After “talking” online with the others all year about this year’s meet-up in Escalante, it finally arrived! I’ve been anticipating it all year, while Mr. Zig waited until the last minute to get excited about our meet-up. He got so excited, in fact, he had to go buy a new car just for the meet-up! Lol! Well, maybe it was for other reasons too, but he wanted to have a nice comfy ride down the Hole in the Rock Road, and Big Blue (a ¾ ton Dodge Ram 4x4) just wasn’t comfy, off road anyway. So good-bye Big Blue (snif!) and hello Red Jeep Grand Cherokee!
Wednesday morning we hit the road in our new Jeep. Wow is it comfortable! From Las Vegas it only took us 5 hours, including a quick stop for lunch in St. George, to get to Escalante. As we pulled up to the Prospector we ran into RDD and SRW right off the bat. Then Esty came up and we finally got to meet in person after talking for months on Facebook. What a nice start to the meet-up!
After unpacking it was off to the “house” where 4 couples were staying and where we would have 3 of our abundant dinners. And what a house it was! Huge picture windows overlooking all of Escalante (okay, there isn’t that much to Escalante, but still, you get the idea.) It’s always so nice to finally see everyone again after a whole year, despite the fact that we “talk” all the time online. Plenty of hugs, talk, food, beer, wine and of course, Limoncello! We finally got to meet PNJM from New Jersey, who said she felt a little culture shock in Escalante. Kudos to you for joining us and trying something new! We have a nice diverse group of people and are always glad to have others join us!
Thursday was our day to explore Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch, 2 iconic slot canyons that lay 26 miles down the Hole in the Rock Road. We all piled into 4 vehicles and headed to the HITR only to find an NPS ranger stopping cars as they drove in. He said there was no travel permitted beyond 47 miles down the road, which is where the boundary is for Glen Canyon NRA. ??? WhatEVER! (Rants about the stoopidity of government will be saved for a different forum. . .) We were only going to Peekaboo and Spooky so he let us pass. The new Jeep rode like a charm over the washboard ruts and through the sand along HITRR. It was an amazing site at some of the washes where the road had been washed out from all the rain the area had several weeks ago. Huge culverts had been tossed downstream like empty soda cans, all bent and twisted from the force of the water. At least the road had been repaired before the government shut . . . oh, never mind. Unfortunately, SJG’s vehicle had engine problems 20 miles down HITR and they had to bail on the hike and try to get a tow truck. Amazingly we all had some cell reception out there, spotty tho it was, and were able to stay in touch with each other. Once we all finally got to the trailhead (minus SJG, MR SJG, Wings and Mr. Wings – we missed you!) we started down the slickrock path to get to the Dry Fork. Once you get into the Dry Fork it’s a short walk to the entrance of Peekaboo Gulch. Well, the rains had washed away much of the sand at the bottom of the entrance into the Gulch and left a big pool there instead. So we decided to go to Spooky Gulch and start there, work our way to the end, then up and over to the back of Peekaboo. The group had fun squeezing thru the tight walls of Spooky. Mr. Z went ahead to check things out and came back with bad news – there was a section ahead that would take some major climbing/scrambling to get up. This is where the majority of the group turned around. Powderglut, RDD, Esty, me and Mr. Z were a determined bunch tho so we clawed, twisted, scraped, and pulled ourselves thru the obstacle. It took a lot of helping each other and having a LOT of faith in the person whose arm you were grabbing and letting them pull you up the chute, but we all made it thru. At this point Spooky got REALLY tight, but we squeezed thru, only to come to the next, even more daunting obstacle. The canyon came to an end, and about 5 feet above our heads was a jumble of rocks that had fallen into the top of the canyon and lodged themselves at the top. Now what? After much soul-searching (we really didn’t want to turn back at this point) Powderglut wedged himself between the walls of the canyon and clawed his way up the wall to the rock and somehow managed to find some handholds and footholds enough to pull himself up and out. More debating ensued on how the rest of us would get up there. PG coached RDD thru, then with Mr. Z helping from below and PG helping from above, they managed to get me up and out. Same thing with Esty. Then Mr. Z worked his way up with only help from PG above the rocks. Whew! What an amazing effort! High fives all around! Helping each other and overcoming such challenging obstacles really made for a sublime experience! Out of Spooky we go and down into the back of Peekaboo we go. Peekaboo is a twisty turning beauty of a slot canyon. It’s fairly short so in no time we were at the opening, with its large dropoff and pool of muddy water at the bottom. The others slowly made their way down, but Mr. Z and I decided to go back thru Peekaboo, out the back and around to get back to the Dry Fork. I think it would have been easier to just go out the opening. All the rain had washed a lot of the sand out from the bottom of some of the drop-offs inside of Peekaboo, but with Mr. Z’s help we managed to climb, scrape and wriggle our way thru. By the time we got out, hike around the hills to the Dry Fork and started back up the slickrock toward the trailhead we caught up with the rest of the group halfway up. Wow! What an adventure! Mr. Z and I had been to Peekaboo and Spooky 2 years ago and getting thru them wasn’t so difficult then. It’s amazing to see what nature does and how much conditions can change in just 2 years’ time.
Friday was canyoneering day. Mr. Z and I, RDD and SRW, PG and Mrs PG, Danny and Esty had signed up for a guided canyoneering tour. We met in the freezing cold morning (a cold front had moved in and the temps had gone into the 30s that night – brrr!) and with our trusty guides, Jim and Matt, headed off down the Hole in the Rock Road again. Hi again to Mr. Ranger. We drove to the canyon we would be canyoneering in (it’s a secret location – shhh!) and looked down. Gulp! We’re climbing down that? Mr. Z and I had never been rappelling before so the thought was a little scary. But, with patient and expert coaching from our guides, one by one we all got down the first rappel. I think I was afraid the rope would slide right thru my hands and I would go tumbling down into the canyon. I quickly realized the rope doesn’t go thru the (what is that thing called?) very fast at all. In fact, you really have to put your weight into it to get the rope to let you down. As we made our way thru the canyon, we came to different obstacles, rockfalls of varying heights, where our guides gave detailed directions on various moves to get around and down the obstacles. Sometimes we would push our feet against one side of the canyon with our backs against the other side. Other times we would “smear” our shoulders down one side of a rock until we could get our feet against the wall on the other side of the canyon. Some of these techniques would have been good to know the day before going thru “Spookaboo”. Finally we came to the point we had been dreading all morning – the mud. We knew ahead of time there would be wet and muddy sections we would have to go thru, but with as cold as it was we were really hoping they would be at the end of the trip. No such luck. Down into the cold muddy water our poor feet went. Fortunately it was only about calf-deep (okay, knee-deep on SRW – lol!). Once our feet got wet, things got really cold. The sky had clouded up so there was no sun to help warm things up at all. But, making our way through and down the various obstacles was fun and exhilarating so the cold was somewhat forgotten. By the time we came to our last rappel I was feeling pretty confident in the equipment and my abilities to rappel down the wall. Finally we came to the end of the slot where the canyon opened up. Our adventure was coming to an end. We took the obligatory “muddy shoes” photos and headed back to the cars over some beautiful slickrock. By this time my feet had turned into blocks of ice so it was a bit difficult walking through what otherwise was a fairly easy hike back. Finally we got back to the cars where we stripped off our mud-packed shoes and tried to wash off our feet before climbing into the cars. Another amazing adventure had come to an end. That night we got back to the hotel just long enough to take a nice, hot shower before heading out again for dinner. Aahh. I had to laugh when I toweled myself off – the white towel had all kinds of red smears on it from all the dirt that was still clinging to me even after the shower.
Dinner Friday nite was at the North Creek Grill at the Slot Canyon Inn. When we made the reservation months ago the idea of sitting outside sounded nice. Now, with the cold snap and the temps in the 40s, sitting outside was not my idea of fun. The Prospector Inn doesn’t have hair dryers in the room (wha???) so my hair was still wet, which wasn’t a good combination with the cold. The waitress was very nice tho and brought her hair dryer to the guest bathroom for me to dry my hair. But, even with all the heaters going on the patio, it was just too cold to stay very long after we ate. The food was really good and the company was fantastic (of course!), but we left early being that we were cold and really tired from the last 2 days canyoneering adventures.
Saturday was the big(er) group hike to Big Horn Canyon. We all (almost all, anyway) headed across the desert and quickly came to a huge drop off. The side of the pouroff was slickrock with pretty decent ridges in it, so even though it was steep we were able to slowly pick our way down the side of the canyon. Part of the group went around the big monument and found a trail that lead down to the wash further along. From there it was a walk in the sand through the beautiful wash until we came to a short slot canyon. Powderglut was anxious to try some of the canyoneering skills he learned the day before so he climbed down into the top of the slot without much effort. The rest of us stayed above and kept going down the canyon to another little beauty of a slot canyon that was a little easier to climb into. We quickly realized we couldn’t go very far though, so back up to the top where we climbed around until we came to what was really our destination, Big Horn Canyon. From where we were there was no easy way we could see to get down into the deep canyon. Sigh. At this point we were short on time anyway since we had early dinner reservations that evening. So we made mental notes that maybe we could get back here someday and spend more time exploring the area. Heading back up the wash, we all came back to the 30 foot high slickrock pouroff that some of us had carefully climbed down earlier. We knew going back up would be easier so we were able to coax Kbecjeans and PNJM into climbing it. With help from some of the others, both women gained confidence and slowly but surely made their way up the slickrock. We’re nothing if not a helpful bunch!
Dinner Saturday night was at the Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder. The menu consists of food made from as many local ingredients as possible, locally grown vegetables and livestock raised locally. The food was imaginative and delicious. For example, I ordered the pumpkin/apple/sage soup – it was fabulous! Mr. Zig thought it sounded a bit odd, but he tasted it and loved it. My dinner was pumpkin enchiladas covered in habanero cream sauce – weird but yummy!
Sunday was the big hike to the “cosmic ashtray”. Several of the group decided to do other things that day, so it was 8 of us (me, Esty, Powderglut and Ms PG, OhioHick and Ms Hick, Danny, and Mr SJG. The hike consisted of 9 miles round trip over slickrock hills and through deep sand. There was no trail so with expert guidance from Mr SJG’s and Danny’s GPS units, and Esty’s compass and topomap, we finally came upon our destination. I thought it looked like a gigantic alien ant head sticking out of the sand inside a large crater. The sand inside the crater was beautifully undisturbed except for some small, faint critter tracks that none of us could identify. We sat on the edge of the crater and ate our lunches while Powderglut and Esty debated whether they could get down into the crater and then back up with the help of the rope, and help from a few of the rest of us. In the end they reluctantly decided against it. Heading back we thought we could take a little easier route by skirting the lower portion of some of the hills, but we came to a deep chasm that we could only get around by heading back to our original route. Once again route finding skills were put to the test as we climbed up and over and down the slickrock hills. 5 hours after we started we ended up back at the cars. Powderglut really plans well and had a cooler full of cold ones, which were certainly welcome after the long hike.
Dinner that night was an attempt to finish off the leftovers from the previous 2 meals prepared at the house, but I think there was still too much food that ended up being thrown away. Maybe we need to eat more next year! It was also time to say good-by to everyone since we (along with most of the others) were leaving in the morning. Sob! It’s so hard to say good-by to such good friends, but each year it gets a little easier because I know with more and more certainty that we will see each other again. Probably even sooner than next year’s meet-up for some.Edited: 10 October 2013, 21:02