Thursday, April 3, 2008

Arches NP

Well, we made it through our first park. Arches was phenomenal.

Setting forth - Arches NP boundary
We met up with Mike Coronella in Moab early on the 31st, after frantically running round town picking up our final gear and lost items. Mike offered to drive us to the trailhead up the highway at the park's NW boundary. Noah Koerper, a fellow Whittie, also decided to join us for our section through Arches at the last minute. Last summer, Noah met up with us and helped out with some of the food caching. It was a pleasure to have company along on the onset of our journey.

Mike dropped us off at the cattle guard, and from there we were on our own. A bitter wind bore down on us from the northwest, forcing us to dig out our extra layers. We took obligatory Trailhead photos at the park boundary sign, and set off down the dirt road into the park. The sun broke through the clouds and lit our way. We made a detour into Klondike Bluffs, a not-often visited corner of the park. From the Bluffs, we could see north to the Book Cliffs, the La Sals to the east, and all the way to the Abajos to the south. The snowstorm that hit the region the night before left the peaks dusted with a fresh blanket of snow. A friendly reminder from Mother Nature that winter ain't over yet.

Tower Arch - Arches NP
We hiked past the Marching Men, a series of solitary standing towers left eroded by time. We made a stop at Tower Arch to look around, and found a peregrine nest perched high on the face of a sandstone fin. A jeep road routed us back to the trail. The rest of the day, we followed a series of closed backcountry roads along the eastern boundar, frequently encountering coyote prints and sheep tracks. We made camp along the barbed wire fence that keeps cattle out of the park. Throughout the night, we were pummeled by a frigid wind that left us shivering in our bags, and our Nalgenes frozen solid the next morning.

Courthouse Wash
We had a sluggish breakfast, and headed into the park. We dropped down into a large sandstone bowl, picking our route down a nose of stone. The route followed an unnamed wash that began to tighten up and began turning into a series of stepping bowls and potholes. The walls began to dome up, funnelling us through the crotch. Small slots appeared forcing us to stem the narrowing walls. Deep potholes invoked thoughts of swimming in warmer weather. The drainage joined up with main Courthouse Wash, where we switched into Chacos. We splashed through naked willows while dodging in and out of the flowing creek. It felt like fall with the bare cottonwoods, the low light, and the slight chill of the Plateau. We filled our water bottles from the steady drip of a delicate hanging spring. Our voices echoed off the canyon walls, distrubing a great horned owl from its daytime perch. It looked down at us with its curious eyes, its feathery ears piqued in curiosity. Or was it annoyance? We camped on a sandy bench and fell asleep beneath a sea of stars.

The next morning, we got an early start and made our way down the wash. The windy canyon began opening up into a wide sandy floodplain. The Three Gossips and Courthouse Towers soon came into view. We passed beneath the park bridge and the gentle rumbling of traffic, and continued on to lower Courthouse. The drainage narrowed up, as we hiked along pool after pool lined thick with reeds. I preferred hiking in the stream, though the route was plagued by coarse gravel and the ubiquitous quicksand. We were amazed at how beautiful and accessable it was from the main road. Yet there was minimal sign of usage.

Crossing the Colorado River
Eventually, the mouth of Courthouse opened up to Highway 191. Traffic whizzed by, and semi truck engines groaned as they downgraded into the valley. We walked along the shoulder to what Mike considers to be "the most dangerous section of the Hayduke Trail" - the Colorado Bridge crossing. The cracked and abused rails tell stories of smashed bumpers, scraped hubcaps, and dented fenders - and no shoulder to spare. We took a deep breath, and braved the buzzing trucks without incident. It was a painful walk through town, where we resupplied at the truck and spent one last night in civilization.

Section mileage:  ~40 miles


Anonymous said...

Choi! I love it...I'm way jels of your adventure, so keep the pictures and stories coming. peace, les

Anonymous said...

wow- what an epic adventure. i am jealous of the scenery, stars, and wildlife you will see. maybe not jealous of the immense amount of weight you both must be carrying around... i'm looking forward to following your journey! but how on earth are you sending blog updates?
live it up-- jennifer

Anonymous said...

I love the way you describe everything. It sounds like quite the adventure!


Emily Julia said...

your blog rocks--really enjoying reading about this so far. best wishes...

Steve said...

glad to meet you guys in Paria. ben, i got your letter to emily sent out in the flagstaff mail today! kate will be coming down the colorado and looking on river right for you two below nanko to give a ride across. hope that works better than our poop chute idea. there were flaws. mistakes were made. best of luck ryan and ben- steve