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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Break On Through Conclusion: Plus a digression on "How we are loving our favorite National Park to Death"


Last you read, a foursome of bewildered over-the-hill Geezers were four hours invested in a farcical attempt to orienteer a wilderness back-country loop-route around "the mountain."  Why? Because two of us knew it had been done before, and because it was there...like, defiant and thus oh so tempting.

After a pleasant cliff-side lunch, operating on gut instinct and by seats-of-pants, John, Charmaine, Bobbie and yours truly, navigated a way down from our perch via a series of cliffs and into "the canyon" that stood between us and "the mountain." A pervasive "we can do this" kind of optimism was evident in our giddy trail chatter. But as time and miles set in, and lunch wore off, and ole Sol began to cast elongated  shadows, exhilaration morphed from statement to question and Conviction ebbed to concern

Zion's lonely untracked Wilderness
Wilderness can be intimidating. Mountains and wild places demand respect, because, as the adage goes, they don't care if you live or die. People often ask, What if you get seriously injured way out there? The question is valid, as there is generally zero cell service among mountains and canyons we most love to explore. One misstep or wrong turn can turn a fun outing into a rescue and helicopter ride.    

Not to be callous or caviler, but to me risk is an inherent component of a life well lived. I am in full philosophical agreement with Hunter S. Thompson: Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow!"   


Easy peasy when treading on sandstone

Look, the good ole days are gone; we live in a short-tempered world nowadays where a single deranged zealot can wreak carnage on innocent bystanders...men and women and children going about their day at work or school, concert goers, bars, theaters, malls, churches, parks, offices, parties...anywhere; it now happens everywhere. 

Add to that growing "risk," road rage, device-distracted and/or drunk/high drivers, and, well, I kinda like my chances in wilderness settings. That said, an emergency satellite device is slowly working its way up the priority list. Maybe by my 70th birthday it will reach the top...if I make it to 70, that is. Yeah, Old Grim...you never know.   


Looking for a route around "the mountain"
The thing about going down, down, down into a canyon, is that, at some point, likely toward the end when one is most fatigued, they must come up.

There's a wonderful world of color and formations awaiting exploration in Zion's back-country
The upside of back-country exploration is when one stumbles across secrets it holds for those willing to risk, things like mind-bending color, dazzling anthropomorphic formations, and hundreds to thousands of square miles of emptiness with few to none in the way of Human Beings. Unless, it now seems, you happen to be in a National Park.

Bobbie and I were gobsmacked with a sense of utter disbelief the first few times we visited Zion's Main Corridor. There were no shuttle busses in those days. In fact, we could find parking at any trailhead we chose...even on weekends. But years trip by and so, too, the escalating number tourists pouring through the turnstiles, nearly doubling 2007's 2.5 million visits to 4.5 million in 2017.

As with any "civilized society," more people means more rules. Regulations are implemented: shuttle busses, hiking permits, parking meters (@ 20 bucks per day), and so on. Still, undeterred by crowds, they come...enduring long lines at entry stations that occasionally back up through Springdale for miles, and gabby throngs of trail people...some of which, you discover later, have crept into almost every single one of your photos, along with the tourist helicopter that flies overhead.   

Even with huge crowds, Zion's main corridor allows visitors an opportunity to experience true astonishment at its sheer cliffs and improbable trails. The price paid today is a "sardine can" shuttle bus ride, nuts to butts with a hundred other tourists you never wanted to have such intimate contact with. As John pointed out to me on the trail after I mourned the loss of "good ole days," It's good that people are getting outside and seeing the wonders of nature. He's right. In those numbers, perhaps, lies future preservationists and the salvation of wilderness.  

At 4.5 million visits per year, Zion remains a solid number 3 hold on the list of "most visited" National Parks. It will soon overtake Grand Canyon's 5 million visitors. Parking spaces and shuttle bus seats in Zion are fast becoming competitive events. It seems solitude, along with breathing and elbow room—the very things we seek from National Parks—is fast becoming an endangered commodity.  Think about it. Well over 330 million tourists visited our National Parks last year. With the USA's population at 325 million, well, that's both a compelling and telling statistic.   

I can't help but wonder what would Thoreau think of how we've devalued National Parks into Disney-like amusement parks, transforming the guardians of Nature and solitude into "drive-by" thrill-ride experiences. It's oxymoronic—hiking lockstep in a long procession of fellow humans in search of peace. How silly and counterproductive is that?

In her "What a Body Knows" column for Psychology Today,  Kimerer LaMothe, Ph.D. writes that Thoreau "was concerned that the obsessive-consumptive habits of society were dulling people's senses and enslaving them to a quantity and quality of labor that failed to nourish their best selves. As he lamented, 'The better part of man is soon plowed into the soil for compost,' with predictable results. While the production of goods and services and the technological mechanisms for making and marketing them all flourish, individual humans don't. Depressed by the sense-numbing pace of life, people crave distractions from expensive entertainment that tie them ever more tightly to their treadmills."  

If you can't go to a National Park to escape life's "sense-numbing pace" and "treadmills," then where? 
I digress...

Bengal Tiger Rock


 We found ourselves on the edge and far side of the narrow slot canyon shown at the far left in the above photo, so narrow it was almost "jumpable" (if one happened to be an Olympic Long Jumper) but it was way-deep and thus I thought,  time to turn around.  Dark, un-forcasted  clouds gathered above us. Soon I could feel little spits of rain on platting my sunburned face.
Where was I?  Oh yeah: 5 hours in, cliff-hung by a slot canyon and in search of a way up or around and out of a situation that was inching toward "predicament." 

John's previous down-mountain reconnaissance foray hadn't revealed a slot canyon dead end. All he saw was a thin dark shadow cast by low sun against the undulating landscape, and thus didn't consider it worthy of further investigation.  With his assurance, we climbed down, down, down till, bingo, there was a slotted impasse... too wide to jump and deep enough to kill you if you failed in your attempt.  Rather than admit defeat...turn around and start backtracking like I thought we should have...the optimist in our group thought we should continue on... ascend to a nearby highpoint, a molehill, in reality, in order to survey the landscape for a possible way around the slot. Okay... 

The problem with route finding in steep, "cliffy" terrain is that you can't always see what lies beyond the next rise. The only way to know if it's passable is to hike down and have a look, which invariably leads to yet another rise you can't see beyond, and so on. This hike was beginning to remind me of Wiley E. Coyote's misadventures, fast becoming a classic example of how to dig a hole deeper than you can escape and end up digging till the bottom falls out and go sailing into a canyon. If not careful, we could find ourselves holding a flashlight instead of hiking poles. This reminded me to see if I even had one in my pack. Whew, I did...and it worked.

Meanwhile, the weather gods continue to spit... (really gods? what good are you?)

Long story shortening now, remarkably, we managed a way around the slot; it involved some all-fours climbing and clinging to dead vegetation, but, as they say, desperate times call for stupid measures...or something like that.  When we eventually topped out on a ledge level enough to stand up straight, we spied a nice sized herd of bighorn sheep.


Above and below photos contain a herd of barely visible bighorn sheep 


John inches closer to photograph the bighorn sheep
Under dark clouds and spitting rain, the afternoon slip sliding toward dusk, we fist-bumped at our success in negotiating a route around "the mountain." Bobbie and I were on familiar ground at that point, and knew of a shortcut route back to the car via another yet one more "pass." 

Up and to the left of the above peak lies our shortcut... 

Ah, familiar ground! Where moody skies turn to a friendlier blue


Thrilled, but weary in the legs...still a ways to go, tho.



With Zion's red highway in sight, we have but one more cliff to navigate :) 
Six and one half hours from start, we removed sore feet from sand filled boots and slumped into the comfort of our cushy carseats. A happy ending to an epic back country Zion adventure, where we saw nary a soul...

Peace out,
mark and bobbie...along with "full timers" John and Charmaine.

23 comments:

  1. That was a long day! Utah breaks my heart. Moab is overrun as is Zion. Although just about everything is overrun, so I guess one decides to put up with it, or one decides to stay home.

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    1. Or one decides to push into the untrammeled back country... :)
      It is heartbreaking tho...long lines, crowded trails, Disney atmospheres...and in Moab, how the noise, dust-cloud motor heads have taken over. :(
      You can still find solitude...but you sure have to work for it these days.
      thanks, mark

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  2. Did the all-fours climbing and clinging to vegetation involve any length of rope? ;-) I'm happy to have missed that hike, but glad you finally connected the dots.

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    1. I had "the rope," 75 feet :), but it stayed in my pack as usual. I offered it several times; No takers...
      You can do that hike, Gayle... especially now that we know a way around "the mountain."
      Next year!
      mark

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  3. I would be so lost out there with my poor sense of direction! I would have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs or something to make it back to the car. My daughter's family did the Narrows this summer. Started it early in the morning on the first shuttle and going in was not too bad crowdwise. But when they turned around to walk out, they felt like they were walking against a crowd of people leaving a stadium from a ball game. She said it was unbelievable the mass of people walking in.

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    1. I'm so glad we did our first Narrows wade in '99. Hardly anyone. Since then we've done it 2 twice, and each time it gets busier. I heard horror stories this year...
      mark

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  4. You will have to have a HELICOPTER RESCUE in the next post to top this adventure.
    God those photos were epic backcountry Utah and that Header photo knocked our socks off.....dam.....would have loved to been there!
    You won't forget that hike for long time I bet and I hope the rest of the season stays that beautiful for you both.

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    1. My Sonoma pals. Tie a knot in your "rope" and hang on. These fires and tragedies will pass...
      love you guys,
      mark

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  5. Wow, great story! But I would have been walking in circles, like a crazy buzzard... Your pictures are so great to see.

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    1. Thanks Ava. I appreciate both your noticing and your comment :)
      mark

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  6. Probably one of my top favorite posts of yours, Mark. The digression was well worth reading and a very familar sentiment. I feel lucky to have experienced some of Zion in the backwoods so to speak, away from crowds with you all. Still, we have the same issues up here. Except in the North Cascades, probably the least or close to least visited park in the country ;)

    Some stand out lines:
    "exhilaration morphed from statement to question. Conviction ebbed to concern."
    "we live in a short-tempered world nowadays where a single deranged zealot can wreak carnage on innocent bystanders"
    "The price paid today is a "sardine can" shuttle bus ride, nuts to butts with a hundred other tourists you never wanted to have such intimate contact with"
    "It's oxymoronic—how hiking lockstep in a long procession of fellow humans in search of peace is counterproductive."

    Thanks.

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    1. That means a lot, especially when it comes from a blossoming soul and writer...
      Here's to Hot Springs and wine and your true girl-friends.
      Cheers,
      mark

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  7. Great post. What a crazy adventure. I certainly don't have the bravery to go wandering off trail or planned route in canyon country. That truly is a place that could swallow a person whole.

    Enjoyed the diversion as well. I'm sure you've read Desert Solitaire. Abbey expressed many of the same sentiments 50 years ago:

    “Industrial tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.”

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    1. You are right, Jill. I'm so thankful (and selfish enough) that 95% of the "tourists" flock to the Main Attractions and leave the rest of the park to those who are in search of solitude and untrammeled places. The abundant sandstone allows us to climb and descend terrain that would otherwise be too steep, as well as prevents "footprints" tuning into paths. Love It.
      mark

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  8. That sounds like a great day in the Zion backcountry. Maybe next time the route could be pushed even further, now that you know the way. So true about the overrun National Parks. Luckily most are big enough to have some less popular fringe areas.

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  9. Right on. After all, the Red Rocks Gang of Geezers are proud members of the "fringe," the Lunatic Fringe...
    Thanks Chris. Bobbie and Iook forward to sharing some boondocks and hikes with you come January!
    mark

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  10. What a most excellent day in every way!

    I hate that so many beautiful places are getting over run by so many folks, but yeah, it IS good that people are not just sitting on their butts...they're getting out into nature and on their feet. Thank goodness there are still some places left to find solitude.

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    1. Thanks Lisa. I hope you enjoy coming off the road and your new sticks and bricks in Prescott. I wish you solitude and peace with your decision...not that you won't downsize your rig and become Part Timers like Bobbie and me :).
      mark

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  11. Sure glad some folks, like you but not all, still have the skills and desire to get off the beaten path which if the numbers keep increasing will be worn too deep to see a thing except the butt in front. As always, your photos and stories are extraordinaire.

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    1. Thanks Gaelyn...I enjoy your photos as well.
      mark

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  12. That was an epic adventure - I'm glad that you had the satisfaction of seeing it through all the way around the mountain.

    As parks and even wilderness areas have gotten more crowded, we've figured out alternative strategies like hiking on weekday evenings in the summer and finding "secret" places that are not known. We spend lots of time staring at topo maps to find those places! Usually leaving the trail and bushwacking (or wandering the desert rocks) leaves the crowds behind us.

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  13. A year ago, we spent a month "camped" in Leeds, just north of St. George. It was in December. We wanted to see Zion after a snowfall, while also being able to actually drive Zion Canyon without the shuttle that is required during the rest of the year. We also were hopeful that there would be no crowds this time of the year. Well, I suppose two out of three aren't bad. We had snow and drove our own car. But, if we really thought it would be uncrowded in December, we were WAY wrong. Less crowded maybe, but crowded nevertheless.
    The thing about risk-taking is that, although there may be danger, the sheer exhilaration when the helicopter is avoided is worth rinsing and repeating.

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  14. Usually a good lesson in your posts! As I hike and ride most often by myself, need to be disciplined to keep the risk down. Interesting hike to avoid the crowds!!





    Cheers,
    Dave

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