I slept like a rock last night under a juniper tree, it’s gnarled and steady limbs reached over me like a canopy. Though I am a side sleeper by nature, the weight of the top leg sagging from my hip socket all night aggravates my SI joint injury, so I was careful to sleep on my back (how one can police their own sleep while sleeping hard and deep is a mystery of the human soul) and it worked. I woke up with less pain in my back. Dawn comes earlier and earlier these days and the dark of those first waking moments where I fumble for my headlamp and glasses is all but gone by the time we start walking around 6:40. I pull the headlamp off my head and stuff it in my pocket now, rather walking in a narrow circle of flat light for the first 20 minutes of the day.
Last night we collected a third hiker, Gavin, originally met back in Hite. He has a different map set that didn’t show a long alternate we were planning take, an alternate he hoped to take too. And so we were three this morning. I have a hard time hiking with one other person, and two other people pushed me into flight. All day I tried to hang back–“go on ahead, I’ll meet you guys later”– but there was disharmony in everyone’s hiking desires and without more determined boat rocking, the group was just going to be. I realize this sounds antisocial, and that’s because it is. But note that it’s not anti-individual, as in every individual involved is a good person and worth hiking with. Three just pushed me away from the quiet and solitude of wilderness that I seek out here (two pushes me away too, but less so).
However. The hiking today was as good as any day of hiking yet, so I acquiesced to the shape of the day and let it go. We started the day hiking the Halls Creek Narrows. Though only four miles long, the Narrows packed quite a bit of strangeness and wonder into its tightly winding channel. I’ve been in canyons and slot canyons before but never in Narrows. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think narrows are tight canyons like slot canyons, but with water. That captures this experience perfectly. Sometimes the canyon would widen enough to walk beside the creek, especially where the canyon made sharp turns and the watercourse ate away at the walls, leaving banks of mud and rock. Other times, the canyon walls would constrict to fewer than five feet wide and the creek filled the canyon up, wall to wall. Nowhere to walk then but in the the water, stirring up clouds of mud that bloomed like chocolate flowers under the surface. Sometimes this passageway would be only six inches deep. Several times it rose to my thighs. Once, when I had fallen behind the other two hikers, I came to a constriction they had recently passed through and the pool was muddy and opaque from their passage. I was distracted, eating from the bag of trail mix I keep in my right hip belt pocket, and I stepped into the pool without probing the water with my trekking pole. Immediately I plunged up to my rib cage, gasping at the shock of cold on my torso. I instantly grabbed for my camera, which is in a bag clipped to my shoulder strap. I was so photo-happy in the extremely photogenic canyon that I didn’t want to seal my camera into a waterproof bag and keep wrestling it in and out. And then I found myself with water on and in everything. I yanked the camera to safety and walked out of the pool holding it above my head, dry but dangerously exposed. My trail mix bag was full of water, and the bottom half of down jacket soaked. I left it on because the canyon was so cold. Even colder now that I was so wet. Shoes full of mud and gravel, going in and out of the water in the bent-up canyon, wet and cold and shivering but stunned into awe by the wild towering walls pressing in together, it was a good good morning.
We returned to the wide open valley between the Waterpocket Fold, rumpled and gleaming nearly-white sandstone, and a ridge of iron-rich red sandstone. Lazy in the middle ran Hall’s Creek. We walked in deep sands along its banks, weaving from one side to the other as sandstone outcrops closed off travel. The sand is slow and strenuous walking, taxing the calves and ankle tendons, and by the time we stopped for lunch at the end of Halls Creek journey, I was ready to be done with the sand. It’s like talking with a mouth full of peanut butter–you can do it, but you’re fighting against a great deal of resistance. We took an hour, the three of us, tucked into the shade of an overhanging creek bank. The sun was radiant and strong. We gathered our own strength. We had a climb to do.
After lunch we climbed 2000 feet up the Waterpocket Fold. Slickrock, as far as one can see to the north and south, like a sea of slickrock mountains tilted up, reaching for the sky. From the ground it looked like a long, steady ascent, but once into it, we traversed hidden valleys and wild drainages and mini-mountains over the three mile ascent. The Waterpocket Fold hides it’s secrets. It takes a muscle-burning climb to find them. The sun beat down from above and below because the white rock reflected it back up. I think the bottom of my septum sunburned. My legs will be sore tomorrow. I’ve never had an experience quite like that one, of being soft, being tissue, in a vast, textured sea of sandstone folds.
We gained the top. I felt heroic, strong. I felt jubilant. What a climb. From there we dropped west off the Waterpocket Fold into drainages that will lead tomorrow into Stevens Canyon. Another strange and exotic world, similar and yet again different. The rock and sand are orange and almost have a glow to them. Not many come this way. This way is wild.