Sunday, August 2, 2015

When it gets too hot to hike, go SUPing!

So, to start, I have almost a month of back-logged adventures. It started around the 4th of July climbing 14ers in Colorado, then a trip to Glacier National Park to hike and packraft, with stops in the Tetons, Yellowstone, and other cool spots along the way.  Then I made a pit stop in Colorado, hit up the CDT loop in Rocky Mountain National Park, then Great Sand Dunes National Park, the Bisti Badlands in NM, Mesa Verde National Park, Recapture Pocket in UT, the Grand Canyon to see my pops, then I decided to play in the water a little and found myself in Lake Powell.  I still have plenty more planned in the new few months, but I'm going to try and write about those trips when I find the time.  But honestly, I'm fully enjoying the fact that I can check out and unplug and don't mind a dead computer battery.  It means I'm busy doing other things. :)

But I'm going to try my best to stay up-to-date, and Lake Powell was my latest adventure.  I initially wanted to keep hiking in the Grand Canyon.  There's a proposal to build a gondola near Solitude Point at the Confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado River and I hope to see it before it gets marred with steel and motors.  I'd love for it to never happen, and I hope efforts to block it work, but I truly hate the politics and sale of our beautiful land, and eventually someone sells out.  Unfortunately that's always the case.  Fingers are crossed that it never happens in my, or anyone else's lifetime, but the system is all about money and making "wilderness" accessible for those folks that don't want to dirty their shoes or leave the pavement.  It's a shame. But I've hit 8 national parks so far this summer, and numerous other public lands, and the bootprints rarely leave the paved trails.  And when they do, they leave their trash behind.  But that's another topic...

Anyway, it's pretty hot in the Southwest this time of year, and the hike out to Solitude was going to be at least 20 miles round-trip, and I just wasn't up for more brain cooking, so I retreated to Page, AZ, and decided to rent a standup paddleboard (SUP).  In about a week I will hopefully be paddling around Lake Tahoe with the amazing Sara Fry ( ) as she is circum-swimming the lake.  I would most certainly drown, so instead I'm putting my expired lifeguarding skills to good use and keeping her motivated with whiskey and muscle rubs. Having no idea what it's like to SUP 76 miles in a week, I figured I could dust off my skills with some paddling around Lake Powell.  I contacted one of the few companies in town that rents boards, the awesome Lake Powell Paddleboards, and they rented me a board for two days, gave me some good beta about where to go, and away I went.  I packed my overnight gear in my Hyperlite backpack, lashed it to the SUP, and jumped in.

The joy of being able to jump in the water when it's hot is pretty exciting, and I found plenty of cliffs to jump off along the way.  I was headed for Antelope Canyon, one of the most famous, and photographed, slot canyons in the world.  To access the upper parts of the canyon it is required to go with a tour, as in the past, tourists have been caught in flash floods while deep within the slot.  But, if you paddle to the lower mouth of the canyon via the lake, you can stash your mode of travel, then hike back into the less traveled part of the slot.  It doesn't get as tight as the highly photographed area, but it is still awesome, and you can have it all to yourself.  Google "Antelope Canyon" and I'm sure there are some ahh-mazing pictures out there, but my camera just couldn't do it justice.  You just have to go there yourself.

I hiked back in the canyon, sloshing through some silty, slippery pools of stagnant water, clay caking my feet and toes.  The canyon walls were super steep, and there were multiple spots that I would be shot like a pinball down canyon if a flash flood thundered through.  Thankfully the forecast was clear through the morning and I was able to hike without too much concern, but slot canyons are eerie no matter the forecast, and with every tourist flight overhead I stopped to make sure it was a motor sound, and not a wall of water rushing towards me.  It was entirely uneventful, in a good way, and I appreciated the solitude and company of the birds and lizards.  With no exact end point, I kept hiking further, eager to see how the canyon changed around the next corner, the way the light was bouncing off the walls, and the curves of the sandstone.  Eventually I had to turn around, though part of me still wanted to proceed deeper and deeper.  Unlike a mountain with a summit to signal the end, slot canyons often feel incomplete to me.  I still want to know whats around that next corner.

However, I was hot, the sun directly overhead, the sand burning bare feet, and my water was almost so hot that it couldn't quench my thirst, so I turned back to my SUP and started paddling pack out the wet part of the canyon.

The boaters were much more active in the afternoon, with giant tour boats and speed boats towing tubers.  The wake was a little choppier and I found a protected cove on an island to swim and refuel.  I checked my maps and decided to start paddling back towards my car, grab some extra water, then keep going to find a place to camp for the night.  The weather had different plans for me.  With a huge storm brewing on the northern horizon, I watched lightning strike the mesa repeatedly as I turned into a human sail boat.  Fighting the wind and wake was nearly impossible, and I made very little progress, so I dropped to my knees and starting digging in with each stroke.  I made it to a spot where I could hike up to my car easily, though not the marina, and I decided that was good enough until the wind died down.  I grabbed some water, then sat on the shore as the wind chased the beach goers away.

The wind wasn't letting up, so I decided to go with the current and let the wind take me back to the cove I was at earlier and I found a great spot to set up camp.  There was a perfect 25-ft cliff to jump off of around the corner, so I went for one last dip then started cooking dinner.  Even with the storm off in the distance, I felt confident the weather would stay clear, so I threw my sleeping bag on the ground and waited for the blue moon to peek out from behind the clouds.  There were a few mosquitoes buzzing around, so I tossed my bug net on for a little face protection, since I had been bit in the Grand under my left eye and woke up to a swollen eye, and I figured I would avoid repeating that. Unfortunately, it didn't work out so well for me.

Around 3am I woke up and realized that my face felt funny.  The right side of my face, from chin to forehead was swollen and tingly.  I grabbed my phone and put the selfie camera on my face and realized I had a serious issue.  My lips were swollen, my eye was swollen, and I was obviously disfigured.  I had slept with the bug net on the whole night to this point, but something must have either bit me through it, or got under it and when to town.  Normally I carry Benadryl in my med kit at all times, as I'm a huge fan of the drug because it really can save lives by keeping an open airway when an allergic reaction leads to anaphylaxis.  Of course I didn't have any and had neglected to restock.  Not having any known allergies that lead to anaphylactic shock, but seeing half of my face swollen, I decided that it was a pretty bad idea to stay out on that island by myself if it were to get any worse.  I packed up my camp as fast as I could, loaded up my SUP and started back to my car.  Thankfully the water was glassy and calm, and no boats were on the water at 3am, because I'm 99% sure that paddling in the middle of the night with only a headlamp is against the boater rules, but I decided to take that chance.  Honestly, it was a gorgeous paddle under the blue moon, and it was so bright that I could see the rocks underwater, and I tried my best to enjoy it while staying hyper-aware of my airway.

The paddle back to the car was much quicker without a headwind, and I loaded the SUP on the roof and booked it to the 24hr Wal-Mart.  Or so Google said.  As a child of generation Google, I've learned not to question it's validity, but unfortunately this time it was wrong.  But I kept driving around until I found a 24-hr gas station that had a whole 24-ct box.  I popped two of those bad boys, drove back to Wally World and promptly passed out in the back of the Subaru.

My drug induced sleep was heavy, and I woke up late in the morning, in a steaming hot car, still with a swollen face, but breathing.  Too groggy to handle much heavy thinking, I lollygagged around town before driving to a different boat launch to get back on the water.  I wasn't sure I had the energy to go paddling, and considered returning the board early, but it proved a great distraction for my face, and the swelling receded as I paddled around Lone Rock and looked for cliffs to jump off and canyons to explore. I even managed to glide right into a bay where 15 Bighorn desert sheep were hydrating, and they let me sit and watch them for nearly 20 minutes, prancing on near vertical sandstone, locking horns and bleating at me.

After returning the SUP, I pointed the Subi towards the greatest state on the planet, Utah, and headed north.  I was feeling drained and with a sloppy car interior in need of tiding, so I pulled into a 4 wheeler recreation area early, just outside Kanab, UT, and was looking for a place to camp when I spotted a guy waving his illuminated cell phone with gusto.  Just behind him was a truck nearly rolled on it's side, and he came running over to me shaken up and in need of help.  My car wasn't going to do him any good, but I cleared out the passenger seat and brought him back to town so he could try and get ahold of someone to help him.  He was new to town, and it turned into a comedy of drunken errors (him being the drunk one...probably a factor in the nearly flipped truck...), but he was friendly, and I left him at his place to solve his problems in the morning while I went off to find a camping spot, again. He was super appreciative of the help though, and he wasn't hurt, so hopefully it works out for him.

I woke up this morning feeling much more relaxed, my face completely back to normal, and I drove through Zion National Park, enjoying the always beautiful views.  The visitor center was swamped and I kept my road rage in check as rude drivers stole my parking spot on 2 occasions as I politely waited for a car to back out.  Annoyed, I headed to a roadside pull-off near a boulder with some climbing routes on it and threw my crash pad in the red dust and pumped out some frustration on the side of the road.  It felt great to get on some rock, and my crash pad has officially been christened with red rock and chalk dust, a fitting place for it to happen.  There's no such thing as too many hobbies!

I'm headed onward to SLC, and to my first real shower in 2 weeks.  But I swear, I don't smell. :)

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a lot of adventures.
    Seems you were wise to address the swollen face thing rather than waiting it out solo!