Monday, January 30, 2012

I Canyon, Can You?

Here is how you know you are hiking on slick rock. It takes as much time and effort to go down as it does to go up. And the shortest route between 2 points is never a straight line.
Here is how you know you are hiking slick rock in Canyonlands National Park. Every step is worth it because each step brings stunning views.
That said, I am very glad we didn't go there until Thursday, because as of Wednesday I did not yet have enough strength.
When I found out that Mike was arranging to go with me to visit friends in Utah, and he suggested we stop at Canyonlands on the way and watch the sunrise through Mesa Arch, I decided I would try to increase my walking each day up to 3 miles. Mesa Arch trail is less than a mile.
Then Mike told me about other places in Canyonlands. False Kiva trail is about 3 1/2 miles. Horseshoe Canyon Trail to the huge pictographs, Mike thought it was about 6 miles.
Mike has been to all of these places, but I still am a bit skeptical when he says it is a slight climb, or it is only a few miles. I learned this when he always would say something is not very spicy so I would taste it and then have to spend 20 minutes quenching the inferno in my mouth. In other words, a hike that is easy for him might be easy for me, or it might require every bit of effort I can muster.
So I looked at the official description of these hikes. I had to take Mike's word for it on the False Kiva since it is not an official trail. Park Rangers will disavow any knowledge of it.
I felt ready to do Mesa Arch at sunrise, and then do the False Kiva, but I didn't think I would be able to then do Horseshoe Canyon after that.
Mesa Arch at sunrise.
We stayed in Moab and got to Mesa Arch before sunrise. There was one photographer there before us. Getting photos of slick rock formation vistas at sunrise and sunset is a big deal. He and Mike started talking about what they had photographed in the parks and the number of their megapixels and comparing the sizes of their cameras and so on. I found a place to perch next to the arch and enjoyed the view, which changes each second as the sun rises.
Then, as the sun came into view, it was so still and quiet.
Then there were more photographers, and tourists to come and enjoy it, and we were ready to go.
View from False Kiva
Then we went to False Kiva. It was another stunning view. And the hike was the way Mike described it. It was about 3+ miles. We walked through a wash on a plateau, then an easy descent down a cliff face below and to the other side of an alcove, then back up into the alcove to find these native structures that are centuries old. But the best part is the view.
By the way, the photo can't do it justice.
Then we went on a short, less-than-a-mile hike to the huge Salt Upheaval Dome. Very dramatic and also as Mike described.
After that, I was ready to believe that Mike was describing these hikes with some degree of accuracy.
When I continued to feel strong and able to be active over the next few days, I suggested that we might try to do the Horseshoe Canyon hike on the way home. I have wanted to see those amazing pictographs for over 15 years. And I thought if I could do 5 miles of hiking that first day, with some descent and some climbing, I should be able to do 6 miles a few days later after doing more hikes and riding the tandem.
Big mistake.
It is easy to forget that even as I am getting stronger, I need to give my body a rest day every once in a while. It's easy to forget that even if Mike remembers some hikes well, his memory of conditions on another could be way off. It's easy to forget how quickly it gets dark at this time of year. It's easy to forget how exhausting it is to hike slick rock in the dark.
Our day became memorable because of all the things we forgot.
It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful drive to the trailhead. I was reading all kinds of information about the pictographs of the canyon and the experts saying these were ceremonial and religious. I think some were, especially these Horseshoe Canyon images that suggest visitations of divine beings. But any mother of kids who love to paint knows that some of these might have been done by energetic kids and adolescents who were seeking a creative outlet. How could they resist rigging up a tall ladder and displaying their stylistic talents with family portraiture on those dramatic canyon walls?
Each thing I read gave a different estimation of the hiking distance, all over 6 miles. I got a little concerned, but also more excited to see the images.
By the time we got started on the trail, it was past three. The sun will set at 5:30. We didn't think about that. We were about 1/2 a mile into the hike, and I was thinking we will turn a corner and be at the canyon floor since Mike said it was a slight descent, but then I got my first glimpse of the full view down to the canyon. We had a long way to go just to get to the bottom. Then a long walk to get to the best pictographs. I should have aborted the mission right then. But I didn't.
Another big mistake.
We did make it to the end of the canyon before dark. The pictographs were better than I could imagine. But by then my feet and knees were really hurting, and so were my incisions. I wondered how I could feel so wiped out if we had only gone 3 miles. And I was wondering how we were going to get out of there.
It got dark soon after we started back. Mike found a walking stick for me and tried to light the way with his small flash light. But it was harder than I thought it would be and it seemed to never end. Mike practically hauled me out of there. Even with the best equipment and conditions, it is not a good idea to climb out of a canyon in the dark.
I was so glad to see the car. It was late by the time we got to Green River and most food places were closing. I was so hungry by then I was even willing to get a sandwich at Arby's.
Another big mistake.
The canyon is well worth the trip. The pictographs are stunning, some are over 7 feet tall. But I suggest going in the morning with plenty of time and energy. This time Mike took his GPS so he would have an accurate mileage reading. So for future reference, the "slight descent" is over 1 1/4 miles, then it it 3 more miles along the canyon floor to get to all the sites. Total...8 1/2 miles.
I think I will take more than one day of rest this week.


Melanie said...

We missed being with you! I don't know if I would have been able to keep up with you, though ;-D Amazing! (I learned early in our marriage, no matter what time of day, to put a flashlight in my pocket when I hiked with Roark ;-D)

Daphne said...

Sounds amazing! Glad you made it safely.