Plan B

Some weeks in ones life are better than others.

This was one of the better ones.

We had a jaunt planned to the east but a gentle heads up was given about lack of water in the area (thanks, Ace) and so two days before launch we reconvened to discuss “plan B.”

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One pathology I seem to have acquired is a ravenous obsession with maps. Much productivity has been lost to said endeavor. As a result I have a growing catalogue of trip possibilities squirrled away for “some day.”

The bones of this trip can be found in printed form. Jan Nikolajsen also helped fill in a few of the more confusing spots - much appreciated Jan. Two days before launch we transitioned to an alternate route, checked the forecast, and headed out.

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On the other side of this trip I can honestly say this route was better than I ever could have imagined.

Combining so many of the elements I love about the area. The temporary river flowing through the landscape, the lack of crowds, the early season weather, and the general wild/neglected feeling.

I’m thankful for a partner who has his shit together. Particularly when it comes to exposed climbing.

We wring every last drop of daylight out of the first day - eventually landing in a protected alcove high above the canyon floor.

Morning coffee with bare feet on red rock. The official open to the coming year.

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We scramble up a few more ledges and find ourselves in the great wide open.

It’s a bit early but we find a (manky) pothole which supports us for the remainder of the day.

Navigation is generally in a in north-northwest fashion. We base our route off a series of sentinel desert towers.

Knowing we have a bit of a water-less long(ish) hot slog for the late afternoon we decide to park it early at a small waterpocket. With enough water to support generous cooking and sipping we revel in the early afternoon.

Soaking up early March warmth from fat sandstone slabs.

For entertainment we pull humorous passages written by a one Michael R. Kelsey.

Morning day 3, the yoke of an early sun greets us on the rim.

We pack up and head out.

Eventually spotting an old route which will carry us east.

The route is sublime. Up and down over rollicking waves of stone.

Eventually we top off, take a breather, and check the map. A massive gash to our west blocks our route. We take off for its head.

We stretch the day out, ambling on the path of most resistance - the canyon rim. We could reach our destination in a more direct fashion but we both prefer to remain canyon-side.

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After a few hours we reach the head.

A pair of moki steps at the (massive) drop. Coming from where? Leading to where?

Next up is the portion I have been dreading for its sheer monotony. We take our heading off a well known landmark in the distance. Heading for it and the canyon that will take us back towards the river.

Eventually things come into clearer view.

But not without some hiccups. While jaw-droppingly gorgeous the route finding becomes increasingly more involved.

And sketchy. On the other side of this trip I’m bummed that the camera got tucked away for so long during this stretch. The descent off the slickrock required packs (well, my pack) to be removed and as a result the camera was stashed away. The following few hours were a great mix of gritty progress with a few beautiful slickrock ramps allowing seemingly impossible forward momentum. I guess all I can offer is my word.

With the sun slung low in the sky we finally pick our way over, up, down and through to reach the canyon floor we’d been seeking.

The morning commute the next day is wonderful.

Clear, cold, running water abounds.

We curve gently around a bend and our proposed exit comes into view.

Up we go.

A special note has to be made here. The next few hours of walking were some of the most enjoyable of my life. I am eager to return to this zone for some less purposeful wandering.

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Navigating is a bit tricky and we make a few errors.

But eventually we get it together.

And find the crux slickrock bench that connects it all. The river flows gently far below.

The climbs are big long gut busters. But the sheer giddiness of the locale helps keep the mind off the pain.

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We finally connect up to a known route. We swing west, making for the river.

In the waning light of day we pull off shoes and wade across.

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Bedding down we’re lulled to sleep by rippling sand waves.

In the morning its transition time.

While the river is generally less work than walking - there are prolonged spots of what my friend Jason calls “lubricated hiking.”

Snapping some shots for studio inspiration

We make camp at the mouth of a canyon spilling in from the east, enjoying a late evening light show. We luck out as it clears before dark and the stars burn through thin patches of clouds.

In the morning we’re briefly greeted with blue skies.

But the canyon walls hide the reality of the building storm.

Despite the growing haze there is no wind and progress is generally easy going.

We find a large beach river right, still in a patch of sun when we land. Not taking any chances we throw the tent up.

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A light rain overnight we’re greeted to clear crisp skies on the final morning. We dawdle in camp, awaiting the sun find its way to the river corridor before shoving off.

One of the towers we’d used for the overland portion of the trip lit up in the morning sun. Its neat to sit back and reflect on the trip from down at river level.

Another tower, this one viewed from the river

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A few years back I floated this stretch for the first time, utterly speechless in reaction to my surroundings. An ole crusty desert rat who’d run aground in a gear laden canoe pointed to the spire in the distance and explained to me he had christened it “Brigham’s Member.”

In what feels like no time at all we arrive at our exit.

Boats are packed away and we begin walking.

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We top out at the car with just a sliver of light left on the far canyon walls. It was one of the better weeks I can remember.

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