19 May 2008

Hiking in a wetsuit and other desert adventures

Student field trip went really well, great bunch of students, good fun and hard working. They left on Tuesday morning after a moderately big night in the Tavernacle (SLC) which saw Jonny and I dancing YMCA to some dualing pianos - I guess the videos will end up on youtube soon enough!

Once the students left Katharine arrived for a few days holiday. Spent the first day shopping etc in Salt Lake before heading down to Moab to play. Rented some bikes from Poison Spider and then headed up to the Slick Rock trail. I have done it before - well actually I have pushed a bike around it several times. I am sure there is a market for T-shirts that say "I took my bike for a walk around the SRT". This time managed to ride a lot more, got around in 3.5 hours even with a broken chain, a knackered ankle and no appendix, maybe it was the appendix that was holding me back! Anyway we had a great day.

Then headed into the San Rafael Swell and camped in Calf Canyon. The Swell is one of the true remote parts of Utah and ever since I first went climbing there in 1995 I have loved being their. Its incredibly dramatic and really beautiful with deep canyons in the blood red sandstone. It was great to be able to share it with K, we got a fire going, had a tin foil dinner and Andy turned up in his monster truck at 1am.

Next day we did a couple of routes, I seriously suck at climbing cracks but I got up everything ok with just the right amount of swearing and whinging. Then in the afternoon we decided to climb James Tower (aka the light bulb). Its called the light bulb because it looks like one - that simple. Three pitches, 5.10a/A1, should have been ok except this is a desert sandstone tower!

So I dispatched my crack climbing machine and he disposed of the first pitch with only a moderate amount of grunting. I then failed hideously to flash it and ended up upside down! It was the rucksac - I swear! Got up the first pitch with a tight rope, onto a great, very exposed belay with a nice view of the horrendous, run-out off-width that was the second. Luckily my crack climbing machine did the job again, although he was not quite cruising by this stage. Still he sent it and it was my turn!. Horror show, all sorts of nasty thrashing, swearing, skin loss etc. Eventually found I could climb the face much easier (only about 11b!) and struggled up that way.

Then it was just the bolt ladder of the last pitch to the top and we were standing admiring the view and whopping - only the 5 party in 2 years (according to the book in the ammo can) and another desert tower under our belts.

From their we drove down to the lower San Raf. for further adventure. Rounded a bend in the dust cloud to find Andy's truck hanging off the side of the road. Strangely reminiscent of the other day except he was just standing there with a huge grin on his face! He extracted himself and we drove on to meet a very worried German (Toby) at Goblin Valley. We were at the Goblins for sunset and K and Toby loved them! Andy told us how his eldset son just goes mad in the place. I can understand why.

We camped again and next morning drove for another hour on old Uranium roads deeper into the southern part of the Swell to canyon a slot called Sagers Hole. This part of the world is so remote and the scenery and atmosphere are stunning, but its tough country, those old miners were seriously hard!

Parked up and got ready. A cursory glance at the map suggested a 1 mile hike to the canyon entrance and given that the Canyon was supposed to be filled with water, I opted for a wet suit to protect my appendix op-scars which are still not fully healed.

A piece of advice - in fact two! First, look at the map properly, the walking in was about 6 or 7 miles and up a pretty steep hill! Secondly don't hike in the desert in May in a wetsuit!

Eventually found the entrance and dropped in. It was fantastic, very, very narrow and winding. Everything a slot canyon should be, requiring you to turn sideways and breath in, just to get through. After about an hour we found the first absail (but no water) which was dispatched expertly, even by K and Toby who had not done much before! They were in for a crash course in absails as a further 19 followed, getting progressively bigger and bigger. They did a great job and by the end of the day were pros.

The trip was everything a canyon trip should by, narrow slots, absailing, climbing out of holes with human towers and super beautiful, with some stunning geology. Only thing that was lacking was that all the promised water was gone. All the pots except a very few were dry! It made for an easier trip by made my wetsuit position even more ridiculous.

We found and rescued a mouse from one pot. The poor fellow was so hungry/dehydrated that when we dropped in he just came right up to us and let me pick him up. I put him in an empty water bottle then released him further down the canyon, probably to get eaten by a snake - but you have to try!

Dehydration was a serous theme of the day and even without the hike in a wetsuit the others were also running out of water. By the time we got back to the main canyon with the river in it everyone just wanted to drink the whole thing!

Long hike back to the car and it was dark by the time we arrived having dodging a rattler on the trail. All pretty knackered, it was a long and excellent day. Drove out to Green River and said goodbye to Andy and Toby. Andy was heading back to SLC and Toby was off to ride the white rim trail.

Headed to Moab with dreams of a nice bed and a big breakfast, called the Red Stone Inn to say that we would be arriving late and they informed me that they had sold our booked room. Utter, complete, total wankers! I had booked the room, given my card and told them that we would be late in. They claim they had tried to run the card and it failed - bullshit, it worked in the gas station in Green River and it worked later that night in Price. They just sold the room because they could - scum. Never stay there!

It was now midnight and there were no rooms in Moab or even Green River! Ended up driving to Price and getting in at 1am.

The following day we had a slow start then drove across the Uinta Basin to Grand Junction so that K could join her Statoil fieldtrip. Really nice road trip and great to be able to have a mental image to apply to a large, blank chunk of the map. After Grand Junction I drove on to SLC. A total of 700+ miles in a day!

All in all an awesome couple of days in the desert, biking, climbing desert towers, camping and hiking serious slot canyons. I love Utah.

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