Utah Desert Solitude…Searching for Swasy’s Leap

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We spent the weekend in the Escalante Staircase National Monument. This is a prehistoric yet wondrously accessible desert in central Utah. If our Commander and creep has his way, this land will be mined out… selling its beauty to the evils of oil and natural gas exploration. Oil fields scattered all over this beautiful landscape. Heavy machinery traveling on the fun back roads we explore in the peace and quiet of this desert.

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At least for now, this is a pristine area that takes you into some of the most ancient exposed rock on earth. The vast panoramas are breathtaking and are the product of millions and millions of years of evolution. More to the point… wind, sand and water. I have traveled to many places in this world and seen many landscapes.
This Utah desert is spectacular and has a history full of intrigue, cowboys, Indians and bandits.

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We set out to find a trail called Swasy’s Leap. It was at the end of some pretty advanced 4WD roads requiring a high clearance vehicle. I can say that the trek in was far easier than the trek out. Funny we never did find where this little bet was waged and the leap was made back in 1800. No problem the 5-6 miles we hiked were rewarding and around every butte was more and more wonder and awe.

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We followed an eighteen year old 4WD Book and a topographical map. The dirt roads go off everywhere. We got off on the road to the trailhead, finally, and maneuvered our Cruzer carefully over the rocky ledges and step downs for 4 miles to the trailhead. The heavy black storm clouds hung around the rocky peaks in the distance, and threatened us with curtains of rain and flashes of lightening. The sun held the storm at bay until we got back to the car and found our remote campsite.

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We unfolded our roof top tent as it got dark with heavy thunder clouds and sought refuge inside the Cruzer as Mother Nature unleashed her fury. We kicked back to wait out the storm and had a well deserved cocktail and laughed at our hike and joked about this kid Swasy, who jumped a crevasse, on his horse, somewhere out there, instead of riding around the damn thing. He got 75 head of cattle for this little stunt, which made him rich and got him written up in the Utah history books.

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The storm passed, gave us a rainbow, and as is usual, the desert sucked up every drop and dried out quickly. We settled in, cooked some dinner and had a fire. Love, love LOVE the desert solitude.

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We were basically “trying out” the remote camping or boon-docking. We have purchased so many new items to get prepared for our upcoming Overlanding adventure. A new Snomaster fridge/freezer, new double battery setup, new suspension and steering components, new Baja full length flat roof rack, we wired and installed a Pure Sine Wave 1750 Watt Inverter. She’s never really been tested out.

I am here to tell you she performed incredibly. The fridge didn’t pull down the AGM spare battery at all. The Inverter worked flawlessly. She stepped up and stepped down rocky trails, got her first brush scratches, rooftop tent was awesome, although a bit hard… but toasty warm.

We spent the weekend talking about how to build out the interior. Wether or not to buy a 4×4 van. The SportsMobiles are very expensive. You can’t drive an ULEV diesel into Central America… the diesel isn’t available, so a lot of the nice big turbo diesel vans are out of the question. Decisions… decisions…

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Two Miles High: A Rocky Mountain Tail: Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight: Home Sweet Home
I woke up several days later in a much starker environment than when I last was awake. The smell of sterile bed sheets, freshly sweated on pillows and a voice echoing in my brain, “Dr. Granger code blue.” I was in the hospital. No idea how I got here. In a panic I sat straight up and yelled out, “Breeze!” A nurse came rushing in. I was sobbing uncontrollably. “Where’s my dog? He saved my life!” The nurse tried to console me but another came in with a syringe and poked it into my IV and said, “that should work soon.”
I was awakened by a kind soft hand stroking my hair. It was my girlfriend. She was holding my hand and talking softly to me. I opened my eyes and looked at her. Her eyes opened wide and she said, “welcome back traveler.” The doctor came in and also welcome me back and explained I had really done a number to myself and it was a damn good thing I brought my dog along or I might not have made it.
Turns out the gash on my head was very deep and I had cracked my scull and caused a bruise on my brain. He told me I was lucky to be alive. Just then a 70 lbs beast appeared on the bottom of my bed and laid down beside me. He nudged my hand until I pet him. “Good boy” I whispered. The doc said I could go home as soon as I was able to stand on my own. He told me I had been in a coma like state for four days after the medi-vac arrived. He told me I was a lucky woman and that maybe I should not hike alone in conditions like this. I informed him I wasn’t alone and perhaps if I had been with another human there may have been two casualties. He concurred, signed my chart and welcomed me back home.

Two Miles High: A Rocky Mountain Tail: Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven: We’re Going Home

Breeze and I sat down on the side of the trail enjoying some scratches and reciprocating licks. My head pounded in the blazing morning sun. My mouth was getting that Velcro feeling again. Every time I stood up I felt faint and nauseous. I searched for two saplings or strong downed branches I could use to steady myself as I hiked the last few miles. Of course there was no guarantee we would find anybody at the lake, but it was a favorite camp spot for many hikers.

I played songs in my head as I hiked on. Breeze would come run circles around me and run off ahead. Each step corresponded with the pounding in my head. My mouth was a desert and I envisioned the lake just a few steps ahead. The sun was blazing and I just wanted to drop my pack and lie down in the cool shady areas just off the trail. I came upon another stream and I had a literal panic attack. Although it was not rushing as fast and was not nearly as wide I froze in my tracks.

I am not sure what happened. When I came to, breeze was lying beside me. I could hear the stream. I opened my eyes and the shadows had grown long and shaded the trail. I was lying on my side in a crumpled up lump of human and backpack with my dog curled up beside me. I sat up and was reminded of my head again. I focused on the stream and knew there was no going back. Breeze ran a circle around me and bounded across the stream with ease. I struggled to get to my feet without passing out and moved forward one slow step at a time until I was on the other side of the stream.

I looked at my watch… 4:55pm. I had been out for hours. I dropped my pack and dug out my pot. I chugged down seven or eight pots of water until I thought I would puke. I doused my aching head with pots full of water. It was icy cold and I could feel my swollen eyes and hair matted with blood as I wiped my face and wrung out my hair. I stood up and pointed my body in the direction it needed to go and demanded it to move forward. Everything took so much effort.

I walked in a trancelike state for what seemed like hours. In my blurry gaze I saw a sliver of blue. I opened my eyes wider and stopped. As things came into focus I could see the lake. I had made it. I sat on a rock that was just the right height as to not make me bend over or sit too far down and listened. I could hear the birds, the stream entering the lake, and the rustling of the wind in the trees. I scanned the horizon and followed the outline of the lake for a wisp of smoke. I unhooked my pack and let it fall to the ground. I hadn’t the energy to move another inch.

As the sun dropped below the ridge, I could hear the sound of the brookies jumping out of the water scooping up the larve of the night insects. I opened my eyes again and a quarter the way around the lake I saw two figures come out of the woods and enter the water, fishing poles in hand. I attempted to yell, nothing but a grunt came out. I attempted to stand up but my legs failed to support my weight. Breeze came over as if to sense my urgency. I told him to “go get the men” and pointed at the figures in the water. He cocked his head as I said it again, looked over his shoulder, then took off. I closed my eyes and listened intently. I could hear Breeze barking crazy and splashing around in the water. I could hear the voices of the men calling to him. I blacked out again.

I heard a commotion in my brain. I was in some other realm of consciousness. The roar in my ears grew silent and I heard voices. I felt the wet licks in my ear and on my face. I felt a cold splash of water and I opened my eyes. There were men standing all around me. I found Breeze sitting beside me and stroked his fur, “good boy I muttered”, and passed out again as I heard a voice say, “we’re gonna get you out of here.”

Two Miles High: A Rocky Mountain Tail: Chapter Six

Chapter Six: The Final Miles

After a good nights sleep, I woke to the pink glow of the morning’s dawn on a few high clouds. I daydreamed of eggs and bacon frying in a pan. The smell of fresh biscuits and sweet creamy butter. The feel of a soft tongue kissing my ear… Breeze you little shit! I stretched and sat up and evaluated my head wound. It was beginning to scab up some and still felt quite deep and painful. I retired the towel and crawled out of my tent. On the outside of the vestibule was something I couldn’t quiet make out. It was a pheasant hen. Breeze had provided again.

I pulled on my long johns and fleece shirt and went about stoking the fire back up. Breeze sat and watched I as prepared the hen as best as I could to be breakfast. Again Breeze got the parts I couldn’t quite stomach including a lot of internal stuff I couldn’t quite identify. I gave him the last of his canned food. I was down to two bags of food. Everything else had been washed out of the pack when it tore open. I was glad I separated the freeze dried food from the fresh and canned food. At least I had something and with Breeze being my provider, I doubt we would starve.

I pulled out my Garmin to see what kind of signal I might get… if it worked at all. The screen had been shattered and one button pushed inside. I knew it was waterproof but with a busted screen I didn’t want to take the chance of powering it up till I was sure it was good and dry. I had separated the batteries and left the back cover off. Wrapped it in my wool sock, yes I only had one left, and hooked it to the top of my pack where it might get some sun. It was the moment of truth. This was the biggest clearing I had come across in two days. Would it power up and triangulate? If it did would I be able to see anything on the busted screen?

I put it back in the sock and broke down camp. I figured I would need to get to the lake by noon and I might catch another hiker passing through. I still felt like the Trail should be north. Breeze was excited to hit the trail again. I pulled out the Garmin and flicked the switch. At first there was a sorta white glow on the busted screen, then a flash or two of color. I watched with my fingers and toes crossed. My heart sunk as the screen went black. Damn boy, we are on our own…

I could see the mountains in the distance, snow capped and silent. I could see a familiar landmark that I remembered reading about in the guide book. I pulled out my phone that had been saved by days in a bag of freeze dried chicken and rice, and opened up the picture I had taken. I guessed the trail shouldn’t be too far off and with the trees thinning out I might actually find it today and soon. I set off towards the north keeping the land mark always at 11:00. At 9:36am we stumbled upon the trail. I dropped my pack and scrambled up a tree and could see the lake I had seen from the top of the last pass! We had found the right trail. Only a few miles to go…

Two MIles High: A Rocky Mountain Tail: Chapter Five

Chapter Five: In the End… It’s the Little Things That Matter

Dawn comes early this time of year. Over twenty four hours have passed since I woke up in my own bed, complaining about how hot it was. Since I had a good breakfast and double checked my pack and called everyone on my team of drivers. This morning I am lying here awake wondering which way to go? Forward or back? Do I call in a rescue if I can get the Garmin to work? I still need to find the trail before I can decide which way to go. I sat up and looked around.

Breeze was lying with all fours in the air, head cocked towards me and smiling, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. I looked around and all I could see was dead trees. I struggled to get to my feet as I swooned as I attempted to stand. My head was pounding with the worse headache I have ever had. I am pretty sure I have a concussion or something. I sip down the rest of the water I boiled the night before but it did nothing to quench my thirst. I dug through my pack and laid out my clothes on a few dead trees anticipating the sun to come over the ridge soon. I pulled out another bag of food, boiled some more water and made breakfast.

Breeze had taken off to do whatever it is he needs to do. I sat down and enjoyed my meal. I sipped down two more pots of boiled water over the next hour and called for Breeze. I hear him bounding through the trees and he arrives with a squirrel in his jaws. He gently places it in front of me and gives it a nudge. I pick it up and checked it out for bugs or whatever lives on squirrels. Seemed pretty clean and was obviously killed by the dog. I dug in my pack again and found my Leatherman, yes the one I was bitching about. I carefully slit the belly of the squirrel open and gutted and skinned it like I saw on Bear Grylls. I stoked the fire and stuck it on a spit I cut from a nearby live tree. It smelled a little like chicken and tasted like a rabbit I had eaten once on a dare. I gave Breeze the head and a back leg along with another couple scoops of his canned food. We both sat back against a tree and felt the life course back into our veins.

I took my trail towel and cut a slice off it to wrap around my head to reduce the headache and close my wound a bit. I checked my watch… 3:45pm. The sun had been overhead for most of the day and I had dried out everything quite nicely. I had to take a few cat naps in between the rotisserie of my belongings. Breeze would take off and come back to check on me every so often. He’d kiss my face and nudge me awake. Probably a good thing with a head injury. I decided I needed to drink a bit more water and be off by 6 pm.

I packed all my belongings into my tattered pack and hoisted it onto my back and decided I needed to head north. Since as far as I could see was dense trees and acres of dead trees standing, fallen to the ground in huge tangles and ones leaning on other dead ones. I choose my direction carefully and wound my way over under and through the forest, so as to avoid as many climbing challenges as possible. The dead leaning trees creaked eerily as the wind blew. It was getting near dark again I still had yet to find the trail.

Tired and hungry, burning with thirst again, head pounding at a dizzying level, I decided to find a camp spot. Breeze was eagerly bouncing about running back and forth from me to an unseen area of the forest. I followed his lead and the trees opened up into a yellow meadow of flowers. There were two 15 foot Aspen trees standing at 15 feet apart. I threw down my pack at the base of one and pulled out my tent and set it up between the two. I love the sound of the aspen leaves in the evening air. I gathered wood and presto I had fire. There was a small trickle of a mountain spring not too far from camp and I boiled as much water as I could before the sun went down then used the last bit in another gourmet freeze dried meal.

Two Miles High: A Rocky Mountain Tail: Chapter Four

Chapter Four: How Dumb Does a Dumb Dog Get?

It was an hour past dark when I finally got through the maze of trees. I found an opening with some soft grass and laid out my sleeping bag and attempted to set up my bivouac. I found my headlamp to be in working order and sought out some dry wood and kindling to get a small fire. My water bottle had been stripped off the pack so all I had to drink out of, carry water in and collect water to boil, was a bit bigger than a good size coffee mug. I thought at least I could get a fire, boil some water and eat a freeze dried meal, I’d be set for tonight at least. I already had a headache and cotton mouth, I felt like my tongue was Velcro and the top of my mouth it’s mate. I was in pretty bad shape… and scared.

In my little safety bag I carry some flint and steel and drier lint soaked in wax. It’s never done me wrong in the past. If I could get a miracle tonight I would sleep much better and stand a chance of making it through the freezing cold night. I smiled at myself as I thought… glad I’m not naked and afraid.

I struck the flint and steel once, twice and the third time a small flame came to life. I held my breath and fed it gingerly. It grew into life and I cried. I sobbed like a little baby. I suddenly heard a crashing coming through the brush and I looked up just in time to see beady red eyes barreling down on me. I braced for impact as I saw it leap into the air. I fell over from the blow and suddenly had a face full of slobber and a very wet 70 lbs of utter joy laying on top of me. “Breeze! You dumb dog… I am so glad to see you.”

I went to my pack and pulled out a small can of dog food I stashed away in case of an emergency. I popped the lid open and dug out a few scoops onto the ground and Breeze scarfed it up in one gulp. “Enjoy your food silly… pickins are getting slim.” I pulled out my little pot and went over to the edge of the swamp and filled it with water. Thirty minutes later I was enjoying a meal made for a king… freezer dried eggs and bacon that was way too salty for my dehydrated state. My mouth filled itself with a spring of saliva as I took a bite.

After my meal I boiled another pot of water, stoked the fire, double checked everything was put away… this is bear country… and Breeze and I covered ourselves up with my slightly drier sleeping bag and passed out.

Two Miles High: A Rocky Mountain Tail: Chapter Three

Chapter Three: Oh My Lord… This is Cold!

It took about thirty minutes to get to the stream. Of course it was way out of its banks. It had even flooded a few low lying areas and fields surrounding the stream. I could see several large animal tracks in the mud surrounding the overflowed areas. I noticed a set of moose tracks, some big cat tracks and many small deer tracks. It was plain that these animals came down at night to drink or hunt those who came to drink. Speaking of which I needed to refill my water bottle. The pass had taken its toll along with the heat of the day. I dropped my pack on a downed tree and pulled out my filter and pump. Five minutes later I was topped off.

I looked around for Breeze. He was rolling around in something he found that obviously smelled so good he felt he needed to take some with him. I whistled and he stopped what he was doing and came right over.

The bridge had been torn up pretty good and a foot underwater by the Spring run off and there was no sign of any attempt to build an extension. The approach was about waist deep and had a very sticky muddy bottom. I poked around with my poles to find an area that was a little less sticky. I took another step… my first step was sucked deep into the mud. I wiggled it loose and planted it in front of the other foot that was now faster stuck into the same river mud. Again I had told Breeze to “STAY!” and he paced back and forth along the edge of the water. I looked back and reiterated my “STAY”. I continued to take it one small step at a time until I finally found the first step on the bridge. It was about knee deep in water and I couldn’t see through the muddy torrent so I used my hiking sticks to find my next purchase of solid ground. I am not sure when things went wrong.

Breeze couldn’t hold himself any longer and he jumped into the water almost doing a belly flop. His paws got stuck in the muck and he was knocked off his feet. “Swim dumb dumb”, I yelled, as I stood on my own unsteady footing. He attempted to paddle but the current was too strong and his pack was acting like an anchor. In my concern for him I lost my footing and fell through the bridge where there was a missing plank. I went down to my crotch and the water pushed me and my pack backwards and under water. I attempted to release my waist band and get my poles off my wrists. I failed at my attempts. I finally got my leg loose and sunk like a stone. I tumbled and tumbled down the river until I finally got my pack released. I continued to float in the icy water till I saw a downed tree coming up fast. I knew I had but one chance to grab the tree up high or I would be a permanent part of the strainer it was creating. I saw my pack float up to it an immediately get pulled under. I was next…

I could feel hypothermia kicking in… I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. Seconds seemed like hours, everything moved in slow motion as I was sure I was rushing towards my death. I timed my grab so that I could try to push off the bottom and catch the tree as high as I could. From there I would have to muster up every last bit of energy I had left to pull myself out against the rushing current that would want to strip me free and pull me under to my watery grave. Would anybody ever find me? Three, two, one kick and grab!

I am not sure how long I hung there. I was pinned against the tree. I was freezing and the shivering made it difficult for me pull myself up. I tried to see if I could touch the bottom but it was too far below. I prayed for the sun to find me so it could give me the life force I needed to get myself out of this jam. I hung there for what seemed like hours. Finally the sun found my numb fingers, then my arms and face. I can’t explain what happened next… it was like the hand of the creator reached down and scooped me out of the water and up onto the tree far enough I could pull myself to the edge of the river.

I laid on the bank of the swollen stream and again found the sun. I was shivering uncontrollably. My teeth chattered together with such force I thought they would break into a million pieces. My head tingled and my brain hurt. I felt something warm running down the side of my nose… blood!? Oh shit… I’m bleeding!? I felt my head and found a pretty good gash just above my hairline. I actually explored it for some time because it was warm and brought a little feeling back into my finger tips. I laid there and thought of the guys I had seen on NATGEO that would climb inside a dead animal to warm up… BREEZE!?

From out of nowhere I found an unworldly burst of energy and got myself to my feet. I looked around and yelled for him. No sign, no happily bounding pup, no barking, whimpering… nothing. Only the sound of the damn river. I next knew I needed to try to find my pack. I needed to try to free it from the strainer. It was my lifeline, my only connection with the outside. I needed my Garmin… I needed to get away from this river as soon as possible. The sun was sinking behind the mountains and I was hurt, freezing and alone.

I wandered around until I found a large stick. I was bleeding pretty good and had to stop every now and then to wipe the blood from my eyes. I slowly shimmied out on the tree that just minutes ago tried to take my life. Looking back I am not sure what I thought I was going to do. I don’t think I was thinking clearly. The water was so muddy you couldn’t see more than a few inches down. I tried to remember where I saw it get sucked under. I poked around until I felt something soft… Breeze? I began to sob then caught myself, “get it together girl!” I poked and prodded until I finally caught what I thought was a shoulder strap… dogs don’t have straps… oh but he did have his pack on… CRAP! I took a deep breath and pulled with all my might. Pop… like a cork from a bottle out popped my pack.

I watched as it floated and floated and kept floating! “Snap out of it and run girl,” I thought to myself. I was in a trance and there goes my pack around the turn and out of sight. I scurried to the bank and slogged through the river’s edge, my legs felt wobbly and I was still freezing cold. As I rounded the corner and tore through some willows… I saw it! It was about 10 feet off shore stuck on the roots of a downed tree. Further out in mid stream I saw another bright blue object caught in the tree itself. Breeze? I knew it could only be his pack… boy he’s gonna be pissed if we can’t find each other… he’s got no food, and Breeze doesn’t miss a meal. I had to find some humor because my heart is sunk. I stood on the edge and knew I HAD TO GET MY PACK! My brain just ached and my arms and legs felt full of mud. I didn’t have a stitch of dry clothing on so what the hell right?! I found an Aspen sapling and a somewhat axe like rock and eventually got it cut down. Hmm, 8 feet of good solid tree, this will work well I think. On the end was a fork and a few sturdy branches off one side resembling a treble hook. I felt like a knight going into battle with my lance to free the poor madden from the icy river.

I slowly inched my way through ankle deep muck and found the hole caused by the tree’s roots and the river backwash. It was about waist deep as far as I could tell with my lance. I edged into the hole and grabbed a root that was still embedded in the ground and pulled myself over to the root system. I climbed onto the roots and got myself out to the water. Again I was a popsicle and nothing was working quite right. My grip was a strong as I could get it with my hands numb and I knew that I would get one shot… only one.

I positioned myself over the pack and wrapped my one arm around the tree roots and dipped into the water to snag the pack. I could clearly see how it was hooked at least a few inches down… I dipped the pole into the water, hooked the shoulder band and tugged as hard as I could. I moved a little bit and I had to reposition my grip further down which required me to release the tree roots. I balanced myself precariously on the tree and grabbed further down and leaned back. It yielded some more and I could now go to the top of the roots and pull with two hands. I stuck my torso through a strong set of roots and pulled with all my might. It came loose and weighed a ton. I had to grab it and try to fling it into the mud at the side of the river, ten feet away. Success!

I slogged back to the edge and snagged my pack out of the muck. I found a small clearing where a small bit of filter sunlight came through. I felt like a beam of warm laser light as it moved back and forth my back with the breeze. I undid my pack and pulled out its contents. Everything except a t-shirt buried deep inside my clothes roll was soaked. I quickly peeled my shirt and jacket off and put on the shirt. It felt warm against my hypothermic skin. I doubled over and my head just throbbed. If I could find an opening with enough sun I might be able to dry out my sleeping bag and at least I might not freeze tonight.

I dug around for my gun and my Garmin. There was a hole in the side of the pack whereby both of them were stored in an easy access pocket. I didn’t hold much hope when I saw the size of the hole. I struggled with the zipper but finally got my fingers to work and opened the pocket. The gun was gone and the Garmin was there but it appeared to have been banged around. I counted my blessings and hoisted my soggy pack onto my back, cinched it up tight and began to try to make my way in the direction of the lake and the trail.

There were a ton of downed black pines and a ton of dead standing ones. It looked like a giant’s game of pick up sticks. I had to climb over whole piles of trees, go under piles of trees caught in other dead trees, and tightrope on dead trees to avoid swampy areas. It was rapidly getting dark and I couldn’t tell what hurt more… my empty stomach or my aching head. Regardless I had to keep moving.