Mystic Writer

Peeking out to see if there is a real world out there...

Friday, December 19, 2008

The trail less traveled

Several years back I found myself with a couple days free, and having long been separated from the color and feel of stone, I drove like a madman across the great plains from Minnesota to Utah. The first spot that called to me as I entered Utah was a well known area called the Fisher Towers.

I set out on the trail slow, legs and body stiff from more than a day in the car, eyes fuzzy and mind fogged from lack of sleep. The cool air and the warm sunlight glowing from the rock enlivened me, and suddenly a slanted stone face with nothing but sky at the lip pulled, and I gave in. With a couple steps to gather speed, I jumped, pistoned my foot, scrabbled with the other, then with a lunge got hold of the lip and pulled myself up. On the far side, the ground dropped slowly into a valley, cut by deep gulleys and populated with house sized boulders, and on the far side a massive crack in the upper cliff face offered access to whatever lay beyond. It was irresistible.

The valley had hidden treasure - small golden blossoms, tucked in the shade of the boulders but bright in the reflected light, and I slowed my pace to admire as I worked my way across. Reaching the enormous crack, excitement again filled me and I leapt up to the first canted ledge, using the momentum to jump to a boulder, then springing towards a thin ridge of rock that ran up the center. I landed clean, took a long step, pushed off unevenly and the next step caught the ridge with only the edge of my boot, and with a terrible off balanced mix of gravity and inertia, my leg torqued and I slipped off the ridge. I managed to twist to save my face, and a last minute grab kept me from falling further. I hung where I was for a moment, badly shaken, then eased myself to a more secure position to examine things. It looked bad - several oozing scrapes on my bare arms and hands, a tiny gouge in my thigh, and a long razor thin cut starting above my ankle and ending near my knee.

I tested things - no muscle injuries and my joints moved without pain, and I decided to continue my hike, though now with a plan of making a loop back to my car. I climbed slowly along the crack to the lip of the valley, then walked along a huge flow of slickrock. It steadily gained altitude, and eventually I could see glints of sunlight and I knew I was seeing the parking lot and I change my course towards my car.

The slickrock ended in a sharp cliff, and I followed the edge looking for a way down, finally arriving at a series of three hanging box canyons that cut through, utterly lovely in their near perfection. The sides were vertical but only about 20 feet tall - getting to the bottom of the first canyon was easy as I could choose a path from any of the three sides, and there were numerous cracks and footholds to use.

Getting to the bottom of the second was a bit more of a challenge as the only access was over the lip where the water had flowed from the first canyon into the second, and the face was largely smooth and somewhat undercut. I took a long time deciding how to proceed, finally choosing the best option and noting that the bottom of the second canyon was deep in the smoothest desert sand. I climbed down about 6 feet, then, arriving at the undercut area and seeing no alternatives, I jammed my left hand into a crack and gripped a knob of rock with my right, lowered my body till I was as close to the floor as I could get, then with a snapping pushoff, I dropped toward a featureless patch of sand, fully expecting a cushioned landing.

My feet hit, the left landing soft and easy. The right did too for a moment, and then suddenly there was a horrible jabbing into the outside edge of my heel, and too late, I let myself roll backwards into the sand, trying to minimize the impact of my foot.

It hurt. It hurt terribly, and I was afraid to look. I lay there on soft sand, looked at the square of perfect blue sky, tried to ignore the pain that pulsed with every beat of my heart. I listened to the breeze rustling the dry plants, then squashed a thread of thought as to whether I could use them as a splint for my leg. I noticed the golden blossoms sprouting at the bottom of the canyon walls, tried to find my earlier sense of wonder.

It wasn't working, and I sat up. My ankle was turning blue above my boot, and I could see it was beginning to bulge a little. I thought about taking the boot off to see what had happened, then realized I might not be able to get it back on. A second later I came to another realization that I didn't really want to know what had happened, at least not until I was back at my car.

I rolled to the canyon wall, braced against it, then stood on my left foot and eased the right down. No grind of bone - that was good. Lots and lots of pain, but it was bearable, and so I limped to the lip of the final canyon. It was nearly identical to the one I had just come down, and I had a moment of real fear thinking I might have to do the same sort of descent. I quashed the fear, then took my time looking for a series of holds that could get me to the bottom.

It took longer than I wanted, but finally I figured out something that might work, and I started my descent, incredibly slowly, making sure there was no possibility of mistake, and finally I made it to the bottom and started heading towards the parking lot across the desert floor. There was no elegance to my walk - I chose the most direct path possible, pushing through creosote tangles and becoming intimate with the endless spiny flora of the desert.

The final half mile was a sharp ascent to the parking lot, and I did it at a crawl. I arrived at the top, pulled myself to my feet, rounded a boulder and stopped. Directly in front of me was a woman - tanned, fit, top of the line hiking gear all freshly laundered. I stared at her, trying to think of something to say, but ended up standing slack jawed, my leg and arms still bleeding, my knees scraped and clothes torn, face bruised and ankle blue and swollen.

She looked startled for a second, then seemed to settle into some familiar social pose, and with an elegant British accent, she commented "I was thinking of going off trail", then, after a pause, she followed with "Would you recommend it?".

I pondered answers, thought about the question, thought about explaining my condition, then smiled, lopsided because of the bruise, and answered "Yes".


  • At 8:45 AM, Blogger d.challener roe said…

    Nice post. Reminded me of my vaction to Bryce Canyon in Utah.

    NetChick sent me, today.

  • At 10:14 AM, Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said…

    A super post documenting your trip with fine pics.

    NetChick sent me here.

  • At 11:23 AM, Blogger Monica Hamburg said…

    Great story. (Ouch, though!) You athletic types fascinate me (it's a mixture of confusion and admiration ;)

    Thank you so much for your comment on my blog today. I really appreciated it and am beaming now.

  • At 11:27 AM, Blogger Bob-kat said…

    Lol :D Great answer! I do hope everything healed okay though.

    Netchick sent me to say hi!

  • At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Zeb Palmer said…

    nice read... I'm assuming you patched up ok.

  • At 12:36 PM, Blogger said…

    Great story of your trip with beautiful photos!

    Netchick sent me :)

  • At 1:49 PM, Blogger Bob-kat said…

    I particulalry love that last photo and the colour of the rocks is amazing! I can see why you went there but agree that a sprained ankle would detract from taking it all in.

    Netchick sent me back :)

  • At 1:55 PM, Blogger Sara said…

    NetChick sent me to say that was absolutely the perfect answer to the woman's question!

    Beautiful photos...of a beautiful place...

  • At 1:01 AM, Blogger Monica said…

    Netchick sent me to say hi!

    I enjoyed reading this entry. I take it you are all patched up and ready to go again!


  • At 6:41 AM, Anonymous Clare said…

    Hello - netchick sent me to say hi. Loving the pictures!

  • At 11:40 AM, Blogger craziequeen said…

    Hi mw, Netchick sent me to say hi.

    I would've loved to have seen the look on that imnmaculately turned out would-be off-trailer when she caught sight of you :-)


  • At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Last Girl On Earth - Deni said…

    Great post, MW, and I LOVE your last line. I've never been to this part of the country, but I would love to go there someday. Thanks for sharing. NetChick sent me over and I'm glad she did!

  • At 7:30 PM, Blogger Star said…

    What a great story! I hope you bruises and your ankle are better. If I had a few free days I wouldn't be rock climbing for sure. But it is beautiful.

  • At 10:39 AM, Blogger Bob-kat said…

    Netchick sent me back so I went for a wander through some earlier posts. You really are a free spirit and I love how you notice things around you :)

  • At 3:58 PM, Blogger goooooood girl said…

    i like your blog......

  • At 3:58 PM, Blogger rashbre said…

    Ouch and an ending filled with social graces!

  • At 6:45 AM, Blogger Nikki-ann said…

    That sounds like quite a trip... Painful!

    NetChick sent me here again :)

    I hope you're having a good weekend.


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