Tag Archives: Hiking Choices

To swim or not to swim and other weekend choices

In terrain so barren the ephedra is stunted, the crypto sparse, and even though it is the desert, the cactus few and far between; she took a hike. A rejuvenating and fulfilling hike. She found places of beauty and refreshment in The Coves. And when her hike was done, she shed her shoes and walked from the beach out into Lake Powell to take a swim. It was all completed by 9:00 am – orchestrated to avoid the heat of the day and thus make the refreshment and rejuvenating as effective as possible.

In the first place, she parked at the Wahweap swim beach and followed the paved path on the edge of the lake past boat ramps, boat rentals, and a state line sign. She was now in Utah. Judging by the iconic Lone Rock formation immediately ahead, she figured if she climbed the hill to the west she would be able to see her apartment – which was still in Arizona. She did. Her home looked to be only a mile away as the crow flies.

For a moment she contemplated running on home, enjoying a big breakfast, and then hiking back for her car and the swim. “Tomorrow,” she said. “I’ll start from home and hike this direction. I’ll bring my beach towel. I’ll hike back wet.”

Accordingly, her Sunday morning plan was to hike down an arroyo, swim in the northernmost vicinity of Wahweap Beach and then hike back for a weekend style breakfast. She found a place to crawl under the fence and made her way to the dry creek bed, not sure if the trail she followed – and those she saw on the opposing canyon wall – were coyote or human, but confident that the descending runoff she chose was the most direct route to the lake. “This is nearly a slot canyon in places,” she mused as the gray rock walls rose ever more steeply on either side. And then, abruptly, she was on the precipice of a 30-foot waterfall. Time to skirt.

Back up the creek bed and on the wildlife trails, next a mile or more atop a windswept sand dune replete with familiar tracks of small mammals and reptiles. At last she came to the lake, or a finger of it, expanded back up the canyon by the final July surge of Rocky Mountain snowmelt. No beach here. Not another soul in sight. Possibility of cliff-jumping without being caught; also without your paralyzed body ever being found. She followed the edge of the cliff until she came to another fence. The grass was not greener. Every imaginable brand of ATV track decorated the hillside. And what was that? The mouthwatering aroma of Sunday morning camp breakfast. “The beach,” she said, “Is right over that hill.”

From the rocky crest she looked down on the secluded, but crowded beach. Directly below her, about half the length of a football field, two portly men of approximately 60 went about their morning activities on a houseboat. An assortment of other watercraft parked side by side like pie wedges of the tiny bay. “Nah,” she said, “I’ll not crash the party and swim today. I think it’s time I went back home and cooked myself a good breakfast.”

A hike in honor of my brother’s birthday

I took a hike in honor of my little brother’s birthday. How could he possibly be 59 when I am still young and fit enough to exchange a 2-mile hike for 6 miles on a whim? Six miles is a feat I could not have pulled off when I was half his age, by the way. But age has its privileges and its victories!

“Where do you want me to hike in honor of your birthday?” I asked.

“You know the area better than I,” he responded. “You choose.”

Owachomo Bridge is the oldest and most fragile of the natural bridges. My brother is not the oldest nor the most fragile in our family, so that’s out. Also, Owachomo is a short hike, less than half a mile round trip. Not a fitting distance in honor of a brother – or my day off.

Sipapu Bridge is most fitting, I thought. It is the second oldest bridge after Owachomo and the second largest natural bridge in the United States. Of the three bridges here in the monument it is the most symmetrical and beautiful. Besides, Sipapu means “place of emergence” and my brother is obviously the more emerged member of our family. But Sipapu Trail is also steepest and lies in shadow. We have been advising visitors against Sipapu for the past week because of the cold and melting snow.

Kachina Bridge, the youngest of the three bridges at Natural Bridges National Monument, is so named because of the Kachina symbols found in the petroglyphs in the area surrounding the bridge. Petroglyph hunting seemed fitting for my brother’s birthday. Destination decided. Three quarters of a mile down. Wander around a bit taking pictures of petroglyphs. Three quarters of a mile back up. Easy Peasy, right?

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My roommate expected me back in a couple hours. I was pleased with my total time of four hours. She will learn not to trust in my early return with an open day, a prepared daypack and (most importantly this time of year) strap-on YakTrax.

Trail Diary for a brother’s birthday hike: Made it down the slippery slope to Kachina in excellent time. Found the Petroglyphs and wanted more. Did a bit of exploring. Found more Petroglyphs. Wandered up the canyon toward Sipapu. Remembered that Horse Collar Ruin was somewhere up this canyon. Kept putting one foot in front of the other. Canyon often in sun and just as often in shadow. Passed Horse Collar Ruin where I had hoped to find sunny spot to eat a snack.  Sunny spot occupied by other hikers. Found fabulous pictographs – an entire congregation of high-fives – just beyond Horse Collar Ruin. Rounded the bend and saw Sipapu up ahead. Ascended Sipapu Trail. Steep ascent, manmade staircase. Snowy and icy in spots. Crossed the road to Mesa Trails. Mud slippery and sloggy across the mesa. Ate apple and peanut butter while slipping and sliding. Successful and satisfying hike in honor of my brother’s birthday. Returned to residence to be greeted by Bear’s Ears Monument news. Well now, that rather upstaged my efforts.  Happy Birthday, Brother!

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Self-talk about choices

Self? I think it’s time we have a little talk about choices; specifically the choices you made today and what we can glean from them. First off, I’d like to point out the positive choices you made on this, your last day of vacation. Though the day appeared sunny and I-70 was clear, this time of year it was a good idea to drive directly through the tunnels and over Vail Pass without stopping to dawdle.

From the trail to Hanging Lake
From the trail to Hanging Lake

Once safely over the passes, it was an even better idea to stop and hike to Hanging Lake. Hanging Lake is always a memorable experience. I know you are an experienced hiker. I also know you are in better shape than any of the previous four or five times you’ve made this 1000 ft ascent. The day was warm down by the parking lot and you contemplated changing to shorts and a tank. I commend you for making the right choice. Jeans are tough and made to last; never mind they also absorb and retain water quickly – particularly snowmelt. Smart Wool socks are also essential this time of year. Good job, Self! Tossing your black hoodie in the car seat and donning a black Loki jacket is also worth points. Not only is a Loki jacket versatile – what with the built-in mittens, adjustable hood and pull-down face mask- a Loki jacket also gives you credibility with the serious outdoor crowd.

But Self, I have to ask what you were thinking when you left your hiking boots under the seat and laced on your aging hiking sneakers. The promoters who quipped, “bald is beautiful,” were not talking about tennis shoe treads. And another thing; what is the purpose of keeping your Yaktrax in the car if you don’t tuck them in a pocket when you set out? Of course you needed nothing of the kind for the first fourth mile of paved bicycle trail.

The trail to Hanging Lake begins with a stroll on concrete bicycle path along the Colorado River
The trail to Hanging Lake begins with a stroll on concrete bicycle path along the Colorado River

Nor did you think to go back for boots and ice grips when you saw the rating of difficult at the trailhead, or began to encounter snow a third of the way in.

DSCN7255bridgesnowpackedYou did not give up. You pressed on, picking your way over rocks and increasingly long icy patches. What have you learned from this?
You made it to the top. You enjoyed the magnificent view.

DSCN7264hanginglakeapril5But on the way down?

You learned to stop trying to save your butt and to let your butt save you. Forget about dignity and walking upright. You embraced the most useful ranger advice you ever heard; don’t be afraid to sit down if you need to. As a result, you protected your elbows, knees and skull from fracture. You sat down at will instead of unexpectedly. You used every last miniscule muscle in your body. And you made up a new winter sport, sliding down snow packed trails while paddling with your hands That was a full-body workout, Self. Congratulations, you are in better shape than you have ever been. Today, your feelings are alive. You are self-aware–of every muscle and bone in your body.