Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hurrah Pass to Needles Outpost

[Written April 8, 2008]
Well, we knew from the beginning that the trip wouldn’t go exactly as planned. We just hadn’t counted on it happening so soon. While hiking through Arches, Ben’s Achilles in his left heel stated bothering him. Not good. He was later diagnosed with minor Achilles tendinitis. With the rest of the trip on the horizon, we decided that rest and time off was the best course of action. Once out of town, there were no good places to really rejoin the trail. Thus, we split up the gear and decided to meet up again at the end of section 2 at the Needles District of Canyonlands. We had lunch together at the Birthing Rock, an incredible petroglyph panel up Kane Creek. The panel features a woman figure giving birth to a globe-like being. Her hands are outstretched with all her fingers carved in distinct relief. Around her, sets of footprints track across the panel, while bighorn sheep frolic with sinuous snakes and multi-legged centipedes. Men with pointed spears thrust arrows into horned animals frozen in stone.

We parted ways, and I headed up to Hurrah Pass to retrieve our first bucket cache. It was like Christmas, opening up the buckets we had packed 7 months ago. Everything I needed was stashed away. I gorged on canned fruit and kippered herring while I divided up the supplies for the upcoming leg. My pack was like a massive brick on my back, propelling me downhill. I felt like a lumbering giant, ready to topple over. I began force feeding myself to cut down on the weight. The hike may have actually been pleasant, it were not for the incessant barrage of ATVs, dirt bikes, and jeeps buzzing past, and not one of them had a smile on their faces! It’s an OHV paradise out here—innumerable canyons to drive up and explore. But every off-roader I’ve talked to has nothing but complaints regarding driving regulations on public lands. Too bad for you, Mr. ATV.

The road followed the Colorado River down Meander Canyon, as I contoured along the base of the Wingate Cliffs. Temples of stacked beets rose into strange hoodoo formations, while other had toppled and fallen like overzealous ice cream cones. From the road, I had views of Island in the Sky, an isolated portion of Canyonlands that sits above the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. Eventually, I got to the head of Lockhart Canyon, and dropped down in off the road. I had been camping dry for 25 miles, and got my first water from a trickle of a tiny seep. I stumbled across a rancher’s tool cache, and discovered the skeleton of a female bighorn sheep in the bottom of the wash. The hide was still intact on the forehead and snout, and had turned hard and stiff around the eye sockets. I ran my fingers over the ridged horns, the slender crescents of bone arching back over the skull. What sights this animal must’ve seen, what secrets of this place it must’ve known!

I continued down into and back out the canyon up into Lockhart Basin. A small storm front moved in. From the comfort of an overhang, I listened to rain fall in the desert. Low clouds moved in hugging the mesa tops. I could barely make out the sandstone cliffs through the silver veneer of rain. The storm passed by, leaving small puddles in the depressions of stone. The world was left glistening and damp.

I crossed overland into the head of Rustler Canyon, following cattle tracks into the main wash. A large pour-off kept the bovine out of the lower canyon. I navigated around the ledge lowering my pack to ease in the downclimb. I soon found myself at the confluence of Indian Creek, a beautiful free-flowing stream. Cottonwoods spread their branches across the canyon, seemingly touching both sides at once. Dropping my pack, I headed down canyon to the confluence with the Colorado. At the mouth, a flock of Canada geese were startled by my approach, their honking cries echoing off the canyon walls. A Great Blue heron circled overhead. On my way back, I detoured to a pair of waterfalls over a double pour-off. The top falls poured into a large inaccessible chamber amplifying the sound into a raucous wave of sound. The sound of water in the desert.

The trail continued up and out of Indian Creek, climbing slickrock benches to the western ridge of the drainage. I walked across fields of vermillion chert, strewn across the mesa top. A turkey vulture soared by on the afternoon thermals. No meal here, my friend. Best keep on moving. I picked a route down into a small unnamed drainage, and crossed the border of Canyonlands National Park. A quick road walk got me to the Needles Outpost, a small campground and grill run by Tracy and Gary—who were kind enough to hold a cache bucket for us over the winter.

And I successfully made the rendezvous with Ben. My voice was hoarse and cracked after not talking to anyone for 5 days. The hiking duo are reunited again.

Next up: The Needles and Dark Canyon. We push on to Hite.

Section mileage: ~47 miles

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I did Chapters 1 and 2 the first and second week of April. I saw a few Chaco tracks and the dead female Bighorn. So I assume I was a few days or a week behind you. Tracy at Needles Outpost told me about the two other people walking ahead of me. I did Chapter 5 at the end of June (we found a lost, half-full brown Nalgene; my daughter has it now), a few weeks ago, and Chapter 6 last October. Thanks for putting your experiences up as it will help me as I do more Chapters. jjg