We don’t have many friends that can keep up with us. As a matter of fact at this point in our lives those friends are pretty much none existent. Maybe it’s because we have a small streak of bad luck ,that at times, lead the well planned trips into small disasters. This is exactly what happened several years ago on a backpacking trip in Southern Utah.
Our friends, Aaron and Ty, decided they were up to the challenge of a backpacking trip through Coyote Gulch in the Escalante/Grand Staircase National Monument . It was a pretty easy trip… all of 11.5 miles into a slot canyon and at a point about two thirds through the canyon we were to take the “short cut”, a class three scramble up to the rim of the canyon, and then a short one and a half mile hike across the arid desert back to the parking area were we left Aaron’s single cab pickup.
We packed everything carefully, including our water filter since we would be hiking in a slot canyon that a small creek ran through year round. We planned out our meals, divided everything up equally, fitted our packs perfectly and headed out at the trail head at the top of the canyon. It was a short hike across the arid desert at the rim of the canyon then gradually descended into the cool walls of the canyon.
The day was full of conversation and laughter as we covered good ground. At around seven we reached our camp spot… a set of cascading falls in an open area of the canyon. It was a night of sleeping under the stars. The campfire illuminated the red rock in eerie shadows, the silence enhanced the trickle of the water over the rock ledges, laughing at the arid desert surroundings. We finished up our beers and wine and bid each other sweet dreams and off to dreamland.
The next morning came in brilliant pinks and reds and the light slowly crept into the canyon with a wave of hot air that broke the hold of the cool night air. We had a breakfast of re-hydrated eggs and some other food-like substance in a zip lock bag… just add water. The calories were gonna be needed for the day’s hike and scramble up the side of the canyon wall and back to the car.
If you’ve had the pleasure of desert hiking in a slot canyon… you’ll know the peace and solitude it can afford. The dancing colors at the canyon rim high above your head. The occasional screeching of the ravens. The sound of the hot arid breezes as they turn each corner hugging the fluted rock faces. It’s an other worldly experience not soon forgotten.
Around 11 am we came to the “easy scramble” to the rim as described in the guide book. We all looked at each other and our jovial demeanor turn quickly to a surge of panic. The “easy scramble” turned out to be an almost straight up and down 100 foot climb. We had no gear for such a climb, only about fifteen feet of cheap rope, gloves and good hikers. We hurried and filled all our water bottles and sat down to plan our assent to the rim.
Aaron and I had the best chance of getting to a small ledge about 2/3rds the way up where we would haul the packs then turn back to help our friends to the top. The day grew hotter and hotter and the sun climbed to its highest point putting us directly into the sunlight and turned the cool rock face into an oven. We continued our assent and by noon we had achieved our first goal and 2/3rds of our climb.
Finally around one o’clock, we all reached the top of the canyon and were faced with a hike across the arid desert to our takeout. Problem was there were cairns piled in every direction as far as the eye could see, and we had burned through most of our water on our scramble. We regrouped and headed off in the direction we thought the takeout was. It never dawned on us to pull out the compass we carefully packed.
For about an hour we wandered aimlessly from one rise to the next hoping to get a glimpse of the truck in the distance. The air and sun was so hot and dry we were beginning to over heat… it was just then Chris remembered that she had the compass. Finally, with the aide of the guide book AND the compass we were heading in the right direction.
Another thirty minutes went by… we had been out of water for over an hour… we were becoming panicked and unable to think clearly. The heat from the sun was playing tricks on our eyes as the waves of arid air painted pictures of what looked like bodies of water on the dry desert floor. We even dropped our packs and agreed we’d find the truck then go back for them after hydrating.
Climbing to the top of another rise… there it was! Hiding behind an outcrop… the white Ford truck… our chariot.