Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Best - Part 3

It was a crisp and beautiful night. The stars reminded me of the skies I had seen as a kid with better vision. We woke to clear skies and fantastic views. I had slept with my feet toward the river so the first view I saw was a butte named Explorer's Monument across the river.

Colorado River.
The rappel and the route to the river are hidden in the details of this photo. (Larger version)

Using the last of our water we made coffee and had a bar for breakfast. The sun came over the cliffs behind us and began to paint the tops of the formations in the canyon. Near the edge of the drop to the river was a seven feet tall pile of stones that demanded investigation. We did some exploring and looked back in the direction that we had come the previous night to see what we had missed in the dark.

Finally, we began to search for the route to the river. A faint path marked occasionally by a stack of stones led east, turned north and then turned back west. In a small drain we saw a pile of stones that led us north to the rim above the river. However, it appeared the path continued west before fading away. It was unclear which route was correct. At the bottom of the drain was a tree that blocked most of the passage. I leaned over the edge and saw muddy prints on the stone wall which I assumed were left by the three men whom we had met the previous day. However, this didn't seem right. The distance to the ledge and the conditions made it a tough and dangerous climb. Using the rope I climbed down to the second ledge and found what I think was the location of the rappel but there was no webbing and nothing to use as an anchor. I turned back west and followed the ledge to the next drainage and made my way back to the top. Now the need for the rope to climb down to the second ledge and vague path that we found earlier made sense. We had taken the wrong drainage which was marked by a pile of stones.

Small water hole.
We filtered four quarts of water from the small hole beside Todd on the left. My son is on the right. (Larger version)

I rejoined Todd and my son. We were out of water and the closest water was the river just one-half mile farther but didn't feel good about continuing. Todd tossed out the idea of turning back and exiting via Point Huitzil. A fantastic idea! I had wanted to start the hike via Point Huitzil so the option immediately caught my interest. Also, I had an ulterior motive as I told the guys. Julie would get home from Dallas on Wednesday and this would get us home the same day.

We started up the drainage and I saw a hole of water. We filtered four quarts of water and drank part of it. Jokingly I said that I was an optimist and that I was going to look for more water higher in the drainage. We walked fifteen feet to a higher level and found another hole with two quarts of water. We stopped and filtered it.

The hike back to Royal Arch Creek gave us views that we missed in the dark the previous night. The trip seemed short.

Back to Royal Arch Creek.
Walking back to Royal Arch Creek. (Larger version)

Walking beside Royal Arch Creek canyon.
Royal Arch Creek is on the right of our path. (Larger version)

Cautious descent.
My son prepares to climb down. We climbed up this in the dark with head lamps. (Larger version)

Pool of water to wade.
This is the pool of water that required stripping form the waist down. (Larger version)

Alternate Route.
My son pulls Todd's pack through the tight spot on the alternate route. (Larger version)

After cooking lunch and loading up on water we started back up canyon, waded the two holes of water, climbed the oblique slick rock and struggled up the steep loose climb to the alternate route. Late in the day we began looking for a camp site about fifty feet up the canyon side.

That night I lay down without giving thought to the following day. I hadn't done much research on the Point Huitzil route. I'd never read about anyone exiting; everyone had entered the canyon that way. I didn't know where to find the route but assumed the topo map would give some clue. I'd look at the map when we got near the area.

As I lay gazing at the stars I saw a meteor. It was a good end to a good day. Little did I know that the next day would be one of the most exciting hiking days of my life.

Camp site.
Our camp site. (Larger version)


Blogger Tim Hodgens said...

Well, um, when you have to, you know, take a you bury it...or um, um, carry it out?

just wondering!

3/28/2010 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Ah, Tim, a most excellent question. I wonder how many people are curious but are afraid to ask.

The short answer is take trowel, tissue paper and ziplock bags, find an appropriate spot away from water sources with several inches of soil, dig a cat hole, use it, cover it and put a stone over it. Placed the used tissue paper in a ziplock bag and return trowel, unused tissue and bag to the backpack.

Now, the long answer.

There's a book that I've seen on the shelves and had recommended to me by a faculty member at a university in Texas where we worked. The book: How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art by Kathleen Meyer. I haven't read the book but do have it on my "maybe someday" list.

Camp overnight in White Sands, New Mexico, and everything must be packed out. There are parts of the John Muir trail in California where the same rule applies. And, there are others

Recently the Backcountry Information Center at the Grand Canyon mailed WAG bags to selected individuals issued permits for a highly used and environmentally stressed area. "A Wag Bag kit contains a large waste bag for depositing waste, some toilet paper, a hand sanitizer towlette, and a small zip-lock pouch to hold the waste bag."

Here's a discussion among backpackers: and a statement by the National Park Service.

One backpacker made a comment something to the effect "we dehydrate food but the WAG system will cause our packs to be heavier when we climb out of the canyon".

As I understand it, the park service isn't considering implementing the WAG system in all of the Grand Canyon but only in selected areas.

There have been forest fires named after toilet paper because some backpacker decided to burn the paper with unintended results.

I have read debates between burying waste and smearing it on a rock. The theory is that in a dry environment buried waste does not decompose quickly. By smearing it on a rock the sun will kill organisms, dry it and it will disappear into the environment more quickly.

There are other sensitive issues and solutions to personal hygiene that backpackers learn quickly. A young lady who hiked the Appalachian Trail last summer included this advice on her journal. "- Butt chafage…’nuf said. I highly recommend “Butt Paste”, a diaper rash ointment found in the baby aisle. I carried this from Pennsylvania to the end but only needed to use it a few times." (This young lady has a fascinating journal.)

A good question!

3/28/2010 11:48:00 AM  

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