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Header Photo: Just an average hike on an average day in Red Canyon Country.



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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sandtrap 101, A Cautionary Tale


"It isn't the mountain that wears you out; it's the sand in your shoe." 


It was like a walk on the beach, only without soothing white noise waves and a contemplative deep blue sea to put matter over mind. Our slot canyon goal was out of sight, hidden who knows where behind a Godforsaken endless barrage of pink sand heaves and lulls that battered our bows and spirits. Familiar whispers of yet another "mutiny" were bandied about like a badminton birdie. How much sand must be endured to gain this prize? Are we even going in the right direction? Are you sure, John, about this "shortcut?" Our outing was shaping up to have all the appurtenances of a Life metaphor…the qualms, the confusion… false starts and false summits.   

Setting goals is easy, it's seeing them through that's tests one's fortitude. Motivation frequently succumbs to laws of physics and economics—things like gravity, and marginal diminishing returns. It's easiest in the beginning when the goal is in the obsessive /formative stage. "Dude, let's climb Everest!" or "I'm gonna lose 20 pounds over the holidays." 

Sometimes, when a goal demands too much in the way of time and preparation, energy wanes like the elastic waistband of your oldest pair of undershorts. This is especially true when one's "Everest" doesn't loom right out the window as a reminder. Humans need feedback, and they prefer it to be positive. Negative feedback is the achilles heel of resolve. 

We never lost sight of our goal on the previous day's hike; the East Temple filled our sky as well as our motivational tanks; it grew with every measured step. We watched tourists at the Overlook shrink into tiny insects...necks craned upward in wonder at the "fools on the hill." These were tangible marks of progress and positive feedback—like holding the airline ticket to "Nepal" in one's grubby little hand or standing on a bathroom scale that says we lost two pounds over Thanksgiving holidays.

Progress has tremendous psychological power...a magnet-like force that provides impetus and inertia. Our collective inertia of wading a sea of endless dunes with no tangible objective in sight wilted motivation like a cut flower left to bake under the sun.  


The Guide Book warned to prepare for several miles of deep sand, and that we'd need "high ground clearance, four wheel drive" to get to the mouth of Peekaboo's slot. John and Ellen drove a 4 X 4 Ford pick up, and we had our Subaru; no problem, or so we thought. But this was no ordinary sand. This was hourglass sand, bottomless—fine as dust—such that it would take a millions grains to cover the head of a pin. 

After a couple false starts we found the road. It wasted no time in opening its trap door. There were many opportunities to go awry as other trails split left and right. Trail markers lay askew or buried under the last windstorm. 

We stayed the course, following the deepest grooves in hopes that our predecessors knew where we were going. Though the trail was downhill, our Subaru bogged under the strain. We could hear the car's underbelly raking over sand piled in the middle of the road. I tried to maneuver out of the grooves only to be sucked back. Gravity.



Even downhill I was having difficulty maintaining forward momentum. The friction of sand against the car's bottom was sapping horsepower.  I kept the accelerator pinned to the floorboard, and passengers bounced off the walls like lotto balls, grunting with each bottom-out. John's truck was nowhere to be found in my rearview mirror. 


I found an undisturbed plot of sand and eased to a stop, hoping it would float our boat. Finally John and crew rolled up; he wore a blended look of concern and astonishment as he approached…concern that we might not be able to get back out of this sand trap, and astonished that our Subaru got this far into it. We decided to turn around and head back as conditions were only getting worse. A couple of miles of retreat found us on firm ground, a place to park and assess. John Jr. pointed out a shortcut on his map, an ATV trail we could hike to our Peekaboo objective. 


Judging from the scale on the map, we figured Peekaboo was about two miles…more or less. Of course maps don't count ups and downs. We slogged a mile or so, backtracking down our sandy ruts of retreat, to the presumed "shortcut" through the Sahara. Worn out from yesterdays climb up the East Temple, legs complained so loudly that it began to spill from mouths. There were frequent stops at the base of massive dunes to further reassess our "situation," if not question the viability our goal. Climbing sand dunes is a a tedious two steps forward—one point nine steps backwards slugfest. The nearest mountain that could even house a slot canyon looked to be a hundred miles distant. Waaaaa. Waaaaa. 


Eventually, we topped out on another dune, but this time we could see a wash below…far below. Could it be "the wash?" And if so, could we get back up this sand trap? 

We spilled into the wash on wobbly legs, and set to emptying sand from shoes and socks. It's amazing the volume of sand that spilled out. How we could even walk with that much material packed around our feet I'll never understand. But, as you can see, we made it to Peekaboo Canyon, and what goes to "destination" must fight its way back from "destination." Peekaboo's rewards made our misery bearable. 































Once back to our vehicles we re-emptied sand from shoes and socks and set about trying to get the hell back to pavement. It was touch and go…uphill...in deep sand. The Subaru almost stalled a couple times, but "almost" is just another word for "we made it."

Hiking "hindsight" is always 20-20. There are the occasional regrets, but they are far outnumbered by high-fives. We had only prepared ourselves for a "light" hike, assumed we could drive right to the slot, and, who knows, maybe we could have pushed on in vehicles (John!!!). But for every hard-won battle there is both a lesson to be learned and a measure of confidence to be gained. We don't go looking for a "fight," but if shit happens, we are all the better mentally and physically prepared to survive the "worse things" that inevitably befall the curious human's condition.
Peace out to the RV hiker/biker brotherhood,
Keep on Truckin'
mark and bobbie  



20 comments:

  1. Oh my that looks BRUTAL, especially on top of the previous days CLIMB! So glad the slot turned out to be worth it! I hope you gave your body a day off after all of that! :-)

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  2. Huh, I was just there on Thursday. I took BLM Route 102 north of Kanab on hwy 89; only hiked a few miles because I needed to be in Oakley before dark. I read about another route, BLM 1008 to 102. Is that what you took?

    I'm so glad you didn't get stuck - I fear driving in sand!

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    1. susan…there was a "102" in there somewhere :)

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  3. As the one with the loudest "waaaaaa waaaaa," along with all the curse words I uttered from the fetal position in the back seat of the Subaru, I take it all back. A peek into the Peekaboo slot was worth every grain of sand in my shoes. And my socks. And my pockets. And the hemline of my pants. ;-) You described the day so eloquently and perfectly. Such a fascinating oasis in the desert!

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    1. Eloquent? Me??? I hardly cursed in this post!!! :)

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  4. All of a sudden those 5th wheel toyhaulers with a side-by-side ATV in the back looks more interesting. ;-) Loved the pictures of the canyon!

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    1. I know! Where's a freaking ATV when you want/need one!!!

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  5. We often wish we had a real 4WD, but then we realize we'd probably just end up getting into trouble. That's some deeeep sand there...and I know from experience how fine that Utah red stuff is. Glad you made it out.
    Nina (wheelingit)

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    1. You make a good point…I would have never set tire on that road with a two wheel drive!!!

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  6. So Mark...this was a different Peek-a Boo than the one in the Escalante, right? I didn't know there were two. The PeekaBoo I am thinking of is down the Hole in the Wall road out of Escalante...and near Spooky. I am thinking this is actually in Zion, and a different slot...no less gorgeous, no less challenging? I have yet to do PeekaBoo...either one. the Escalante PeekaBoo is on the bucket list...not so sure bout this one however!

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    1. Ah, yes…there is more than one Peekaboo :) This one was an hour out of Zion near Coral PInk Sand Dunes

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  7. Sand is the worst! Boy, it really kills the legs. So very glad you all were persistent. Sure looked like a wonderful slot. The colors are gorgeous!!!

    Mark, is this in the Zion area?

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    1. In the "general" area, yes. Someday maybe I'll show you :))

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  8. I don't drive in deep soft sand, difficult enough to walk in. Love slot canyons. Haven't done this Peek-a Boo, yet. Done Buckskin Gulch off Wire Pass a few times, the road is usually very rough but doable.

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    1. we need to do buckskin… do i need a wetsuit???

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  9. I think we left you guys just in the nick of time. The slot is lovely, but the journey didn't sound like fun at all! So how much do you think your Subaru has depreciated??

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    1. I'm hoping new CV joints are not in the immediate future. but the bottom side sure is scrubbed clean :))

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  10. No doubt I would have figured out a way to get stuck...4x4 or not. But OMG, the photos are stunning, showing the patterns. I'm hoping you are in full agreement that it was worth it.

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