Biking, Hiking, and Scrambling

25 June 2012 in Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling

 

Biking on Johnson Canyon RoadMy apologizes upfront, this is going to be a long one.

To start the day we awoke early and went on a 14 mile bike ride up and back down Johnson Canyon Road. This scenic, and ill-traveled road winds through a valley of grassland, ranches and towering canyons first of the red sand stone variety and later of the white. We passed picturesque fields with beautiful horses and were later chased by two large, white dogs along a barbed wire fence line. Unexpectedly one of the dogs ended up jumping through the fence and loosing a large chunk of fur in the process. I stopped and confronted the dog, cool, calm and dominant. When you encounter a strange, aggressive dog never show any fear if you can help it. Continuing to ride the dog may have attacked, but by standing it down it merely barked from a distance until its owner high above on the hill convinced it to return.

Moo!Next we wanted to visit Bull Valley Gorge and Willis Creek and decided the most direct route would be Skutumpah Road. While this is the most direct and actually quickest route to these areas and Bryce Canyon, it is certainly also the bumpiest, roughest and most body jarring route. I think we had fillings come loose on this road. My organs were still reverberating days later.

But it is a beautiful drive when your eyes adjust to all of the shaking. It’s set south of Bryce Canyon and affords you magnificent views from the bottom up. For those who haven’t been, Bryce Canyon National Park is set above on the rim of the canyon (which really isn’t a canyon) and it’s trails wind through the iconic hoodoos, but you never get a full view from below. Here on bumpy old Skutumpah we were able to take in a grand view of the entire park. Its red, orange, and yellow landscapes contrasting the surrounding sandy cliffs and buttes dotted with greenery.

It must be noted here, a little out of context, that we passed the shabbiest looking “airport” ever on our way. I guess technically it was just a runway, but technically it was also just a grassy stretch of land with a small sign. No lights, no markers, nothing. Landing there must be a bit like driving on the road we were on, but at higher speeds with more injury inducing potential.

Bull Valley GorgeOur plan was to hike Bull Valley Gorge today, camp and hike Willis Creek the following day. Just before arriving at the trailhead parking lot—a two space, uneven, indentation in the road—we crossed a very dicey looking “bridge” consisting of a mass of gravel dumped into the gorge. About as wide as a full size truck and no more. Later we would see the remains of a jeep which had unfortunately missed this bridge and crashed into the gorge costing three individuals their lives. The jeep remains still wedged high above the floor of the gorge.

But crossing the bridge was just the beginning of a long slightly risky behavior streak. The hike back to the entrance of the gorge straddled a fine line between trail and a long fall. The trail hugged a 45 degree slant of loose gravel with a long fall to the left and little to stop it should momentum turn on you. But progressively the gash in the land rose and soon the drop was a small slide into the gorge. And so we entered and began backtracking towards the bridge.

As we went the smooth and wave-like side walls oscillated in and out as they grew higher and higher above us. Small scrambles were required to continue, but one in particular brought us to an extended pause. Here a large boulder was wedged in the gap and added a good two feet to an otherwise easy scramble down. We were roughly eight feet above the next section of floor and below the wedged boulder was nothing. It created an overhang with nothing to step down to.

So I tested my own wedging capabilities. The walls were close enough that I felt I could place my back on one side and my feet against the other and slowly walk myself down. But once I got down the question was could I get back up? And the next question was did Lindsay wish to partake in this leap of faith. After a couple of false starts I finally lowered myself down. Before asking Lindsay to join me I ran ahead to insure another barrier wasn’t waiting for us around the next few corners. After affirming the trail was manageable ahead I returned and Lindsay and I discussed how we would get her down and how we would later get back up. It seemed pretty probable that I could lift her up on my shoulders and that I might be able pull myself up over the rock using a small tether someone had wedged in the gap and left.

Bull Valley GorgeAfter lowering her safely down we proceeded into the depths of the gorge. Besides some small scrambles over a few boulders and a quick duck under a massive rock which had fallen in we were able to make our way to the old jeep that is wedged in the gorge sum seventy five feet up. The gorge as a whole was beautiful, but the jeep was a sad reminder of the dangers of this mostly untamed and remote desert. After a short hike beyond the jeep we returned to the obstacle that had remained gnawing in the back of our mind since we had left it an hour before.

I was certain I could get Lindsay over the wedged boulder, but I had far less certainty that I would be able to scale it alone. After lifting Lindsay up, by having her stand upon my shoulders I took a quick break to regain my strength. Then I wedged myself in and attempted to walk upward, legs straight out, back flat against the wall. After a few steps it was a no go. Remembering I had descended facing the other direction I turned around. This was much better and after some strained movement I was able to slump my body over the large rock and shimmy over. Success!

Good NightAfter making our way out we drove further north on bumpy old Skutumpah Road until we arrived at Willis Creek. We would hike this tomorrow morning so we went past and began to scout for a good place to camp. Up on a hill, just off the road was a previously disturbed site where others had camped before and so we set up shop. With the tent up and daylight fading we toasted a couple of hot jars of whisky and soda which had been sitting in the sun all day, no ice, to a successful day of hiking and exploration. And after dinner, when the sun had set, we crawled atop the truck and watched the stars make their appearance, popping holes in a pitch black sheet of night sky.

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