Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Planning Continues

    I learn more about long distance hiking almost everyday. In the process of planning to do the Appalachian Trail I am on a constant hunt for information. Coming across a great bit of information is like finding a puzzle piece that fits.
    Not only does the planning keep me excited about the trip but it keeps me hunting for those bits of information. I try to note the things I learn, or copy the Internet URL. I hope to retain all the bits and pieces I've been gathering. I have a couple documents that are constantly evolving and being updated with equipment lists, recipes, financial goals, and just thoughts and ideas. Being that it is over a year away from going all this is almost certainly unnecessary. But I have all these ideas, all the time! I have a burning desire to hit the Trail. At times I get depressed just thinking about how long I have to wait, but at the same time my spirits are buoyed at the thought of finally deciding that I will go. I live once. I am young(ish). I am childless. I have the financial ability to save for this with hardly any negative consequences beyond losing 6 to 8 months of pay. I am healthy and I have the drive. To let this confluence of fortuitous alignment pass by without jumping on it would be regretful. I could wax philosophically about letting life slip away... but I won't!
    Everyone is so supportive too. It's amazing how anyone in my life that I've spoken with at any length agree wholly I should go. Maybe there is a spark of passion in my eye? I certainly feel more alive just thinking about it. I have read a dozen books about other's AT adventures. I read people's AT blogs and WhiteBlaze forum's. Last year I went to Trail Days in Damascus, VA to hang out with the hiker's.
    Not only do I love the idea of a trail of such long distance, I love that much of it is in our backyards practically. I've been on bits and pieces of the Trail in NC, VA, WV, MD, PA - every time I imagine a thin thread stretching out before me to the terminus, connected by these white rectangles. An electric thrill runs up my spine. What's around the next bend in the green tunnel? The community of the Trail draws me as much as the Trail itself. I'm not the only one that feels as I do about the Trail. I want to meet the people. I want to spread good feeling to those that don't know about the Trail. Lead by example to weekenders and section hikers, both of which I currently am.
    I love the weekend trip that I go on. But there always seems to be a huge ticking clock in my mind. Longer trips, 10 days or so, the clock becomes almost silent by day 3 or 4 but then returns with thunderous noise by day 8 and 9. Being absorbed with time is something I am eagerly anticipating getting away from. I know there will be a schedule, but it seems like it will be a much less involved and demanding schedule. My worries will be boiled down to: move forward, eat, drink, watch the weather.
    I have read where some authors relate the Trail to a pilgrimage, some view it as a coming of age story, other's are looking for answers, or trying to beat a record. I am doing it for love, and removal of the things that breed dissatisfaction. On any given day I find myself angry and bored more than anything else. Mad at the car in front of me, short-tempered that the electronic device isn't as fast as I want it to be, annoyed that a loved one isn't giving me the attention I self-centeredly crave. Or bored, letting my mind melt into the inane TV I try to avoid, or the StumbleUpon site I'm clicking or the computer game. Or I nap out of boredom. I am only really happy when I am around friends, family, and loved ones and I am happy when I'm hiking, pushing myself to do something strenuous, either alone or accompanied . I'm tired of being angry. I'm sick of being bored. I go on this sabbatical to try to find a meaning deeper in life. I know a deeper meaning exists, just from the last paragraph - family, friends, loved ones, and strenuous labor give meaning to an otherwise gray dull life. I go in search of a way to enrich my life. I go to experience life more fully than I ever have.

I began this post with the intention of writing specifically about what planning I have so far done and what yet needs doing. Reading back through I like the direction the post  took instead. Sometimes it is difficult to articulate where I am. Mostly I just try to grin and ignore the anger and the boredom. But it is so prevalent, and so disgusting, I need to confront those emotions, try to understand where they come from.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Maryland AT - year end adventure

The year is quickly winding down! And what a good year for travel and adventure. A year ago I was getting back from Hawaii. In January I went snowboarding for the first time, and climbed Old Rag in the ice. February drove to Florida on a whim. March I went to Brazil for 10 days. April I went to Seneca Creek backpacking and the Bahamas at the end of the month. In May I went Dolly Sods and to Trail Days. July I went back to Dolly Sods and to NY. August I went to the Outer Banks. September saw me back in Dolly Sods, solo. October I went to Utah to see Zion and Bryce Canyon. November back to Old Rag and NY. And December I hiked most of the Maryland AT in the snow. 
The latest trip went like this:
Friday 17th
Jim and I had discussed doing the AT in Maryland, seeing how much we could do and where we thought we could end. After some back and forth we decided we wanted to end in Harper’s Ferry. It was left to me to decide where we could begin and finish comfortably. After perusing the map I picked a drop off point about 9 miles north of the Pine Knob Shelter at MD 17 Wolfsville Road.
We got to the parking area after dropping my car off at Heather’s in Frederick and Jim driving to the starting location. Night had already fallen, so we climbed out into the chilly night, headlamps on as we threw on layer after layer of clothing. Packs loaded and heavy with water (I had 5.5L of liquid including water, wine, juice). The road where we parked was the bottom of a fairly large hill. Soon puffing our way up the hillside after finding the trail. We turned off the headlamps, the snow on the ground reflecting the ¾ moon strong enough for us to cast shadows. We quickly became warm. I pulled off my wool hat and stuffed it in my jacket, several hundred yards up we stopped to put our outer-most layer in our packs. At this point I fumbled for my headlamp, that was no longer on my head... or in my pocket where I’d stuffed my hat. Shoot! Already losing things! We dropped our packs and headed back down the hill, looking for my head lamp. I was ready to give it up and call it lost but Jim insisted we go a bit further down the hill. And there is lay on the trail, little bugger. I put it around my neck as a necklace the rest of the trip so I wouldn’t lose it.
We put our packs back on and ascended the hill once more, going up a few switch backs. Finally we crested the hill, while the valley behind us was small and dark the valley on the other side of the mountain stretched to the horizon and contained a multitude of lights. Hagarstown lay in that valley, as well as Route 70 and 81. The night was crisp and the air sharp, allowing a long view of the bright valley.
Now that we were on top, we would follow this ridge for 8 miles to the campsite. No large elevation gain or lose was to be had. The trail looked like only a few people had traversed it since the snow had fallen a day before. Wide and easy, Jim and I walked side by side talking about many things, joking, laughing, and sometimes yelling or howling at the moon. The world lay at our feet, the night around us ours. No wind stirred the barren limbs, walking kept us warm. The miles unwound from our boot heels. We hiked down past Pogo campsite and over a still flowing creek, unlike the water in our platypus and camel back bladder hoses. The temperature in the low 20’s had long since made the water sluggish and slushy in our water bottles. We ascended a small hill to pass Annapolis Rocks and quickly made our way to the shelter.
We arrived at the shelter at around 11pm, hoping it would be empty so we wouldn’t disturb anyone. There, shrouded in the darkness of the shelter, lay three prone forms, their packs hanging from pegs in the shelter. Jim and I opted to let them sleep undisturbed and go setup his tent on the tent pads close by. We threw the tent up, and tossed our stuff inside, one final snack and we hung out packs on the bear hanger and crawled in. We put our bottles up next to the outside of our sleeping bags to keep them unfrozen. Each of us had 2 ground pads, closed cell foam pad and children's Thermarest. Sleeping bags and liners to keep us warm to 0 or 5 degrees. I slept soundly, but apparently, according to Jim I snored and kept him awake.
Saturday 18th

I woke up at first light and rolled over for awhile longer. Finally I got up and crawled from the tent. I got my pack down and was preparing to start cooking on a snow covered rock close by the tent. The three guys that were happily snoozing from the night before were up and packing. One guy saw what I was doing and offered to share the picnic table. I gathered my things and went over to the shelter. I talked to them for awhile. One of the guys had recently joined Washington Backpackers Meetup group, so there is a good chance I will see or hear more from him. They all seemed like decent guys, going for a three day jaunt, about 8 miles a day. Today they would be stopping before our halfway mark and finishing on Sunday several miles short of where we planned to spend the night. My fuel canister was still a bit chiily so they let me borrow some hot water to soak it in for a minute or two, then the JetBoil did it’s trick and got our 2 cups of water rolling.
Jim walked up and talked just as the guys were packing it up. I had coffee and oatmeal mixed, Jim had hot chocolate but declined the oatmeal for a bar of some kind. After breakfast we packed up the tent and our gear and set off, going down the hill towards the crossing of 70. On the way down there were two hunters coming back from getting their feet cold that morning. The older gentleman pointed out bear tracks in the snow - sure enough, within ¼ mile of the trail a bear had wandered through! Very cool. Talking to the hunters, we found that it was black powder season and archery, both requiring a shorter shot, thus safer for us to be in the woods.

We crossed over 70 and over several roads in the three miles to Washington Monument. As we were arriving the guys from the shelter were just leaving. We stopped for lunch for about 25 or 30 minutes, looking at the view and snacking heavily. After getting chilly standing still we put the tack back on and headed down off the hill.
The next several miles went quickly, a few more road crossings and we caught up and passed one of the guys, the other guys had already made it to their camp for the evening by the time we went by the blue blaze for it. We began the ascent of the hardest hill yet. For 2 ½ miles we steadily gained elevation, nothing terribly steep, just constant. After trudging and stopping for me to get in touch with Heather briefly we reached the halfway for the day mark. The first part of the next 8 miles, a continuation of the hill. At the top we reached a ridge and cruised steadily for a couple miles.
In Gathland State Park we passed the Civil War Memorial to the War Correspondents and climbed back up from the gap to our final ridge walk as the sun was setting.

Across the valley to the west lay Gobblers Knob, a source of constant amusement. We were dragging by this point, stopping frequently, hoping this last push would happen quicker than it was, we talked about food often. The temperature dropping to the high teens. The last three elevation gains were brutal, though not long or steep, we were weary and drug our selves up each one, hoping the shelter was on the down slope of the next hill. Finally we saw the dark silhouette looming to the left, suddenly our energy level notched up and we strode defiantly into camp, heads held high, Jim laughing maniacally, as he does. The Ed Garvey shelter, 16.5 miles from where we began our day! The shelter stands with a view into the valley east facing, two stories, the top floor having plexglass windows and a door, though still open the chill.

I went about getting food out and ready while Jim went about fire making, our old comfortable roles, done without speaking or telling each what to do. I put the fuel canister in my jacket while cutting up the sausage and getting stuff out. By the time I’m ready to heat water for the Couscous Jim has a nice fire blazing away, melting the snow off the logs placed by the fire. We fry the sausage on sticks over the fire, starring enamoured into the warmth, drinking the wine sharing the couscous from the same bowl. Jim breaks out some gingerbread cookies that were just divine. We climb the ladder stairs and lay out the sleeping gear, I toss my water bottles and fuel canister in the bottom of the bag, then clothing I’m not wearing. Lastly, I put on sock liners, hot hands, then wool socks over that. My feet will be toasty tonight! I go to sleep quickly. Apparently I snored again.
Sunday 19th
I wake with dreams that people are downstairs. I hear Jim thrashing around and assume he is getting up to pee. I hear birds chirping and fluttering downstairs. I finally get the gumption to get dressed and get out of my sleeping bag. Apparently Jim’s thrashing had more to do with him waking up in a puddle of water. His camel back nozzle got rolled on to, leaking water, he rolled again to get off of it some how making it gush. Some of his clothing was wet, pants and shirts, as well as his liner. For the last hour he had been very cold, curled into a ball. We got up and moving quickly, that being the best for being chilled. Hot chocolate coffee and oatmeals later we headed out of the very nice shelter. We had enough water still to get us to Harper’s Ferry so we didn’t have to go down the Steep! ½ trail to the spring. Just as we were about to leave 3 kids camp up, they may have been around 20, two boys and a girl, doing the 4 state challenge from VA to PA. They had started at 3am and planned on finishing by 3am. They mentioned that there was another group ahead of them, maybe I had heard real voices and not dream voices?

After leaving the shelter we went up a small incline, enough to get the blood flowing and the extremities warmed, feeling coming back to my fingers and toes. We quickly made it to the top of Weaverton Cliffs. We dropped our packs and went down to the over look, viewing the Potomac River and seeing where we were heading off in the distance. The trail down the cliffs was very quick, over a secondary road and under Route 340 we made it to the C&O Canal. I called Heather and let her know our where abouts and started heading the 5 miles to Harper’s Ferry. Our pace on the towpath gobbling up the miles very quickly. We made it the railroad bridge into town after seeing three trains on the busy tracks we paralleled. Harper’s Ferry stood out in beautiful relief, as always, with the added beauty of snow clad hills and icy rivers forking around it. As we walked into town I called Heather and she was very close by, Jim and I made our way to a very nice place to eat and she soon joined.

After stopping at the Outfitters and the ATC we headed back to Jim’s car and dropped him off.
This trip was a pleasure, it was also a very good test, as neither Jim nor I have done much cold weather camping recently, with the gear we now posses, and we hadn’t done that distance in a long while either. We are both sufficiently up to the task of handling it and enjoying ourselves doing it too!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving in the Finger Lakes

Not an adventure blog, but I was away. And I didn't shower for 4 days... so it's enough like camping that I am posting.
I drove to New York to the Finger Lakes where my brother lives. He lives mostly off grid, at least his house and property are off the grid. He still uses gasoline and other modern infrastructure, so in the strictest view, he is still on-grid.
Some back ground, my brother has problems with modern society, rampant consumerism, and more than anything, authority. This doesn't make him far left or far right, politically. He considers himself right, as he identifies with the hard-working blue collar folks. However, he lives further left than most, but for different reasons. He contends that modern society as it 
 stands now cannot continue indefinitely, he is of the opinion that there will be a collapse, probably within our life time. He is a very smart, passionate guy. His opinions are formed with (albeit selective) research. The genesis of this world view of his stretches into the hazy past. He was enamored with 'My Side of the Mountain' growing up. He delved into wilderness survival with gusto, learning edible and medicinal plant identification - practicing his skills in and out of scouts. The second most important book to steer his thinking was 'The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight' by Thom Hartmann - a book dedicated to the theorized Peak Oil crisis. I read the book as well, and there are some very valid concerns. There are two schools of thought, one that Peak Oil is an unresolvable crisis, that once oil becomes economically unfeasible, that population levels will dramatically fall back to pre-oil levels (about 1 billion), meaning there will be a mass die off through war, starvation, lack of medical treatment, and lack of survival skills. This is the school of which my brother prescribes. The other thought process is that with a slow decline, people will be able to spin up other sources of fuel, hopefully renewable, to compensate for the disappearing "easy" fuel that is crude oil. I tend to fall in with this group, and that we won't see the squeeze of the need for a complete change to other fuels in our life times. Sure, I want my children's world to be a better place, but I think a slow transition to the next level will happen. Just from an economic view, once the demand for oil becomes price prohibitive other sources will be found.
Ok, enough back ground, getting off the soap-box.
Anyway, my bro decided to be proactive about it. He bought some property in NY on a side of a mountain. The 9 acres has a gorge with a typically flowing stream, a few nice pasture areas an old apple orchard and mixed hardwood and pine maturing forest. He built a cabin over five years ago. I helped some with that. He has added a porch and enclosed the porch as the kitchen. He is digging out the hill behind the cabin and plans on adding another room there. He plans on building a wrap around porch on the front of the cabin. On the property he has made a 20 by 20 work shop, several sheds, a horse barn (no horses yet), chicken house, pig pen, a small garden, and a root cellar.
I visit from time to time and it is like stepping back a hundred years (except the lighting). The water is collected from a rain barrel (the stream comes through a sheep farm on top of the mountain, so cannot be used), the LED lighting is powered off a few deep cycle batteries charged by solar panels - unless it has been exceptionally cloudy, then he runs a gennie for a few minutes to give them enough charge for the evening. The batteries aren't enough to run TV, computer, or anything beyond the LED and CFL lights nightly. Thanksgiving dinner was cooked on the woodstove, the turkey in the woodstove oven. 
On Friday I occupied myself in Watkins Glen, on the wine trail of Seneca Lake, and on the Keuka Lake Outlet Trail connecting Penn Yan to Dresden. The last an interesting trail I would like to bike and explore some more in the summer, or at least when there aren't hunters around. I found some interesting ruins off trail, I can never seem to stay on trails. I speculated that there was a towpath. The link confirmed my suspicions as well as explained there were some 30 mills, which must explain the helter skelter ruins I came upon.
I had no real high adventures. Hunting is serious business in these parts. I wanted to hit the Finger Lakes Trail, but some of it crosses private lands closed for the season, other parts cross public lands, dangerous in this season. I didn't have any blaze orange to sport and didn't want to mess up any one's shot by scaring their prey. Oh well, next time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Old Rag Backpacking

I met Anthony at his house after work on Friday afternoon. From there he drove to Heather’s house in Frederick. We set out in Heather’s Element, after stopping at the Coffee Company and Chickfila I drove. The directions were easy from Frederick: S340 to S522 to Sperryville and S321 to a right on Sharp Top Rd. Heather passed out in the back, after all week of working nights. Once there, she said the trip only seemed like it took five minutes. Anthony and I chatted, him keeping me awake and being the DJ.
We pulled into the lower parking lot - a blast of arctic air banishing the warmth inside the Element. We took some things from our packs - mostly warm layers of clothing. My layers consisted of: a blue long sleeve under-shirt, a T-shirt, a heavier pull over with pockets and a Mt hardware wind stopper jacket. I also wore a fuzzy hat and had the gloves out. The temperature was below freezing, but not by much. Heather talked Anthony into taking a fleece that she’d grabbed from the house on our way out of Frederick. Anthony had also purchased some smart-wool socks at REI a few nights before.
There was no envelope to leave the required $25 park entrance fee, but I did fill out a backwoods camping permit form. We headed up the road from the parking lot at about 9:30pm. By the soft glow of our headlamps we made our way up the black top road for nearly a mile until we reached the Old Rag parking lot, now closed to vehicles. We took the fire road up Weakely Hollow to look for a campsite, figuring the ground in the valley would be easier to find flat spots. We crossed the 4 bridges and the road begins sloping up a little bit, on this ascent a descent open area right off the fire road was seen. Anything further into the woods was shrouded by night.
Heather and I set up the tent. We always work so smoothly together. Nothing needs to be said, we just do what needs to be done. In no time the tent was setup, by headlamp and candle lantern. Inside Legolas lit the interior as we tossed our gear inside.
I hung the bear bag with help and an audience. After getting it lofted, we all climbed into the tent and crawled into our sleeping bags. I went to sleep quickly and slept soundly.
We woke before the sun crested the hills. The morning was brisk. We climbed out into the chill and broke camp, knowing Jim was meeting us somewhere. The sun slowly creeped down the hillside above us, finally warming us upon reaching down to us.
We put our packs on and hiked back towards the way we came. Over the bridges I saw Jim headed our way. He was a little mad as he couldn’t find us, and I had told him we were coming in Anthony’s car but had opted for Heather’s at the last minute. We walked back down the road to the vehicle to switch out some gear, pick up food for dinner, and redistribute the wealth. The parking lot was very full and there were quite a few people passing us going towards the mountain. 

After we loaded our packs we headed back up the road and after a quick stop for a picture at the bottom, we began the trail.

We took our time going up, allowing various day hikers walking faster than us laden folks pass us from time to time. The conversation was easy, and the couple miles quickly disappeared. Anthony did very well, though sweating profusely, we didn’t stop for any type of substantial break until we got to the first overlook, even that was less than 5 minutes. I was very impressed at how Anthony has progressed over the summer. Easter of this year Ant and I went on the Skyline and he struggled coming back from the waterfall, and crawled going back to the car up the road. This time he just kept going, keeping a very good pace too.

At the first real rock scramble Jim, Heather, and I kept our packs on, as we could shimmy, squeeze, or clamber up or around the crevice the trail surmounted. Ant took his pack off, and after some coaxing and some pulling got beyond the obstacle. While waiting, an older woman, maybe in her late 50’s fell off the slippery part of a rock going around the crevice. She fell about 5 feet on to her back. Jim and Heather both lent there medical knowledge, but she wasn’t hurt, or so it seemed, just shaken.
From this point on the trail became a series of scrambles, and climbs, some fairly easy, some a bit harder. At one point, after passing through the cave and the balancing rock a line formed on the trail, and wasn’t seeming to move. A narrow, quite rocky area, with a rope for an assist, was bottle-necking the trail. Jim became impatient and used an alternate, albeit, much harder, route... just the way he likes it! Heather also went that route. Anthony couldn’t have made it that way and choose to stand in line. I wanted to be there for Anthony, in case he needed a hand up, or a push up. Heather grabbed his pack from him, so it would be one less thing to mess with. While Ant and I were waiting in line and making our way Heather was helping a downward ho! group around the other way, passing packs down. Jim was helping some people up as well. In the crevice, Ant and I finally made it to the ‘technical’ part. On his first try he wasn’t hold ing the rope very well and slipped, on the second try I got a (unfortunate) good grip on his ass and heaved him up. Once he was cleared, I grabbed the rope and walked right up, with my pack on. It took him and I less than a minute to get up and through, still not sure why it was taking so long in the line.
Once beyond this, the hardest part, we made our way to a couple more false peaks, around a few more scrambles, to the top. We took pictures by the summit sign, then went and climbed up a boulder. A small pool of rain water stood on the top, and Heather and Legolas got a good photo opportunity. 

The sun was getting the late afternoon hue to it. We decided not to dawdle too much since we didn’t want to make camp in the dark again. We headed down the mountain, the elevation shedding quickly. My big toes hurting (note to self: cut your damn toenails jackass). Anthony decided he wanted a summit rock, some hippy chick heard him and handed him a piece of quartz. Not satisfied, he continued to search for a flat rock, Heather helped in his search.
The back side of the mountain is steep, and drops quickly to a fire road. There is a shelter and an out house at the beginning of the road. There were several camps of large groups, probably Scouts close at hand. That, as well as the water supply being rather far away, had us come to the consensus to head down to a side trail. Jim offered to run (quite literally) ahead to the path and find a suitable campsite. Anthony seemed a little worried that we would somehow lose him. I wasn’t concerned, and the day was getting late. Jim had the desire to have a fire for the evening and collect the wood and make the fire pit for us. We all set off, Jim disappearing around the next bend with easy speed. The next couple miles were very easy, on a well graded un-used road. We made good time to the cut-off trail. We crossed the creek at the beginning of the side trail, following it up into a valley. The ground looked very rocky, and I was wondering how far Jim had to go to find a suitable place for tents and bivy. Around another bend, and I beheld a raging campfire. We made our way to an empty beef jerky bag on a stick to mark the camp, had the fire not been visible. In camp Heather and Anthony setup the tent, after finding a good place for it. Jim setup a tarp and bivy shelter close by. I began making dinner. Cutting up and frying sausage, cutting up celery, onion, green pepper, and tomato and frying it in the grease of the sausage. While this was going on I began boiling the brown rice I had put water in at lunch. Note: [Next time put water in the rice at breakfast and soak all day. It took 20 min of boiling and the rice was still a tiny bit crunchy.] Added to the rice after boiling for a bit: crushed red pepper, tomato paste from a squeeze tub, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, and tabasco sauce. Had I known Anthony’s aversion to hots I would’ve added less and let each of us add to taste. He didn’t complain, and he ate it all though. The goulash turned out all right, but it was way too fuel expensive and heavy on the fresh vegetables.
All the time during cooking, after setting up his shelter, Jim gathered firewood. By the time dinner was ready he had a sizable stack... and this after breaking my saw, snapping the blade of it. Dinner was served and everyone seemed to enjoy it, human sumping the bits left in the bowls and cups. We went through the wine in no time, and passed around the flask while the sky got dark and the fire grew warm. After clean up and some rest Heather Anthony and I went to pump some water. Anthony seems to have an irrational fear of running out of water and drinking more that he actually does. Ant watched as I pumped 3 liters and Heather held the tube in clear flowing water. Back in camp we hung the bear bag and after banking the fire, headed to our nylon cocoons of warmth. A crawled into my bag, synched the draw string, and disappeared until the morning, falling asleep quickly, and only waking a few times to roll over. I didn’t slide, even though the slight slant we were on, Heather slide more toward Anthony as I was at the top of the hill. I was quite warm, hot even to begin with, in my liner and bag.
We woke around the time of first light. We took our time getting out of the bags, finally motivated by the need to pee and the desire for coffee. We boiled water to make oatmeal and hot chocolate and /or coffee for all in Heather's JetBoil. After breakfast I ran to the stream to fill up and clean the pump filter. I pumped three liters. I arrived home with all of it unused.
We broke camp and confidently strode back down the fire road, after letting Anthony take us out of camp as a training exercise. He needs to work on his awareness of where he is and how to get out. 

He crossed the path without realizing. These skills take time, and granted this path was much less used and more covered in leaves. But the blue blazes were still visible, just un-noticed by him.
We made our way back to the car with good conversation and into a lightening and warming day. The parking lot, was again packed full of day hikers. We hopped in the car and headed to second breakfast in Sperryville.
We drove back, tired sore but content with the achievement of conquering Old Rag in full pack.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lessons From Utah

Note: I write about gear after using it in the field. Some of this is reiteration from the journal entry, but I am more gear centric and less experience oriented in these blurbs.

10/11 -10/12/2010 The Narrows
As Jim and I did 2 separate overnighters in Zion, I will count them as different training hikes, as they were two vastly different adventures!
We began by getting a shuttle to Chamberlain Ranch beyond the northern border of the park, hiking down a private dirt road to get access to the beginning of the Narrows. I have written a journal concerning these events in another document, so I will just give the highlights here, and things I learned about the equipment I brought and food.
The pack was around 40 lbs, maybe a tic over. I brought 5 liters of water - 3 in Heathers Platypus and 2 Nalgens. It was a less arid environment in the Narrows (more like east coast humidity levels) so we ended up not having to pump water the entire time and ending with water to spare. The Platypus must be delicately placed in the pack or the hose will kink and you’ll be without water unless you stop, unpack your entire pack, unkink, and try again. Verily a pain. Jim’s water bag had a more inflexible tube and didn’t have the issue.
The Sprite tent is fantastic, plenty of room for boots and clothing, room in the vestibule for the pack. The tent is rather stake happy, and there seems to be a disparity between the foot print and the tent, I need to look at the directions to see if I’m doing it correctly before getting stuck in a monsoon, though I do want that to see how sea worthy she is.
The cook ware worked fantastically, nice and light-weight. I carried the 2 pots and larger lid. This was plenty for all our 2-person needs, and would probably be needed at times solo, so I will probably carry the same. Note to self: don’t forget utensils!! Luckily Jim had a knife/fork/spoon set to let me borrow a piece. Which remind me, the spork is great, but a 2 piece utensil kit, I think is necessary - leave the butter knife at home though... that’s what the folding knife is for.
Items borrowed and used from Heather (in other words, equipment I need to buy): compression Granite Gear water proof stuff bag for the tent, 3 water proof bags for toiletries, clothing, and general/emergency items, folding Buck knife, heavier rain/insulated pants, camp cup, Platypus water sac.
For dinner in the Narrows we went the pouch route - no waste or need of a sump - especially important since there is no good place for that in the canyon, in fact we were told to pee directly into the river (and poop in a foil bag), as that was more sanitary than a bunch of people peeing on rocks and getting a urine funk. Between that and the ranger telling us not to even pump water outside of the northern park boundary due to farm run-off, I was quite satisfied not having to use any water from there. The pouched food was tasty, however, the directions need to be modified and played with at home. Using the directions on the pouch lead to too much liquid, as we’re not boiling any off and rather bland noodles. The soupy cheesy liquid was delicious tho, and after a dehydrating day the salty liquid would be a good replenishment. I will need to experiment at home to get a good balanced consistency. Also I only used water, and didn’t add powdered milk, like I probably should have, as thickener. The added beef jerky was a much needed supplement to the concoction.
The next morning we tried huevos rancheros - freeze dried eggs. The stove immediately started burning the stuff, so there was that taste to sour the possible tastiness of it. Reminder to myself, there are a few tricks to Isopro cooking: turn it all the down to just above sputtering, don’t leave the pan sitting on the stove - to regulate heat even more hold it above the burner a few centimeters. Also we had a summer sausage, we decided to slice up half of it and fry it up - it was pure heaven in my mouth! By far the best way to eat it.
There wasn’t too much unneeded equipment lugged thru the Narrows - it was a bit warmer then expected, but safe to have warm clothing had I fallen in the water and got soaked. I didn’t use rain gear, though again it would’ve been needed had it rained (then again if rain was forecast we wouldn’t have been there), didn’t use the collapsible Nalgen Heather let me borrow (must buy her a new one since James promptly made it a smellable by putting Propel in it). Of the other things brought, I should have left the disposable hand warmers, sleeping bag liner, glow stick, shot glass, flask, and one of head lamp behind - I carried 2 head lamps and a candle lantern - none of which were used, as I was asleep before dark and awake after sunrise.

10/14 - 10/15/2010 The West Rim Trail
I bought a folding spork at the outdoor shop, since I left mine at home. I left this one in the car and had to borrow one from Jim’s set again.
The first day was fairly flat and we made excellent time. No blisters, no pain, no rain. The pack fit great, boots, socks, poles, knees gave me no issues whatever. This time we took the same amount of water as we did in the Narrows, however we ended up pumping 6 additional liters at the spring near camp (8) so it was obviously much more arid on the top of the canyon. It was also much cooler at night, there was a light frost. The sleeping bag and tent kept me snug - always wear comfy camp socks to bed, makes such a big difference.
The next day we had a couple hundred feet elevation gain, and then several (3) thousand feet elevation lose. My right heel began hurting and I started limping a bit. A small blister formed there. It may have been the sock/liner combination I had on, but tend to think it was just all that downhill. My knees were no worse for the wear, so I’m happy about that. Blisters now, mean tougher feet then! Knee pains don’t build calluses.
Other than that, I saw no additional equipment quandaries or unnecessary items.
We brought spaghetti for dinner, and a fresh onion to add. I didn’t have the gumption the evening before to put the sauce in the reusable container, so Jim carried it for naught, and I carried a full jar of sauce. The cooking of pasta is fuel intense, as well as messy. The onions were a nice touch, fried separately again - but we were not trying to conserve fuel. In fact we were trying to use it, as we knew we couldn’t take the canister home with us. I did notice, as it was breezy, that others had set up a rock wind shield for cooking. Even with this the stove would get blown out if the flame was too low, and burn the food if put higher. I could clearly see which way the wind was coming from while watching the water begin to boil - only one side of the pot would get the bubbles on the bottom and it took a couple minutes longer to boil. I need to make or buy a flame proof bib to go around the stove - I’ve seen other backpackers with these, and have found it is not a fruitless investment, but nearly required in some circumstances - plus directing the heat (especially to make boiling faster) will save a lot of fuel over time.
We tried the huevos again, but the twist was I brought flour tortilla wraps, unused BBQ chicken from dinner the night before, and hot sauce. Un-burned, they still were not very good, and rather expensive. Next time I’ll stick to oatmeal!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Zion and Bryce

Trip Journal

10/9/2010 - Saturday
The flight from Baltimore took off on time, 8am. Jim and I landed in Kansas City, we were supposed to stay on the plane, however, after all other passengers had disembarked a mechanical issue forced passengers to Las Vegas off as well - another plane was going to be there in an hour. Both of us were hungry, so grabbed Quiznos sandwiches and waited to pre-board.
The second half of the flight was also easy. The pilot pointed out the Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion while on descent into Vegas. I finished reading ‘The Road’, that I had bought and started in Baltimore, seconds before we touched down.
On landing in Vegas we hurried down to claim our bags.The turn-style kept spinning and spitting bags, but ours weren’t to be seen. Eventually a Southwest representative came by and told us that some bags from Baltimore were left on the tarmac in KS. Now I was quite mad. We walked over to baggage claim, once at the desk I explained our situation, “You’ll hand deliver our bags to Zion tonight, right?!” Our two options were either wait for the bags and get $100 flight voucher, or have the bags FedEx-ed to our location... on Wednesday.
The choice was easy, Jim and I had errands in Vegas before heading North, and we didn’t have a firm schedule to be behind on anyway.
We grabbed the carry on bags and headed out to get the rental car. Fox is a discount rental car agency, very fairly priced. A bit more challenging to get to than the other rental car agencies. First one must take a shuttle from the airport to the rental car center, from there Fox runs a shuttle to their location.
Our chariot, quickly dubbed the compASS, wasn’t terrible. Manual everything, except gears, but we both are used to that. Plenty of room for all our stuff... once we got it.
There was a Bass Pro Shop close at hand, to pick up MSR Isopro fuel for the two camp stoves. After wandering around the enormous store the camping corner was finally spied. I also picked up the Nat.Geo. Adventure Road Atlas in case our path took us away from cell phone coverage (it never did for long). The Bass Pro has a casino attached to it, and a hotel. I’m fairly certain most things in Vegas probably have a casino attached - the 7-11, CVS pharmacy, PetSmart. Having 2 hours to kill, Jim and I decided to grab a bite to eat. An Italian restaurant beckoned. The restaurant was authentic and the sauce was incredibly tasty. I had the calzone.
We still had awhile to kill, so back to the BassPro casino to look at the sights. Inside we saw all the glitz and glam. At the far end a girl dressed like a mermaid swam in a giant aquarium, waving at guests and attracting a crowd. Shortly after this spectacle we left to head back to the airport.
I parked in the short-term parking, by a stairwell for easy identification of the car. Rather than going down and out, Jim and I ran up several flights of stairs to the top of the parking garage for a good view of the Vegas skyline. We slowly made our way around the top until reaching elevators that took us right to the baggage claim area.
Our bags were miraculously on the conveyor, we grabbed our gear and claimed our $100 from baggage claim. Off we scampered away from the lights of Vegas, away from the noise and confusion, into the darkness of the desert and mountains stretching to our destination some 3 hours north.
Highway 15 north speeds by the strip, many of their lights and billboards facing us as we tried to escape Las Vegas. The traffic wasn’t bad, though thick with idiots cutting and weaving for their intended exit on the strip. I pulled off at the last exit before the darkness, fortunately, in North Vegas, to grab a coffee and a lighter. I also bought a car charger with 2 USB ports and cig.lighter splitter. Jim didn’t bring a car charger, I was trying to help a brutha out. The iPhone snobbery threw a message “Not a supported iPhone charging device”. Nice Apple. Real nice. Dicks.
I entered the highway again. The Vegas lights almost immediately disappeared after on brilliant horizon stretching view as we rose on a bluff. The speed went from 65 to 75mph. The road went down to a 4 lane highway. I cruised into the blackened night. I had to pee and was weary of driving after an hour. I pulled down an exit and let a stream flow into the desert soil as I gazed up at a sky full of brilliant pin-prick stars. 94.5, a Nellis radio station stayed with us up into the mountains, cranking out sick Techno beats, pumping us up, and making the drive a rave.
Jim began the middle hour drive, the plains quickly turning into an upward sloping mountains climb, the mountains dark silhouettes, darker patches in a dark night, the slopes and peaks hidden from our view. Arizona mountains for 30 minutes, then Utah plateau. As we neared an exit and decided on refilling gas before getting off a major highway, Jim let it be known that on the east coast he had turned 30. Old man, now. He pulled into a gas station and I filled us up. I gave him a box that Heather gave me as his present. Contained in the box was a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label, unopened, and two engraved flasks, one for him, one for me. My pre-work had been filling our flasks with JWB from my stash at home. We were set on good liquor.
I clambered behind the steering wheel. And set out to SR 9, leading us away from the freeway and in towards Zion. Dark empty roads slid smoothly by, passing through little blips of towns, getting to Springdale and the south gate of Zion. The camp grounds Jim had called earlier was on the eastern border of Zion. The gate to the park was open, no one manning it to take an entrance fee. Our first trip through Zion was done in the cover of darkness. The road dropping away into nothingness, not revealing any splendor. We sped through hair-pin turns, and the mile-long tunnel. After passing out the east gate I turned left on the first available road, winding up some more elevation gain. Five miles later the Zion Ponderosa Resort was on the left. An information packet regarding our stay was taped to the front door of the office. We drove over to campsite 9 and setup our tents, both for the first time, by the headlights of the compASS. The mountain air had turned chilly, it was quite nice to have a warm sleeping bag to try out for the first time. I snuggled in with wool sock clad feet and quick dry clothing, I cinched the top of the bag, quite cozy in my nylon cocoon.

10/10/2010 - Angels Landing
I awoke at first light. The air was crisp and frosty outside of my one person tent, Jim’s Coleman borrowed from Tania set up close by mine. I put on some extra layers of clothing before climbing out into the sunny morning.
The sights that were hidden by the previous night stood out in sunlit brilliance. To the south highlands stretched out to distant peaks beyond several Conestoga wagon shaped cabins, to the west rose steeply a horn shaped peak beyond a nicely appointed cabin. The red and sand colored ridges shone in the mornings light. Behind our camp rose stunted pines trees meekly into the air, hiding other campers tents I had heard muffled conversation and bits of laughter the night before.

Legolas and the ‘pipe’ got a brief photo shoot.

Jim climbed out of his tent, the birthday boy. We walked down to the main office to settle the bill and see about breakfast. directly in front of the office, beyond some stairs and a fountain made to look like a stream, lay a putt putt mini golf course. This place really is a resort. Among some of the other services they offer, including: horse back riding, vehicle tours, and ATV riding. One can also rent a golf cart, if the 200 yard walk to camp is too far. Not really my style, but to each their own.
In the office we notice that our clocks are wrong, we aren’t early for the breakfast buffet. Las Vegas is in a different time zone than Utah. We stray into a herd of Bible thumpers while lining up for the buffet. The back of the line, “Can I get some Praise?!”, “Praise Jesus”, “God is good” responds from in front of us. We’ve stumbled into the midst of a church retreat. Eyes rolling, how petty of us, we find a table off to one side as Jim searches for a plug for his phone to garner a bit more juice.
While digging into our scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy, and fruit we discuss our plan for the day. We want to talk to the park rangers about getting a back country pass, either to do the Narrows as a day hike today, or an over night, if that is possible, at that point we then need to find an outfitters that does shuttles in the town of Springdale. both the visitor center and the town are on the other side of the park so we must drive back through the myth and magic that went by our shadow clouded eyes.
Jim and I finish our tasty meal, pay up and walk back to the camp. We break and pack the campsite. Jim drives us back out into the day to the park. We toss some cash into the pot (he $20, me $5) for a entrance fee to Zion. The traffic was still light. We stop to peer at the Checkerboard Mesa, even the cactus enthrall us, as everything is new hidden by the shroud, our fresh eyes soak in the sights.

OMG a cactus!!

After the Checkerboard we see a bunch of Big Horn Sheep grazing by the road side! Shortly after we get to a line of traffic waiting to go through the tunnel. Apparently during the day the park service only allows one way traffic. There is a trail terminus here, but the trail is short and the tiny pull off unavailable. The traffic moves crawling through the tunnel - gallery windows open occasionally out over a vista and the Grand Arch, wind carved on a distant canyon wall. Beyond the tunnel the road gets rough, as it is being resurfaced. Down through hairpin turns to the canyon floor and over the Virgin River. Here we stop briefly to stretch our legs, let some traffic pass and view some more sights.

Next stop visitors center! We drove by the entrance and had to turn around, but it is accessible from either inside the park, or outside the park in the Sol Foods parking lot. We showed our vehicle pass at the walk in entrance and went to the back country desk in the visitor center building to inquire about our options. A plot formed while conversing with the ranger lady. We would get an overnight permit for the Narrows, we would stay in a campsite somewhere local and get a outfitter to shuttle us to Chamaberlain Ranch in the morning for a hike through the slot canyon. We were given the permit to camp at site 10, more than 8 miles the first day, and a foil and charcoal bag in which to poop in. We had to watch a ten minute program on ‘Leave No Trace’ and canyon safety. From here we went to the gift shop - I got a magnet, card deck, and a patch.
Jim and I set off to find an outfitters. We saw one before when we had missed the visitor center and had to turn around. Off to Zion Adventure Company! The charge for the morning shuttle was $30. After speaking with the outfitter shop girl I opted for some special boots with neoprene booties to keep the feet warm and have good traction whilst rock scrambling in the river. Jim soon followed suit. He additionally asked about canyoneering and why someone military trained still needed additional experience to repel on the higher level repelling outings. No response satisfied Jimmy. We did, however, learn and even got a crudely drawn map of some free campsites outside of town to the south on public lands. We had to watch a fairly funny after school special about the upcoming adventure, and were soon on our way to ‘downtown’ Springdale to look around and get some lunch.
A Tex-Mex restaurant caught our eyes and we lunched outside on burrito,chips, and salsa. In a gift shop I bought a friend some Springdale-made soap that smelled very nice. After dining we crossed the street to see how much hotel rooms cost. Too much for our tastes, we drove back toward Zion and stopped at Zion RV park. The campsites were $30 a night and we opted to stay down by the river in our semi-new compASS.
We left the car parked at our site and jumped on the town bus that took us one stop up to the visitor center, armed with bottles of water we jumped on the park shuttle bound for the Grotto stop and the trail to Angels landing. I ran out of water before getting there and jumped off at Zion Lodge to refill my bottle. In short order we stood at the bottom of the 5 mile round-trip 2500 ft climb of a trail. The first half mile wound along the Virgin, soon splitting from her shallow depths and rising through a series of long switch backs.

The short steep switch backs were still above us.

On our way up we spoke to a few guys that were also doing the Narrows the next day. There were many people coming down the trail. Two girls we would meet again, passed us going down on our way up. Many fewer people were heading up. In my pocket, I notice I’m carrying the soap gift I bought. Around my neck I wear the Labyrinth Necklace. After reaching Scouts Lookout, a flat spot where the West Rim trail joined from a different direction, the people heading down petered out. Chains began springing out of the rocks, the trail getting close to hundreds and thousand foot drops. The bus stop and road far below looked like ants trundling back to the nest. The chains lead us up the narrow bits of land to one more level spot before the final steep precarious push to the top.

The ridge is the trail!!

The view from the top was worth the sweat and effort. The exertion flew from our minds and our bodies. Bathed in soft evening sunshine, slanting from the west, the distance sides of the canyons glowed with a red radiance, the soft colors muting the harshness some cliffs shone with during mid-day. The peaks and ridges marched off into the distance into a velvety oil painting, edges soft.

View from Angels Landing

We had very friendly, nearly obnoxiously so, chipmunks come out to greet us, and beg for bits of food. Everyone must have watched the Leave No Trace video, the chippies went home with growling bellies, or more likely to nibble from full pantries of food others had given them.
Soaking in the magic ambiance for awhile, we decided to make our way back before the sun disappeared over the horizon, as we didn’t bring head lamps. Occasionally we ran or jogged down the easier parts of the trail, sometimes snapping a picture before making the way over a bridge, back to the bus stop. Back on the bus, we quickly made it back to the visitor center, just a hop skip and a leap from the town bus - driven by the hottest girl yet, according to Jim. We debarked at the first stop in front of the outfitters.

We went to Noodles and Pizza and sat on the front porch. We got a pizza with feta cheese on it, very delectable.

We set up camp and I was asleep before dark. I was exhausted, maybe jet lagged? The camp next door had a blazing campfire, and the guy offered us a hammer to drive our stakes after seeing our difficulty in the hard packed gravel site we were on. This was the most uncomfortable sleep of the trip, my hips feeling bruised the next morning. Jim opted to stay up and chat with the couple, he played dice with them long into the night.

10/11/2010 - The Narrows Day One
The shuttle for the Narrows left at 7:45am, so Jim and I were up early to pack our packs correctly for backpacking. I also needed my morning cup of coffee that I scored from a place across from the TexMex restaurant downtown.
I dropped off a post card at the outfitter desk, they were kind enough to mail it for me. Something about mailing a postcard seems more meaningful than a text or an email for some reason, sometimes the old ways hold more value.
While standing waiting for our transportation two girls came up and got on one of the buses. We were soon told that was also our bus. We sat inside and chatted with Jessica Brantely and Stephanie Duncan - Steph is an avid hiker and backpacker, while Jess had only one other overnight backpacking experience, most of her equipment was new. As we were talking Jim and I came to the silent agreement that they would probably need help. They seemed cool, and the conversation would be more interesting with new people. As we spoke, we gained insight that though they didn’t directly say, they were both spoken for, which is just as well, as Jim and I are also spoken for in a sense. This fact also made me more comfortable helping them if they needed it. Jess and Steph are both teachers in Arizona, Steph teaches 8th grades - a saint that one - and Jess 1st grades (i think).
On our way back through the park we stopped off at the terminus of the East Rim trail and dropped of the middle age couple. The shuttle took us past the Zion Ponderosa Resort and onto rough roads leading to the Chamberlain Ranch drop off. Mule deer kept bounding up the road ahead of us, finally flagging their tails one last time before disappearing down or up the mountainside. My bladder full, I got the bus driver to pull over and release me into the now frosty air - the temp really dropped with our elevation gain - and drained.
Soon enough we arrived at the trailhead, which begins on private property at the Chamberlain Ranch and follows a dirt road to the beginning of the Narrows. The dirt road starts on the far side of the small Virgin River (at this point), and continues for 3 miles to an old cabin before ending where the canyon walls begin to rear. The walk along the road was light and chatty, learning about the girls, and them about us. They had rented not only the water shoes but also the dry pants and wooden staffs. During the non-river walk the pants were rather binding, their packs bunching the elastic and pressing into their hips and torsos - uncomfortable and hard to relieve. The hour walk went quickly, we dropped our packs and had a pee and snack break before heading into the canyon.

Jim, Jess, Steph, me on the side of the old cabin.

The road ended quickly after the cabin our second river crossing began, and soon we were crossing back and forth over the river frequently. My booties immediately filled with water and stayed that way all day. The layer of water acted as a wet suit, warmed and kept my feet toasty and comfortable for the most part. I took the lead and stayed there most of the time, picking what I thought was the easiest route for myself and those following. I got good at it and we rarely got in past our knees. I think, I hope, I was a big help to Steph and Jess. I wanted their trip to be enjoyable, and I immediately fell into the guide/leader role. Jim took up the back and snapped pictures most of the time. I left my camera as the one he borrowed from Tania was water proof and shock proof.
The further we went south/southwest into the canyon, the higher the walls rose, soon spiraling into the sky far above our heads, making us seems o small and gloriously inconsequential! This part of Zion, due to elevation and temperature, also had wonderful fall colors. Coming around corners to see bright yellow clad aspen and deep red clothed maple trees was a treat beyond words. Occasionally the sun found it’s way into the depths and we reveled in the provided warmth.

The top of the Narrows were actually very narrow, unlike the bottom.

Our going slowed from a brisk pace on the road above to a near crawl in the river. The actual river crossings and walks, avoiding deep pools and treacherous unseen rocks slowed us, though the river wasn’t terribly high, so we shore walked quite often. We stopped for lunch in front of a perfectly red maple tree.

Other creeks occasionally joined our river, swelling her slightly each time. We came to a 20 foot waterfalls, with a very lucky and convenient side crevice around it. We snapped pictures from the bottom, and the antics of the girls getting over a fallen tree. Our spirits high we continued on. Several hours later, foot sore, weary we came to a side canyon as large as the one we were traversing. The water level doubled, and the creek became a river by Utah standards. We stopped very briefly for a snack and continued on, knowing the boys and the girls would be parting ways soon enough. We came to campsite 5, Jess and Steph’s home for the evening. Jim exchanged contact information, and we exchanged pleasantries of our fondness as traveling companions. We parted ways for good at this point.
Jim and I picked up our pace, slightly - as the going was still tough. But after all we’d been through we knew we neared the place wear the packs would be discarded for the evening. Buoyed by this, we made good time to campsite 10 and home for the evening. Our campsite turned out to be marvelous, the soil soft and sandy under a protruding rocky out cropping. My bed and rest would be great.
Jim and I made camp quickly, and had a meal in a pouch, with added beef jerky. While the noodles were rather bland, the cheesy sauce and jerky was fantastic. As the evening grew dark, each crawled separately into our tents and sleeping bags, the night air mild, the trilling of the river just yards away smoothly carried me away to a peaceful nights rest.

10/12/2010 The Narrows Day Two
Sometime after first light I awoke. I eventually climbed out of the tent and into the warm morning. During the night I had slept with the sleeping bag unzipped and the rain fly thrown open, as the temp was quite mild down in the canyon. Jim was out of his tent shortly, we had a leisurely morning, packing slowly. I had brought Huevos Rancheros for breakfast, they got burned a tiny bit so we couldn’t tell if they would be any better without the crispy flavor. Jim fried up half of our summer sausage, and that was the highlight of the meal - a dash of olive oil in the pan and the flavor of the sausage exploded. So delicious!
Our packs packed and gear stowed, I pulled on still wet neoprene socks and chilly water boots. After the first jump into the river, I get the warming layer of water. And Jim and I set off down stream, a couple people we saw yesterday closing in then falling behind - whether to give themselves the solitude or because they couldn’t go as fast we speculated on. The first mile seemed the most difficult so far. Cross this way, cross that way. Back track around a huge boulder to find a shallower spot, climb over a log jam, or up the side of a steep hill and follow a partially washed out trail. On one such circumventing side trail, the path abruptly ended at the top of an expanse of rock, about 45 degree angle. I sat on my butt and slide down, slowing myself with my hands. My middle finger on the left hand caught or jammed on something on the way down, and hot pain flared right in front of the middle knuckle. I cursed and shook it off and continued down stream.
Soon I noticed a foot-print heading up stream. And another and another, becoming more prevalent as we headed south. I knew we were getting into day hiker territory and we would soon start seeing them, because of timing and distance. Sure enough, or magic solitude and the wilderness feel evaporated as we came around a bend to a couple coming up stream. The canyon, and the true start of the Narrow, began to widen and fill with people. Many people had dry pants and staffs, also many people were lugging expensive heavy camera equipment, tripods, lens. And some had no day packs, no water bottles, even.
Jim and I were minor celebrities with the day hikers. “You overnighted in the canyon? wow!” Became a frequent exclamation. The canyon became wider yet, and the way became smooth, a virtual highway from what we had experienced with Jessica and Stephanie the day before at the northern end of the Narrows. Just to make it harder, a mile before river walk started, Jim and I made the pact to not leave the river until we got there - no shore walking, no matter what the depth, if we swam we swam. I finally got to my waist at one point, the first time during the trip.
After passing hordes of people, picking up trash as we went, mostly small pieces, but also a red rain poncho submerged in the river, we got the the end of the river walk, and the real end of our adventure, though I felt the end came with the first day hiker seen.
Jim and I dropped packs. I was hungry, he wanted to be submerged. I stayed with the packs as he scampered off to take a dip in the Virgin. As I leaned munching on dried fruits and nuts and eating a granola someone said, “You have a friend”, confused I turned and saw a fat gray ground squirrel at my shoulder, begging for a nibble. I shooed him, and he respectfully backed up. He and his friend returned soon enough, this time going towards my pack. I shooed, and he ignored me. It was very obvious he was used to people and not on the verge of starvation. I grabbed my hiking pole, placed the pole on him and slowly swept him away from my bag. I didn’t want to hurt the little bugger, but I did want him away from my stuff. I had to do this several times. He gave me a hurt pathetic look as I told him to shove off. They have certainly adapted, and know how to look cute to score some grub!! One guy pointed at a squirrel, and the squirrel stood on his hind legs and made little grabbing motions with his front legs - disgustingly cute!! Jeez!
Jim wandered back from the river, wet and satisfied. He did lose his sun glasses to the bottom of the river. Earlier I found a pair of female sun glasses that say ‘Smith’ on the side. Seems appropriate to hold on to them until I see Emily Smith again.
The two of us put our packs on and hiked the paved river walk towards the Temple of Sinewawa (sp) and the park shuttle. I took off the boots, poured out the water and put on my Crocs outside of the Zion Lodge a few stops later. Also, neither of us had used the foil excrement bags and needed to get ‘regular’ again. Ah, the joys of a flush toilette. Now back on the shuttle with drying feet, but cramped and standing, trying not to poke children and adults in the head with my pack or hiking poles! At the visitor center we decided to skip the second bus into town, as the first stop wear the compASS rested was less than a quarter mile. So after a stop in the Sol market we walked to the car, unloaded our packs dropped off the rented shoes and drove down to Noodles and Pizza again. We sat in the back corner of the porch so Jim could get WiFi signal from the dessert shop. While chatting with Heather, letting her know we made it out of the Narrows alive she fusses at me for continuing to be connected, feelings a bit hurt, so pushy, I sign off from google talk, and stop talking to her the rest of the time we’re out there; I continue using my phone while not in the backcountry, texting friends whenever I got the chance, her advise falls deaf on an addicts ears. I do like getting away from my phone, and do while in the Narrows, or while hiking. But while in town I like checking in with friends. The pizza was superb and the beer beer tasty. On our way out I went to the attached camping store and got a folding spork, as I found out I left my titanium spork at home. I went downstairs and viewed the art gallery, the photograph was some of the best I’ve ever seen... and priced accordingly! Next door I got some frog related knickknacks at the gift shop, and a coffee and some peanut butter fudge.
I drive us through the park. Our plan is to go towards Bryce Canyon and camp up there in or near the park. Bryce is a couple hours away, up SR 9 to route 89 north for awhile. The real Utah spread before us, small towns and fields in the valley we followed. The road was long and empty, gaining a passing lane on upward slopes, the elevation gain nearly constant, if slight. The speed limit went to 65mph, dipping to 40 through the towns. Many of the towns had shops selling rocks, there seems to be a fetish with Utah selling rocks - at one town there were 4 or more competing shops all selling rocks.
The day began to darken, casting long evening shadows upon our path. Jim and I discussed where to stay, and we came to the agreement of checking on pricing of hotel rooms outside of Bryce, as it was getting late. The thought of a hot shower after 4 days of not sounded fantastic. In the town of Hatch some cabins came into view roadside next to the hotel proper, prices were listed at $65 - not bad. The compASS needed fuel so I pulled into the gas station immediately around a bend of the first hotel. Across the street from the gas station was another hotel with an attached restaurant. After fueling, Jim ran across the street to ask about pricing. The price was similar to the other place so we decided to stay in room 3. After unloading the car, showering and relaxing for a few minutes, Jim and I went to the restaurant and ordered steaks. The proprietor was incredibly friendly, talking and picking on Jim. The two other tables of people in the restaurant were speaking some type of Slavic language, though I couldn’t place it. In short order, the steaks were brought, and they were huge! The mashed potatoes were tasty too. I ate only half of what was on my plate and saved the rest for lunch in Bryce.
We stayed up fairly late, watching TV, packing our gear in case we went on a back country over night in Bryce Canyon. The bed was wonderful, almost as desired as the shower.

10/13/2010 Bryce Canyon National Park

The alarms were set for pre-dawn. The chiming woke me and I bounced out of bed for another day of fun. Jim and I loaded the car, and into the very good, below freezing morning we strode. I put on long underwear and the zip down rain pants as well as several layers on top. The hotel gave us a 20% discount at a breakfast diner just up the road. Jim drove us there. The two of us were the only two customers in the diner, both of us ordered biscuits and gravy. We spoke for a long time to the man and wife that were running the place, as well as the older lady short order cook. The man had lived in the DC area for a bit 15 years previous and we spoke of the traffic and how much it has changed. These people were incredibly friendly and open. After breakfasting and chatting for awhile we got back in the car and headed for Bryce, still a half an hour distant. The morning sun crested the mountains, everything sparkled with a sheet of frost crystallized to every surface, a field full of diamonds!
The Bryce airport sat on the left before heading into the park, it’s windsock limp, no planes or runway visible. Prior to reaching Bryce, we drove through a state park by the name of Red Canyon. It was a miniature Bryce, small hoodoo, red ridges, a wash out, and interestingly designed roads.

Road through Red Canyon outside of Bryce Canyon NP

Beyond Red Canyon, Jim drove us into a small commercial district just outside the park. Ruby’s gas station, restaurant, market, hotel, etc ad naseum. stood on the right, more rock shops on the left. Jim pulled in. We did some lite shopping, picking up a few Clif bars for lunch, and Jim buying a giant bottle of Ibuprofen as we had already demolished the supply he had brought in the first aid kit. We got back in the park and headed for the visitor center, I paid the $25 to get into the park and we drove past the visitor center and had to turn around... you see a reoccurring thing with that?

After waiting in line to talk to the park staff about back country camping, the ranger gave the same advice as the ranger in Zion - Bryce Canyon Under the Rim Trail just isn’t that impressive, if picking between the West Rim of Zion of Under the Rim of Bryce - GO to Zion! Not one to always take advice, I walked away with no definite plans. I wanted to really see Bryce to try and get a feel for it before buying into advice, but still weighing the advice to make an informed choice.
We left the visitor center and drove down the main road into Bryce - there isn’t much the the park. One road travels along the rim with overlooks down onto the hoodoos and natural bridges and other distance vistas. The first overlook we stopped at, just after Bryce Lodge, was fairly busy with tourists, not many of them spoke English.
The views were other worldly, almost like looking onto Martian terrain. The structures fantastic. Row upon row of phallic hoodoos, stretching into the distance. The mind is left wondering, how are they formed, why are they formed, is it possible to walk down there amongst them? Do they ever fall over?

Thor’s Hammer

A trail lead over the cliff edge, intrigued Jim and I walked back to the car and but on boots. I left both long underwear and long pants on and almost immediately regretted it. I also carried a day pack with some snacks, clothing, compass, map, and 3 liters of water. The trail began steep, and we stopped often on the way down to take pictures. There were quite a few people coming down and returning up the trail. After a series of sharp switchbacks we came to a split in the trail, “Peekaboo 3 mile loop” and something-Queen. Peekaboo Trail looked more interesting so we went that route. After a bit further, we got onto the loop itself and followed it to the right. After a couple ups and downs, and many pictures, I saw foot prints and the hint of a trail leading off to the left. Knowing that it would be impossible to get lost in a loop trail if going left, I followed the side trail around a precarious ledge over a shoulder and into a hidden valley. The main trail was becoming boring already and the thought of off-trail made it seem like I was in the wilderness again, tracking someone. The tracks I saw were going the same direction I wanted to go, and only in one direction. I thought it likely that over that next bluff I would either find the body belonging to the tracks in some deep dark crevice or I’d find the trail again. It was the trail. We clambered back onto it and continued on the loop, saying “Hi” to a couple as they passed. A little while longer I decided to off trail again and follow a wash down rather that the trail. After a bit I noticed there was a tiny stream of following water in the bottom of the wash. Bryce Canyon is much more arid than Zion - I had already drank a liter of water. The sun was blistering, and yet a chill in the shade often took hold. Following the wash, the trail merged back in and we continued. The same couple before saw us again and were momentarily stunned, “Either there are two guys that look just like you or...?”.

I see a heart!

Peekaboo trail terminated, we probably cut a bit off with our off-trailing, however, the sights and feel of wilderness was worth it. Hiking to the Rim behind a long line of students on a school trip was trying. My legs and me bum quite sweaty due to the paints and undies. I finished another liter getting to the car.
I went into the bathroom to change. Jim put a few shirts and most of his wool and poly socks on the roof to dry faster after rinsing them in the sink the night before. We sat in the vehicle eating lunch - I finished the mashed potatoes and steak from the night before, then put the folding spork in the console. We laughed at the foreign tourists that seemed to be more interested in a shy chipmunk than the grand magical views a few hundred feet behind them.
Lunch finished and our minds leaning toward going back to Zion to try and get a permit for the West Rim the following day, we started the compASS and continued the touristic drive and overlook stop down the Rim of Bryce Canyon. Going by ‘Inspiration Point’ I saw a backpacker road walking. I told Jim to pull over and offered him a ride to his car. He jumped in and we drove the 3/4 mile (hey it’s something!) to the parking lot. He just came from a partial completion of the Under the Rim - he said it was pretty, and he liked it and would suggest it, though the southern section had little in the amount of vistas. Even with this advice, we were set on going back to Zion. There was something about Bryce that was kinda blah. Maybe the hordes of tourists, maybe after the initial shock of the hoodoos wore off, maybe the vistas too distant, or maybe just pale in comparison to Zion. Whatever the case, we were quickly boring ourselves with the stop and shop tourist overlooks. Our last stop, at a Natural Bridge, we determined to head back to Zion to catch the back country desk and get a permit for the Zion West Rim, we thought it closed at 8. We didn’t even make it all the way down the Bryce Canyon Rim Road - we ran out of interest, the views getting more mundane. We stopped by the visitor center again on our way out and Jim went in to get a few things while I sat in the car.
The drive back to Zion went very quickly, at one point Jim pulling over so I could snap a picture a hella-cool cop car.

Back down the valley, through Hatch, and the other small towns, onto SR9 and soon enough the east gate of Zion came before us, then behind. A short wait at the tunnel and we were soon enough back at the visitor center. While I was in the bathroom Jim realized the visitor closed at 5pm and it was 4:55. He ran to the back country desk. I walked in behind him as he and the ranger discussed the West Rim. We reserved a permit at campsite 7. The man that had walked in seconds after Jim could not get a permit, as we had gotten the last one. The plan was to get a private shuttle from Springdale to the Lava Point Trail head of the West Rim Trail, walk the trail back to the Grotto and take a shuttle back into town again on Friday. Next stop - the outfitters. After Jim insisting we call around for pricing, no one had shuttles available until 10 or 11 - we wanted to get on the trail earlier - everyone else referred us back to Zion Adventure Co, the old go-to. Our time was set to go at 7am, a 6:45 meet up time at the outfitters.
Jim and my home for the evening was the Zion RV park, directly across from the outfitters. We got a sight back in the corner, with some soft soil to put the tents on. We setup our tents, and began moving things into them. Jim starts spazzing around looking for something. Apparently he left those clothes on the roof at Bryce and drove off, letting the wind scatter them in the breeze. Neither of saw them fly. Jim had only a pair of liners now. No wool socks. I offer my pair of Alpacas, he refuses and stomps around.  We were planning on making spaghetti and sauce, as it was the heaviest meal yet. I am getting the ingredients out, hoping to beat the darkness. At this point Jim can’t find the car key. He start looking and re-looking for it in his pack under the tent in his pockets in the back of the vehicle by the spare tire - to no avail. He starts saying “This is a sign, kismet, I’m not going tomorrow, something terrible will happen.” I try and calm him. It doesn’t work. Finally he finds the key in his large duffel bag and throws it at me, lightly. I almost say a jib and hold my tongue, knowing the Irish is pumping. Still in a ruffled state, he throws his backpack in the back of the car and goes for a walk.
I choose not not make the pasta, as it’s labor intense, and currently evening is falling fast. I don’t relish the thought of cooking by head lamp. After a few minutes I decide to walk to Sol and get something to eat. After purchasing sandwich fixings, soft drinks, and tortillas for the huevos (hoping to make them better) I head back to camp. Jim was sufficiently calm at this point. We make sandwiches by head lamp and save half the cheese for the sausage for the next days hike.
I called Dad to wish him a happy birthday and chatted with the folks for a while. Then I called Kevin and talked for a bit too. Jim was over in another camp charging his phone and camera off of an RV ‘hitching post’. We filled our water bottles and packed as much as we could before settling in for the evening, alarms set for 5:30am. I slept ok, but kept having thoughts of tarantulas crawling on me.

10/14/2010 West Rim

I woke before my phone alarm, hearing Jim getting out of the tent to pee. Shortly after my alarm went off and I began packing. Jim follows suit and we finish at the same time. We put the packs in the car. I drive down the street to get coffee, and flirt with the coffee girl. She hesitantly asks if I’m a local. Nope! I wonder if I would gotten a discount on my coffee if I’d say yes... or if she wanted my number. I’m going with the former answer!
I park right in front of the outfitters before the shuttle or anyone else get there. Jim can’t find his purple Nalgen and walks back down to our campsite to see if he left it there. As he leaves the shuttle driver lets me know she is taking the shuttle down to fill with gas, so it would be a few more minutes.
Another lady pulled up, a day hiker for the West Rim, just as Jim and the shuttle get back. Jim’s water bottle was in his pack the whole time, no wonder the food bag was so heavy! We toss our stuff in the back of the van and head out. First we swing by the visitor center before heading southeast away from Springdale and the Park entrance. Just after Virgin we turn right and get on a road that intermittently is in the park or a state road. During the ride I learn the two guys are software engineers that both know NetApp fairly well. We have a nerd conversation and Jim understands a bit better how it is for me around a group of docs talking shop.
Eventually at the trail head at Lava Point, down a rough dirt road, we all hop out and thank the shuttle driver. She leaves us to it. The woman day hiker disappears quickly and is never seen or heard from again (at least by us).

Jim and I set out into the wilderness

The ground is fairly level, slightly rolling hills, never deviating more than a topo line. Jim and I make good time, eating up the miles. A mile in we stopped and shed extra layers. There had once been a fire here, some stands of larger trees survived, but mostly low second growth trying to reclaim what was destroyed.  Out to the west I could see higher mountains. Sometime looking west, the green forest and burnt out section almost  resembled a clear cut and blue ridges of the Appalachians. To the east, when getting to the rim, it certainly does NOT resemble anything on the east coast. The deep steep canyons cutting between red and sand colored sheer mountains, crowned with a bit of green. I stopped often for pictures, Jim and I alternately leading and following. As the trail got close to a very steep drop off we slowed for a break, drinking and taking pictures. Looking at the map, it seemed we had less than a mile to camp, and it was only just before 11am. The two guys caught up with us and we chatted for a bit. They had heard that campsite 4 was large enough to accommodate a large group, so if we wanted to stretch the day longer we could press on to that camp. It was a thought, we would decide after we saw our supposed home.

Jim on the brink

“a golden field, that came up up to beyond our chests”

The last mile went fast. The trail turned away from the Rim and followed a low point between two hills, descending consistently into a golden field, that came up up to beyond our chests, through a stand of dead trees. Soon we reached camp 8, where a spring was located. Around the corner a few yards, camp 7. We turned up the dirt path and found a bit of shade. Jim cut up the cheese while I cut the sausage - a nice lunch in the shade of a large pine. After mulling the issue, we both agreed we liked the campsite and would stay here, rather than going to campsite 4 and taking our chance. Plus there were some hills around that looked like they would be fun to explore - packless!
Jim and I climber the conical looking hill behind camp, dodging cactus and bushes, looking for rattle snakes, but seeing only lizards. From the pinnacle a nice very of the valley opened up. Beyond where campsite 8 and the spring was supposed to be and canyon quickly formed, dropping into nothingness from our point of view. The valley below, clad in yellowed aspen leaves, and golden grass swaying in a gentle breeze, stretched below north to south. The northern end ascending around the hill across the valley floor. Evidence of fire lay everywhere. Strangely there were many dead trees laying down, all in the same direction. What added catastrophe, beyond the fire, made all the trees lay at the same angle? A tree stood on near the top that looked like a woman spreading her legs, a treegina, if you will... ok, i may have been in the back-country too long already. From the vantage, I spied several hikers creeping by on the trail, day hikers by the looks. Even at 10x zoom they were small and distant, but stood out in strak relief to the golden brown valley. The descent from the hill took Jim and I on a meander course back to camp.
We lounged around for a bit, then set up our tents and kept getting yelled at by a chipmunk. Knowing he and his friends were around, we decided precautions would have to be taken when leaving camp. After setting everything up I poured all the water I could into the Platypus, Jim did the same. We went looking for the spring, pump and empties in hand. The trail to camp 8 wound through a meadow. A large pine tree on our side of the creek seemed to have some matted down areas in the grass, though no dirt areas or rocks for cooking; still, we assumed that was campsite 8. We continued following the trail down into a marshy area. Off to the right a pond hid beneath the grassy shore line. From the left, the mouth of the spring could be heard trickling. A small pool with minimal algae could be seen after pulling back some grass. I got the pump setup, Jim straddled the spring fed pool and held the hose of the pump away from any muck to save the filter from unnecessary blockage. The 3 liters of cold water quickly filled our Nalgens.
The water toted back to camp, and stowed in the shade, Jim and I followed the trail in the opposite direction from whence we came. Almost immediately the trail slopped up the hill across the valley. We followed the trail up, passing two backpacks on the wayside, maybe the people went back for water, but there presence wasn’t apparent. Towards the top of the rise, where the trail began leveling off the valley behind became visible. I snapped a couple pictures of our camp from afar.

Campsite 7 - on the West Rim Trail

Jim and I could see the hill before us dropping of into something, while the trail curved to the right, we opted to off trail straight ahead. The land began sloping down, and soon became to steep to continue. Before us the ground disappeared, the bottom of the canyon invisible from this angle. We decided to follow it to the right, as it looked like the canyon petered out between two hills. We paralleled the trail and the canyon until it seemed like it would be safe to get into the canyon. A small dip in the hill was the beginning of the canyon that 300 yards away was thousands of feet deep. We followed the tiny dip. Soon it became a bit deeper, like stream embankment sides, though no water apparent. Deeper still, and soon a 15 drop off. This would have stopped our descent, but a huge old pine had fallen into and across the, now, ravine. Jim opted to monkey crawl out on to the tree from a limb and down the other side. I dropped down holding on to the same branch, dropping a few feet to the ground below. Further on we came to another such drop, except 60 or 80 feet, with no chance of going further. A small meadow opened on the next step down, with what could have been an animal trail. With no safe way down, we just stopped and basked in the view of our hidden valley stretching into the depths and the distance before us.

Not many see this view

A hard climb up the hillside brought Jim and I back to the trail. While on the hill we could view some interesting looking canyons around and behind campsite 8 and the spring. We determined that as our destination. We headed down the hill, passing a group of 9 Utah natives headed up and to a campsite down the ridge, they looked to be scout, or some type of youth outdoor group. A quick stop at camp to get rehydrate and grab a snack, and off we went to the next place for exploring.
A trail flowed around the spring and continued back towards the main trail, directionally, but ended at the true campsite 8. Hidden from view of both trail and spring. The first large pine and matted grass would have surely thrown us off, and had obviously tricked others as well. A side trail from the camp trail lead down the left side of the gorge, beginning where the pond leaked over the rim in a flowing cascade and disappearing into the canyon depths. Below and waterfall sounded from the depths. This side of the gorge was arid, with a few low trees cactus and open ground. The views were incredible stretching away to a huge arch, and the bottomless canyons wending below the vantage. Going back around the the other side of the canyon lead us through a marshy soggy section. The other canyon side was lush in comparison, high grasses, taller trees, low bushes, and no open ground. The view was just as spectacular, but not as easy to get to the rim edge. I did spy the cascading waterfall, though hard to see, a picture would not turn out, it almost seemed the water fell through the rock into a grotto or cave carved into the head of the gorge.

Our tummy’s telling us it was time to head back to camp, the jerky we’d been munching while exploring this gorge not sating us. Jim and I headed back to camp, cutting across the meadow fronting camp 8. On the menu for the evening was wheat spaghetti with olive sauce. Additionally a entire yellow onion to fry. And some bread to sop up the leftover pieces. While Jim began frying half the onion I began boiling the water for the noodles. Each of us had a stove and fuel to use, Jim using the one Heather let us borrow, I was using the PocketRocket. The campsite had some rocks to act as a wind break for cooking, even then if Jim turned down the stove enough to not burn the onions, it had a chance of blowing out the flame. Watching this a few times I came to the conclusion that I would need to find or mod the PocketRocket a light weight wind bib of some kind to save fuel and headache on a windy day. That day wasn’t terribly breezy and was having a large effect on the cooking experience. Jim, being a prima dona, insisted the sauce be ‘cooked’ in a separate pot... personally I would went the ghetto route and added the cold sauce to the hot noodles and mix for warm sauce and noodles... but that’s just me. Regardless, after 40 min of pot management and onion juggling, the meal was finished. I devoured mine as quickly as possible. I didn’t want any leftovers, besides it was tasty!

Home Sweet Home

The evening was darkening, the sun fading quickly. The top of the conical hill still had warm orange, the shadow slithering up the sides of the hill, eating the light from rock and bush. Nature called and I grabbed the trowel and TP. I went up the hill, looking for a pooh with a view. The soil was so soft, free of roots and rocks, the cat hole was easy to dig to the requisite depth. I did my business, while Jim was down in camp throwing big branches at bigger branches because it made a noise... interesting fellow, not really a prescriber of the “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” No Trace ideals... I satisfyingly saunter back into camp, while the paparazzi takes my picture of trowel and TP in hand.
After cleaning all the dishes, stowing all the smellables, and hanging the bear pinatas the temperature sank with the sun. The light faded, and I crawled into the tent, quickly and comfortable falling asleep on the soft ground.

10/15/2010 - West Rim Day 2
I awoke at first light, before the sun had breached the peaks around the campsite. I crawled out of the fabric cocoon into the cool morning air. In the distance the sun broke over the far peaks and hid behind some clouds, the first I’d seen on the trip.
Jim crawled out soon after. We were in no hurry. I made coffee. Then we grabbed empty water bottles and sat in the dewy grass around the spring to fill four liter bottles.
For breakfast we tried the dehydrated eggs with BBQ chicken from a pouch and hot sauce folded into flour tortillas. It still wasn’t that good.
Slowly we broke camp and packed our packs. The sun coming up and out, warming the air. I took all layers off before heading out, knowing I would warm as I walked, especially knowing of the incline on the other side of the valley.
Jim and I set off up the trail, and up the hill. Not strangely, it was much more strenuous with a full pack. We went across the flat spot on top, and then ascend the adjoining hill, doubling the elevation from the valley floor. Upon reaching the next level spot, the trail followed the rim again, giving views to the east and Zion canyon proper. We followed the ridge gazing out at the views for awhile, and then ascending more.

Jim on a switchback

On the highest part of the rim so far campsites 5 and 4 were situated. The wasn’t much cover, not much to explore. Campsite 7 was much better for us, if only for the amount of things to explore around the camp. I would not want to be in either of those camps during a thunderstorm! The trail continued on the edge of the rim. I gazed out into the beauty of Zion and did not regret the decision to be here. The only wildlife the made it’s presence known were the hordes of lizards scampering before my feet.
Camp 3 was on slightly lowering ground, in a sparse forest. Camp 1 slightly lower still. In the distance, only valley floor, I could just make out a path carved into a hill, winding off to the right, around and out of view of another bluff. It looked to be the trail leading to Angels Landing, and still 3 miles distant and several thousand feet down. We came to a shaded intersection, with a sign for a spring 100 yards down a path and a sign pointing towards Angels Landing. Jim and I broke for lunch here, munching trail mix jerky and Clif bars.
A day hiker proudly walks up the trail from the downhill side, expressing her happiness to have made it this far, and goes to check out the spring after conversing for a bit. A man that Jim and I met earlier, who had overnighted in site 2 and had come in from the bottom, comes to the intersection, and that’s when I notice campsite 2 is also located here. He doesn’t like the clouds and is packing up and heading out in case weather is coming. We discuss a booming we heard yesterday, not as thunder, but more probably as dynamite from a strip mine adjacent to the park.
After lunch the trail starts descending from the high country in earnest. The next mile is carved into a cliff face, going through three long switchbacks. We are eventually deposited in to a canyon floor, shaded. A few perspiring day hikers and rock climbers passing us going up.

Down, down, down.

The environment becomes more desert like, at time the trail is sand, other times it is poured on concrete to prevent erosion grooved to give traction. After winding up a couple small canyons, the trail leads up a steep hill, regaining some lost elevation. One final push up a sandy trail took us to a rocky open expanse, marked with signs. In the distance Angels Landing can be seen. Though the people on top are hardly visible, I occasionally see a glint of sunlight from a  reflective object. As it looms closer the movement of the people becomes more apparent. It looks crowded.

The last of the wilderness

A gentle hill going downwards, with Angels Landing viewable in the near distance, with Zion canyon as a back drop. I chatted with a couple from Portland Or. Jim stopped to take his boots off and go barefoot, either because his feet hurt, or he wanted the attention, probably a bit of both. I began developing a blister on my right heel from all the downhill, and limp a bit to avoid rubbing the same place.
As the trail rounds a corner to Scouts Overlook I see many people, sitting in the shade, winding up from below or coming down from Angels Landing. Back to the land of crowds after over 24 hours of not much interaction.
I am surprisingly gregarious on the way down. I walk slowly and talk to people around me, telling about the overnight trek I’m coming back from, over being related their tails of backpacking adventure, I explain who Legolas is, and why I’m limping. Jim goes faster down the hill, soon out of sight. The steep way down is made quick and enjoyable talking to different folks. Back over the bridge at the shuttle stop, the first one we let go as it is too full. The second is also very full, but Jim and I manage to wedge ourselves in. At the Zion Lodge stop we must get off to allow people sitting to exit. We both get seat. Mine is at the front of the tram, a couple women sit next to me and I chat with these Montreal girls I apologize for probably smelling bad, since I hadn’t showered in a few days. One said, “Don’t worry, you don’t smell too bad.” I guess I did smell, just not much. Quickly enough, my knees aching, from kneeling on the floor and having my pack on the seat, the shuttle arrives at the visitor center, one last time. Jim and I get off the shuttle and walk back to town along the road to the compASS in front of Zion Adventure Company. Our gear stowed, we again head to Pizza and Noodles for a bit to eat and I a beer.
After finishing we leave Springdale, again for the last time, heading back to Las Vegas, seeing the sights we had not seen during the night of our arrival. I marveled at the mountains in Arizona and the gorgeous nothingness of the desert below as a brilliant colorful sunset behind mountains far far away.