I woke up in the middle of the night on a half flat sleeping pad, my hip bone digging into the ground. I contorted myself inside my tent to reinflate it, but the damage to my sleep was already done. I laid awake for another hour and a half (I know because my watch beeps gently on the hour), hosting anxiety which comes and puts its heavy feet up on all the delicate furniture. My mind ran circles around all manner of worries, worrying just to worry with that suffocating fixation of minds in the middle of the night. I know that I eventually fell asleep because I woke up resentful of my cheerfully beeping alarm 5:3am. But I had subterfuge to tend to, so I wriggled free of my bag, packed up my things, and prepared to poach the Wave. I wanted an early start, to be walking before first light, that my presence there may go unnoticed. But I was so tired this morning, lack of sleep and all, that I stumbled through the hike in, tripping and weaving and feeling disoriented. I made it there, a bit slower than I would have like, but still I made it there. Rippled, striped, stunning rock in perfect morning light and no one was there but me. I stayed an hour, and just as I was preparing to leave someone showed up, a photographer (I think they may be the most represented group of Wave visitors). We chatted briefly, he kindly took my picture with my camera, and I left. The morning sun was bright but not fierce, the route heading across slick rock with conical buttes. I retraced my steps back to where I had left my pack at camp, rearranged a few things, and prepared to go. Buckskin Gulch was up next and it was rumored to have water obstacles, especially after a flood or hard rain. I lined my pack with garbage bags and set off.
Almost immediately I was in the narrows, the slot canyon, that stretches for eleven miles to the Paria River. They were fascinating narrows, sculpted and tracing joints in the rock so that the canyon would just appear to end right before you, each time taking a hard turn to the right or left. Water was indeed pooled up on the canyon floor, often wall to wall puddles of what looked like chocolate milk. The first puddles were jumpable or had rocks for dry crossing. Later puddles did away with such considerations and I finally got my feet wet. Later still the crossing were longer and deeper: probing with my poles, I’d find the firmest ground in the opaque water and cross at my knees. Eventually there were puddles that came to my upper thighs. Calling them puddles is unfair. So many puddles of very cold water deep in the shadows of the gulch that my feet froze and my walking pace slowed considerably. I kept thinking of the Shel Silverstein poem which I’ll paraphrase:
What do you know, it’s up to my toe
Oh gee, it’s up to my knee
Oh my, it’s up my thigh
Oh fiddle, it’s up to my middle
Oh heck, it’s up to my neck
Oh dread, it’s up to ——–
I was aiming for Middle Exit, the only escape route out of Buckskin Gulch along its entire length. It’s a scramble route, not a trail. I took so long to get to it that I was starting to think I had missed it, that it had been above one of those freezing puddles and I was too distracted to find it. But suddenly sunlight blazed up the canyon walls where the slot widened and there was the obvious scramble route out of the gulch. On top of the exit, out of the canyon, I can camp without a permit. I made my way up carefully, a little shaken up by the scramble. It’s not like me to be troubled by scrambles, which I usually take to fluidly. But all day I’ve been feeling off. While walking up the eerie narrows, wading the water, I had a heavy, sorrowful feeling. It only grew as the day went on.
Once I topped out on the scramble, I found Erin and Gavin. We are overlapping this section, almost inevitably since we left town the same day and they’re using the non-permit camping plan. I must say, it’s nice to see them together. They seem like a very good fit with one another. I chatted with them briefly. The sorrow lingered.
I again left my pack behind, this time for an afternoon walk along the top of Buckskin Gulch to Cobra Arch, maybe 2 or 3 miles away. I was able to see the place of Buckskin Gulch, the surrounding landscape. The way was very sandy, of the soft deep variety, and travel was more trudging and less walking, but it was pretty. Still heavy though.
I came back and made camp. Gavin and Erin are here. We are three camped together in this place of legality. I ate some crackers and cheese, a bit of jerky. Sitting in the sun, the wind calm, a near perfect outside. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel better.