The Southwest Tour continues, the penultimate installment and the last backpacking piece. This time in Canyonlands, the Needles. Our permit had Joan and I at campsite EC3 on Night 1. We have a gorgeous view of Elephant Canyon, but the ground is certainly not conducive for stakes. How I wish I had my trusty freestanding Big Agnes tent. However, I’m getting the hang of the Zpacks tent, and the low weight is certainly lovely, esp when I’m carrying a bear canister, like on this trip! While the weather has 0% chance of rain, the temps are supposed to get below freezing tonight. I’m bundled up in 2 layers including my Patagonia R1 fleece, and am hoping not to have to put on my down puffy or wrap my tent around myself. The moon is amazingly bright and is overpowering the stars….it’s incredible to me that I’m laying here cowboy camping right now!
After a stunningly lovely drive culminating in our Grand Marquis chariot on a single lane dirt road, Joan and I said goodbye to Neil and Nancy and hiked out from the popular Elephant Hill Trailhead at 12:30. We oohed and ahhed, taking many pictures of the gorgeous scenery. Our Southwest Tour truly continues – this is again unlike any other place we have hiked the past 2 weeks. After arriving at our designated campsite, I felt paranoid about leaving camping gear and food to do a day hike to Druid Arch. We had seen several day hikers, all of whom were very friendly, but it was hard to forget this is a popular national park during spring break season. Regardless, nothing happened to our belongings, and I was very happy not to have to haul the weight on the 5 mile round trip! Some rock scrambling and one very graceful, if I do say so myself, glissade down a slickrock face, brought back memories of hiking in Maine, though the rock here is so different. I definitely love the Altras shoes – clearly made for this environment, they grip the rock faces great! I did choose to forgo the last 5 minutes up to see the arch from the side – ladders and rebar are still not appealing. Joan went up and I took the opportunity to do some foot care as one of the blisters my winter boots gave me on Saturday was hurting again.
Another first for Day 1: using a “Biffy Bag”! It’s a contraption to pack out human waste – but I wish I had a poop tube, which was introduced to me several days ago. Ahh, the things you learn as a professional hiker….Right now, the triple bag is next to the bear canister – I can’t quite bring myself to put it next to my sleeping bag, too much coziness is not a good thing where that is concerned. 😉
A year ago today I was nervously pacing and doing last minute packing and re packing my pack – the last day at home before traveling to Georgia to start the AT. I look back on that day with a nostalgic grin – so excited but wondering anxiously if I had made the right decisions.
Special kudos to the awesome ranger at the Needles Visitor Center, who patiently answered all of our questions (No, there’s not any ice on the trails; yes, you should find water without a problem) and hooked us up with an alternate area to camp on Thursday since the road to the previous trailhead exit point is NOT sedan friendly right now!
Day 2: campsite LC1. After a leisurely morning in camp, we began our trek to Lost Canyon. From the trail descriptions, it was hard to know where the expected sketchy points would be, but we had possible alternate routes. The first ladder freaked me out, primarily at the top, since it had long skinny arms, not conducive to getting along with my wide pack. Joan was great – she talked me through it, and was so calm and reassuring I had no time to panic. Yea for great hiking partners! On our way towards Big Spring and Squaw Canyons, we also navigated a tight slot (the AT’s lemon squeezer is a joke compared to that place), and a few gnarly sections which required packs off and handing across, down, or up. As soon as we descended into Squaw Canyon the scenery and terrain changed abruptly – so lovely and lush, amazingly enough for the desert. We had some more slickrock fun traversing to Lost Canyon, including another ladder. For some reason, I’m so much more confident going down ladders than up.
Once we arrived at LC1, a very pretty and protected campsite, which is actually on the Peekaboo Trail, not the Lost Canyon Trail, we once again dropped heavy gear and did the rest of the day as a day hike, wandering up Lost Canyon, which has a character all of its own – so odd that canyons right next to each other are so different!
Today we saw a grand total of 3 people. 2 other girl backpackers (yea!!), and a guy day hiker. Umm, didn’t the ranger tell us yesterday that the backcounty was “full”, it being spring break season?? Wow, if this is full, I *really* love hiking in the West!
A year ago today I flew to Atlanta, navigated MARTA, and was picked up by the great Hiker Hostel. I remember most waiting around the train station for Leigh to arrive, and it was so cold in the shade, but so warm in the sun. That night, I met several hikers, most of whom I only saw sporadically in the next few weeks. I wonder what became of them all….
Day 3: Peekaboo, I see….me!
Ode to fallen hiking pants – you were with me through good times. A sad end that sandstone and butt scooting down a fantastic slickrock should tear you apart, but at least we had one last truly glorious trip together. Face it, you knew I would take another skirt on the PCT.
Today, the mantra “Come on, NPS (national park service), don’t let us down now!” was uttered several times. The Canyonlands website and map descriptions aren’t lying when they state the slickrock traverses on the Peekaboo Trail would be dangerous when icy or wet! Thankfully, we had dry weather even after a frosty start, and our biggest adversity was our own fears. It took Joan and I over 2 1/2 hours to go….2.4 miles. Yowza. After failing to open a frozen shut bear canister, breakfast consisted of Joan’s non-soy based, and non frozen, PB and an apple. Happily, an hour or so later break saw both breakfast and some snacks being rapidly consumed. If it wasn’t glaringly obvious already, today was a prime example why I am such a creature of habit. After not sleeping well for 2 nights, and the bfast fiasco, my energy was really dragging this morning. Adrenaline at the sketchy bits got me going, but I nearly boinked at lunch. Thankfully we were in no big hurry, since we were already in Salt Canyon, where our permit has us “at large” camping tonight. Joan scouted out some nearby campsites, while I took it easy for half an hour, pouring sand out of my shoes (I swear it’s in the linings and my shoes weigh a pound heavier) and treating some lovely water. I was all prepared for some nasty puddle water sources, and while we certainly saw some, have been extremely lucky in finding great sources each day! Late winter is a great time to visit here, that’s for sure.
A year ago today I started up the Approach Trail on the AT, and spent a wonderful night at the Hike Inn while fellow hikers had an extremely cold night which convinced some of them to leave the trail before ever stepping foot on Springer Mtn and the official beginning of the Appalachian Trail. Bring on the cold tonight, I’ll soon be sleeping comfy. Let’s just hope I don’t bring in too much sand when I inevitably have to get out (and back in) to pee.
Day 4: Oh what a beautiful morning – a slightly frosty tent reminded me sharply of the very frosty and cold morning 1 year ago, when I awoke at the Hike Inn, and a few short hours later had Springer Mtn to myself for a few glorious minutes. Teamwork had us wrestling the bear canister open and eating a final trail breakfast in the midst of a beautiful sunrise. As it hadn’t rained, back we went the same way we came, and boy was I happy the scary ladder was first. At each point that one or the other of us had feared, and the been conquered again, our confidence soared. A truly wonderful way to leave the desert, at least for a few weeks. The closer we came to the trailhead, the more folks we saw, including a pair of ladies, one or whom had our shoes! Yea for clown shoes in the wilderness :). Joking aside, the grip on these rocks has made all the difference in my ability to really trust my shoes. At the trailhead, we happily disposed of Biffy bags and trash, and my old lamented pants. This trip certainly has been hard on my lower layers of clothing, but I can’t regret it, the happiness being out here again has wrought far more than mere rending cloth could cause a momentary sulk. Kudos again to our favorite ranger – she not only remembered us, but was easily able to answer all of our questions just bursting to be asked before we left the park, and southeast Utah.