March 9-11th, 2012 *hover over pictures for captions *underlined bits are links!
She stops suddenly in the middle of the trail and I nearly run her over. She turns around and makes that face, fists on her hips. ‘MOM, my legs aw tie-ode.’ So declares my three year old as we reach the 100-foot milestone of our first family backpacking trip. ‘SERIOUSLY?’ I say. ‘Addy, I can still see the CAR. You hiked 5 miles last Sunday, what’s the deal?’ ‘MOM, I’m HUNGWY.’ This isn’t my first pony ride so I magically produce a fruit roll-up and tell her to get her butt in gear.
An auspicious and not very surprising beginning to the Gardiner Year of the Backpack.
Canyonlands National Park is right down the road, at least by Western distance standards. In less than 2 hours we can be on the trail. Saddled with our gung-ho determination to re-enter the world of backpacking with two kids (3 and 8) in tow, we called the back-country office, were told that there were still a few options open if we could drive it like we stole it, threw the crap in the car and crossed our fingers that no one else less than two hours away had the same idea.
Not to worry, we got there late on a Friday afternoon, raced into the office right before they closed and quickly had Big Spring 1 and Squaw Canyon 2 camps reserved. The nice ranger mentioned that if we were going to head up and over into Lost Canyon on the way out to be careful, that if it was icy we might want to reconsider. I smirked and thanked her for the advice. She said, ‘No, really, we’ve had people die in that spot before. Watch yourselves, especially with the kids.’ More on this later.
Big Spring 1 camp is a whoppin’ 1 mile up the trail which was just fine with such a late start. It’s a lovely little camp under the pinyon pines and hidden in its own little box canyon. We set up camp congratulating ourselves on the grueling journey thus far and I followed the kids down to the creek (picture a raging inch of water moving grudgingly downhill). It took about 7 seconds for Addy’s feet to be soaked. I didn’t even have time to forcefully suggest that she might want to take her shoes off before she was up to her ankles. I’d like to say that I have learned not to overly fret about such things since we live in a place that likes to hover around 5% humidity, but that would be a joke. They were dry before I could properly vocalize my exasperation with her.
We moved on to playing on the slickrock around the camp, the kids scrambling up the rocks like monkeys, me getting nauseous any time they got close to edges. It must be the too-easy-to-visualize ‘kid falling off a cliff’ nightmare that has broken my brain. Regardless, no one fell screaming to their deaths, we watched a great sunset and returned to camp to make dinner.
After dark Maisy and Todd went down the trail a bit to use her star chart to pick out a few constellations. On the way back she stepped on a cactus and sent blood-curdling shrieks through the silence of southwest Utah. You probably heard her, no matter where you were. Once she stopped howling I, being the least sympathetic mom in the universe, asked her why on earth she wasn’t wearing shoes. In the desert. Their brains work differently than ours and I use the word ‘work’ non-contextually of course.
The next day we marched to Squaw canyon, another arduous day of four big miles. It gave us plenty of time to mess around, have a leisurely lunch and marvel at how much food the kids were packing away in all that fresh air. Holy crap, if I hadn’t defended the food bag with snarls and bared teeth, I’m pretty sure they would have eaten it all. I diligently made a note to self to bring significantly more food on the next trip. Maybe a beef cow on a lead rope.
Between canyons you must go up and over the chunk of sandstone that delineates each canyon. The big fin that divides Big Spring from Squaw wasn’t too bad – there was a pour-off that required Todd to lower the kids down. It was a spot on which you wouldn’t really want to make too many sudden movements, but once again, no one ended up broken so that was great. We continued up the trail, Addy singing at the top of her lungs something incomprehensible, her voice echoing off of the sandstone walls. I have discovered, through 8 years of research, that children have no inner voice. If it takes root in their brains there is only one trail for it to take – out their mouths. Seeing wildlife is never a concern. But the singing was also a sign that she was HAPPY, something for which I’d trade canyon quietude any day.
We found our next camp and Maisy rolled out her sleeping pad to read one of the books that Todd was carrying as part of the ‘library’ in his pack. ‘Here I am counting ounces on every piece of gear yet I have 3 books, two of them hardcover, that aren’t even MINE in my pack.’ Dads have it hard. I told him to stop bitching – at least she didn’t bring Harry Potter in all its 8-pound glory. I do foresee downloading books onto her iTouch for the Wonderland Trail.
We wandered up the pretty little side canyon next to camp that is also the trail to Lost Canyon. We found some nice fat potholes and headed back down to camp to grab the water filter. I returned with Maisy so that I could show her how to use the filter which she found to be a fascinating procedure for about 12 seconds and then was off looking for crawly things in the puddles.
It was a cold night, getting down to 20 degrees. In a sleeping bag rated 20 degrees 15 years of abuse ago I was made to realize that it was time for a refurb. The kids and Todd were all just fine of course; I, on the other hand, dug through the clothes bag in the middle of the night and woke up with Maisy’s skirt on one leg, her hiking shirt on another, two pairs of socks…whatever I could make fit on my body. Todd and Maisy slept under the stars and woke up completely covered in ice. Coffee and oatmeal never tasted so good…which is saying a lot because oatmeal pretty much sucks. I’ll give my kids credit for not even noticing that it was cold. They are tough little buggers and in their element Out There. Happily the sun was shining on camp within an hour, the gear dried out and we were on our way back to the car via Lost Canyon.
We ran into a volunteer who seemed genuinely confused to come across so small a creature as Addy out there in the back of beyond so early in the morning. He told us that the trail into Lost was ice-free (and therefore we probably wouldn’t die) and that there was plenty of water in Lost Canyon should we need it.
Soon enough we came to the second big fin crossing that led to that Place the Ranger had warned us about. Once I saw it I thought ‘shit, that lady wasn’t kidding’ and proceeded to wish I could just close my eyes and forget where I was. I’m not normally overly neurotic about exposure but there is definitely something about exposing your KIDS to exposure that had my hackles at an all-time high. Luckily Todd’s wits were intact and he without hesitation went through the sketchy part, dumped his pack and came back for the kids one by one before I could even get the rope (15 year old p-cord) out of my pack. Then he made the three of us sit there on the exposed ledge for a picture. I should have thrown up for the picture – it would have been a genuine capture of the moment. Oh, and he took a video. Sadly the video shows nothing of the sheer 200′ drop that is below ‘right here’. Don’t plan on any trip reports from the Hillary step in the near future.
The day was hot and the rest of Lost Canyon was lovely. It is a trail that, in all our years of exploring Canyonlands, we hadn’t been on. It was shady, the water was significant – I had no idea that much water existed anywhere in the park. The last miles after lunch were hot and dry as we slogged our way back to the car. Up and over two last humps of sandstone and we were back, alive, thirsty and still speaking to each other, Addy with a new personal hiking record of a 6-mile day.