Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Day of Half Measures

This was supposed to be another long hiking day, and it probably did end up close to 20 miles, but not only was that less than the plan, I left off of my planned hike after only about 3 miles.  I had learned my lesson two days prior and didn't get up until 6:30, and then didn't hit the trail until 7:00.  The idea was that I was going to walk up a 4-wheel drive trail (closed for the winter, and I was told to watch out for quicksand of all things) until I hit a few arches 12 miles in and then come back.  It sounded pretty straight forward.

Well I discovered that the road, named "Salt Creek Road" was actually just the creek itself.  Atleast in the winter.  Mile after mile I found myself forced to walk on a frozen river (this is when I really wished I had crampons) which was slow and slightly adrenaline inducing.

When I came to the first fork in the road I tried going down my intended path several times, but after spending far too long trying to fight through the willows and the weeds I finally took the other turn off and gave up on my first goal of the day.  I shortly came to the end of that road and had to make a decision again.

A trail began there that continued down the canyon.  In fact this was part of backpacking trip I was thinking of doing there until I discovered the snow and sub-zero temperatures.  I thought maybe I'd head down that for a while until I hit an arch, the distance would be about the same as my original trip so it made sense.  However, a little ways into this plan I discovered I hated walking down a creek with no more trail (when the 4x4 path turned into just a trail I lost it all together in the marshes).  I simply wasn't interested, plus the only thing to see was the arch down there and I hadn't heard much about it.  So I messed around there for a while, going up little slots to the side and so forth until I returned to the end of the 4x4 path.  There another trail branched off besides the one I'd already, sort of, taken.  Remember that one trail that I was told meant certain death?  Yah, that one started there.  However, it was also supposed to have some of the bests views in the Needle's District.  So I figured, what the heck, I'd take it until it became impassable and then go back.  Interesting choice.

Well it certainly did have good views.  Despite many attempts none of my photographs could really capture the contrast of the Needle's District with the snow-capped La Sal mountains in the background so just take my word that it was spectacular.

The trail looped up some fun little passageways before coming out on slick-rock with great views.  It didn't take long before I encountered what I thought the rangers were talking about.  A long stretch of sloped, slick rock that fell off into an abyss.  However, I thought I could do it and got kind of excited I could complete a loop instead of just return the way I came (and try to walk on the creek that was now undoubtedly thawing in the sunlight).  So I went ahead.  One spot in particular scared me but I passed through.  Going very slowly and cautiously I made it around the ~1/8 mile section much to my relief and excitement.  Then I turn the corner and there's another one just like it!  Well again caution and taking my time I come to just about the end (with only a few scary moments in there) when I see it: death in trail form.

That picture was taken about one to two hundred feet up from the trail in one of my many attempts to try and get around this bit.  The trail itself leads around the side of this cliff and two the left (you can make out a carrin in the middle of the picture).  I don't know how scary that looks to anyone, but since I was slipping and falling on much gentler slopes and this one had a waterfall on it (can you see it?) I was terrified.  Also, the drop-off to the right is exactly as deadly as it looks: it's about 100 feet and I would be very expired at the bottom.  I could't find my way around over the top so I went down to the trail.  I tried getting close to the truly terrfying part just to have a look.  I got out to about 30 feet from the carrin and decided it was exactly as stupid as it appeared from above.  I tried to turn to go back and ... slipped.  I managed to catch myself and then it took me five minutes, standing there petrified, trying to figure out how to get back.  Which then happened again on another patch later on only that time it took me 10 minutes of standing there trying to thing of some other way across until I manned up and did it.  Very scary.

So the trip was certainly something to behold, but I was honestly terrified much of the time, I think it's something I'd like to do some time in the summer.  Some time without ice.  I went back the way I came and walked as best I could down the Salt Creek Road.  My feet got pretty wet but I was never too close to dying so that was nice.

One incident that I remember from that morning.  As I was walking in the darkness (or twilight anyways) I came upon some fox or coyote tracks (I don't know tracks well enough to distinguish).  This was not a surprise as they were everywhere, but these lead up to one spot in what appeared to be a swift manner, that had a good deal of bird feather stuck into the ice, and then trotted away.  I followed the prints for some time (as they stayed on the trail) until they finally headed off into the brush.  Some lucky predator had had breakfast there I presumed.  I ate later.

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