The Mighty Hike
Day 8 Log for April 3, 2005:
The Mighty Hike or What Were We Thinking?
This hike was to go to the Rattlesnake Canyon Arches, the 2nd largest concentration of natural arches, only behind Arches National Park; a 14 mile round trip voyage to the center of the Black Ridge Canyon Wilderness State Wildlife Area.
This hike is a strenuous 7 mile+ ONE WAY hike, that is rated difficult by our top map and guide. What were we thinking? We really did not know how hard it would be, as let me tell you, hiking in canyon country is unlike anything back home. The Appalachian Trail (or at least the sections we’ve hiked) are a cake walk by comparison. Here in canyon country, the trails tend not to follow the ridge line, but instead they directly bisect multiple side canyons that lie in between your ultimate destination.
So what this means is that a single one mile trail segment can have several up/down sections of eye-opening steepness. These steep sections also tend to have a barely marked trail, making route finding somewhat challenging and making for slow going. A couple of sections I had to remove my pack and lower it down to Laura by rope.
Our top map was 1:75,000 scale with 80′ contour intervals of the entire Grand Valley, and thus, did not show the excruciating details of the hike we were about to undertake. We knew it would be tough and I was already mentally prepared to turn back before we reached the Arches, if it came to that. If there is anything I’ve learned thru my years in the outdoors, that is that you need to leave a reserve to make it back to the trailhead. As it turned out with this hike, I just barely stayed within those reserves and was pretty beat by the end. Laura fared better on this hike than me, I must say and I need to bump up my training program when I get back.
[Future Laura – We learn from our mistakes, sometimes…]
The Log of Day 8 Cont.
Enjoying Our First Seriously Hard Trail!
The Crack of Noon Club Forgets to Spring Forward
This was the day of the mighty hike, Sasha had figured we could go to this trail which was not too far from the campground, and if we could get to the end, we would see the MOST interesting landscape. Well, how could I resist that? And we forgot to spring forward. So we were off the entire day. It is weird, but my Calendar did not remind me either, and we did not look at the news or anything. Just found out at 11 pm this day because I wanted to listen to the radio – I am the true Radio Girl, have no idea who is singing what song, but like to sing along. So where it states that we started at 10 am, it w as really 11 am, oh well.
During Days of No Alarm Clocks
Actually we did get a late start, having woken up at 8 am, as Sasha wanted to get up at 7 or 7:30 but since I slept in, so did he. We do not have an alarm clock, just a CD/radio in the kitchenette, that also tells time but I do not think it has an alarm on it. So we woke up, had a larger breakfast of oatmeal, bananas, dried fruit and water and then got ready to go.
Trailhead = Trail Start, But…
We went to the trail start (called trailhead) which was just outside of the state lands. The trail is maintained by the state and they even have an outhouse at the trailhead. There was a sign stating that the trail we were taking was a rigorous 7 mile one way trip, great for those that want to do it as an overnight trail. When I saw that, I was a little worried, because we planned to come and go in a day. We had originally planned 8 hours, four hours in and four hours back.
We always set a turn-around time before we go in, something we learned when we read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer a book about the Mt. Everest disaster in 1996. And we figured we had enough water: five 500ml water bottles and two 1 Liter bottles between the two of us. We had our Clif bars and apples for lunch, our sturdy hiking boots, walking sticks, and we both had packs on. This hike was also to see how in shape we were.
Pictures and Story Below:
So we started the hike, thinking this wasn’t too bad, what was the map saying for difficult? (It had a D rating on it for mountain bikes so we assumed the same thing for hikers. But it was relatively flat with some rocks. Then we got to the TRUE trail head, which I believe was about a mile away from the trail head at the parking lot. When we got to the true trail head, the sign said no mountain bikes. So that posting had to be for hiking. At that point, you could start to see the hills and valleys that we would have to take to get to the famed arches.
A Different Rating System
So we started going down. The first down was not too bad: I have a rating for downhill hikes, full butt or half butt rating. What this means is do I go down by sitting down and sliding with my butt, or can I go in a crouch position or can I stand upright? This first downhill was a stand upright kind of hill, so not too scary.
Then we went up. It seemed to be the norm; we go down, go up and then walk a bit.
So the first walk down was not bad, the second was a half butt, slightly scary way down. But the third, OH MY GOD, scared for the hills; if I could have put my entire body in horizontal fashion to get down I would have. As it was – a full butt downhill – that went into Pollack Canyon. At this point we were like, how are we going to get up that afterwards? But we will talk about that later. So we went walking, seeing cactus and lizards as well as a running stream. I thought, if we were stuck in the canyon, at least we would have water. And maybe some meat, if we could catch a lizard.
We’d be meat for the mountain lions…
Anyway, we went up this unbelievable canyon wall, see pictures above please. There is one wall that we had to scamper across that if wet, would have been impassable. But it was very dry, and so we made it across. But one slip and a meal for the mountain lion. I kept looking up…
(I swear, I am not going to watch another nature show right before I go camping, the last one was about mountain lions and how they catch their prey and how they are found in Colorado and mountainous areas)
ready to see a mountain lion and hit it with my walking stick. Anyway, after we got up this canyon, Sasha said, that is going to be the last up-down that we will take, if the arches aren’t around this next corner, we are going to turn back. Well, they were not around the next corner but we did not stop at that point. The fourth up down was gradual (fully upright rating) and on the other side was these very cool rock formations.
We sat against some trees next to the formations and had lunch of Clif bars and apples. We called our parents and let them know where we were. We divided our water and found we did not really have enough. But as we are going back we know that we can get more once we are out of the park.
Eating the apples of course gives you water that you need, which is good. I was slightly dreading the walk back, especially the Pollack Canyon area. So we went down and up the gradual valley first and my confidence went up, which was good.
Trail Runners – Way to Go!
At this point, some trail runners came by. They were running. I repeat – running the trail. They were both rail thin and wearing sneakers. With only one water bottle each I just don t know how they do it. We both looked at them in awe.
Then we walked a bit and came to the down hill of Pollack Canyon.
Totally, Utterly Afraid
There was one part where I was totally afraid, I could not go on my butt, I could not crawl, I HAD to walk across, this was the slippery slope seen in the pictures. My heart was in my throat the entire time. I don’t understand myself sometimes, I walked across it before with no problems, but I was so scared walking back. Go figure. [Have you ever felt this way?]
So we went down very slowly, helping each other whenever we could. Sasha had to take off his pack a few times to get through some areas, again, going up is different from going down, your center of gravity is different. We went back up the Pollack Canyon on the other side, and there was a little area that I was afraid I was going to fall backwards, my arm and leg strength was not there. But Sasha was and he helped me up. Then I was not afraid anymore.
After that, we took it easy and the trail was fine, a couple more up and downs and then a long stretch of land before we got to the first trail head. Would I do this trail again? Yes, with more water and more strength in my arms and legs (better shape than today). Maybe next trip we will get to the famed arches.
After The Mighty Hike
After the Mighty Hike, we got some Gatorade and picked up a menu for a Chinese & American restaurant. Sasha’s body was killing him and he didn’t want to make dinner, and neither did I. So we ordered Chinese – Szechuan Chicken (spicy) and me – fried chicken, with a baked potato and a salad. It is interesting to have fried chicken made by a Chinese person, did not think this was possible. We put as much info into the website and went to bed early. A great 8-hour day, and went to bed full and tired.