Before camp, we crouched at some potholes and ritualistically tanked up. As usual, I say a brief prayer at these altars. Mainly, I express my gratitude. I feel so primitive, a basic element. I slurp the same water the wildlife does. Somehow that makes me feel connected to something richer.