Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dark Canyon 1: The beginning

From Dark Canyon
all my pics here.

I'd already been gone from Boulder for what felt like three weeks straight but I jumped at the chance to help lead a crew of seven Boy Scouts aged 13-15 years through Dark Canyon. Poker tournaments in San Jose and Las Vegas had forced me to miss the equipment shakedown and the always chaotic food buying session (where we unleash multiple crews of cash flush scouts at King Soopers to hunt down every package of available fruit snacks), while a subsequent tournament meant that I'd be leaving the trip early and driving to Vegas.

But I made it for the important part: 6 days and nights in the Utah desert, which this year proved to be windier than Chicago. As we made our way from Boulder to Green River, Utah where I'd be stashing my car before we headed south for the backpacking portion of the trip, I fielded an array of questions: "How do you play poker?" "Will you teach me how to win millions?" "Why don't your car windows stay up?" "What's college like?"

After ditching the car, I grabbed a ride with Mr. ________, a dour but surprisingly knowledgeable old man who told me that he was on some sort of medication that made it so he couldn't taste anything at all. Between handfuls of Cheese Puffs, he relayed that his doctors had advised him to "use this as an opportunity to lose a little weight." Conversation faltered so we retreated to the static-y fm dial offering exactly two selections either sleepy big band arrangements or "Neeeeeeeewwwww Country!!!!".

From Dark Canyon
Two crews spent one night at Goblin Valley State Park before splitting up. Walker, Mr. ______, and I took the seven older scouts and left my dad and a few bright eyed, overly enthusiastic fathers with the younger crew.

The Dark Canyon trailhead is actually on the wrong side of the canyon so we strapped on packs and began the 3 mile trek around to the other side. This canyon garners scant mention in any guidebooks, so Walker and I were relying for info on topos and a trip report by a group of 50 year olds from 2007. Rumor had it that we'd be descending 1,300 feet down a 50 degree sloped scree field to get into the canyon.
From Spring Break 2009 - High Adventure (Walker B.)

From Spring Break 2009 - High Adventure (Truman B.)
The rumors were accurate.

The scouts couldn't wait to start scrambling down. I let them go but told them that if they got careless and broke an ankle, I'd make their passage to the top as jarring as possible. I didn't have to say anything to Mr. _____ to slow his progress; His body accomplished that. He has no menisci in his knee so a descent like this one in high winds and with a full pack must have been excruciating. He fell a few times but managed to jab a walking stick into the rocks each time, thus ensuring that he fell uphill. Some choices are easy. About halfway down the slope, hiship decided that it was through compensating for his knee. This slowed him down further. Before the trip, three adults had advised him to go with the younger boys but he refused, wanting to spend a week camping with his youngest son.

Resting at the bottom I took my pack off, and laid on a rock looking up at the old man 400 feet above me, his son sticking by his side. I was about to turn 28 and I realized that someday that old man would be me. I would be in a canyon or on a mountain somewhere and I'd be cursing my way up or down, refusing to acknowledge that in every person's life there comes a time when the body says no more.

From Spring Break 2009 - High Adventure (Walker B.)
But today was not that day for me. Leaving my pack, I jogged back up to the duo and offered to take his pack. He told me that every part of his body said he should give it up but that I could have it when he died. As the shadows began to lengthen, we made our way into camp where Walker and six eager scouts had dinner cooking on a sandy beach inside Dark Canyon.


JESSIE said...

I wasn't sure where you'd headed out for a week of camping, and after the Denver weenie-blizzard I will say I was wishing you the warmest thoughts :)

Looks amazing. Count me in for at least a day hike this summer. Miss you, buddy. Hope to catch up soon.

Io said...

Empathy and understanding are good traits.