Saturday, September 18, 2010

Escalante Slot Canyons

"We'd better find a place to hide our backpacks", my Uncle Franz directed, "because we won't be able to make it through the narrow slot canyons with them on."

We were in the middle of a desert, so moving forward without the food and water in our packs required a little faith. We'd carried our packs as we hiked through red desert sand and across barren slick rock to reach the entrance of Peek-A-Boo Gulch, in southern Utah's Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Uncle Franz grew up around here. He and my Aunt Margaret have spent their adult lives ranching around here. They'd both been through these slot canyons before, so I trusted them and obediently hid my pack in the bushes. We did keep at least one water container to share among ourselves, carried by my strong and agile cousin Jim.

We then turned our attention to climbing up the person-sized steps at the entrance to Peek-A-Boo Gulch.

Jim lead the way, climbing and jumping in a way that would make a mountain goat proud.

Both Jim and Franz carried ropes, so they could better assist the rest of us:

Here's Jim helping Uncle Franz:

And Jim helping his delightful wife Mikki:

Franz often stayed behind, so he could help Aunt Margaret, Mikki, and I--lifting us or giving us boosts as needed. At this point, Franz kindly held his foot on the rock to be a backup foothold for me as I climbed up:

I found it comforting to have these strong, helpful, kind men at the head and tail of our climbing party.

I wasn't very graceful as I climbed, but I didn't care. I just felt grateful to have the strength and size that allowed me to experience this beautiful place!

After climbing up the big steps, we entered the narrow canyon.

At times it was easier to climb along the canyon walls than to squeeze through the narrow openings near the ground:

Sometimes the canyon would make a sharp turn at a narrow point, requiring some fancy footwork and flexibility to make your way though:

We enjoyed seeing some of the unusual formations in the canyon, like this hole:

We also enjoyed hearing my Aunt Margaret tell jokes. She'd play the the child's "Peek-A-Boo" game with us, popping her head around corners to surprise us and then bursting out with her contagious laughter as we climbed up Peek-A-Boo gulch. Once at the top, we hiked a half mile to come back down through another canyon called Spooky Gulch. Margaret kept us laughing with the spooky ghost sounds she made along the way. I have a perfect video of her saying "Spoooooooooky Gulch", but she's requested that I not put her picture on the internet, and I haven't had the time to edit the video to make it sound only, so you'll have to imagine my cute and funny aunt doing that.

Here's a photo of the fun and sweet Mikki coming through the rough-textured walls of Spooky Gulch.

I loved the way that the light shown down into the canyon:

and highlighted the dust we'd stirred up:

and bounced off the beautiful wavy canyon walls:

and made cool shapes along the smooth rock:

At one point in Spooky Gulch, we weren't sure how we could get through--the canyon had a large dropoff on the other side of the rock Uncle Franz is looking over.

So, we talked, and Jim explored (worming his way through the tunnels under the rocks, but advising us that the rest of us probably couldn't fit through that way), until we finally came up with a plan. It involved throwing a rope over one of the rocks:

As Jim held the rope from one side of the rock, we lowered ourselves down 10 or 12 feet from the other side of the rock.

It was kind of scary. Here I am beginning my descent:

Me wearing my serious face:

Making our way through the slot canyons was challenging, but also very beautiful and satisfying:

Getting through was definitely a team effort, and I felt grateful to be there with such a fun and wonderful team!


Lori said...

Good for you! What an amazing accomplishment! The beauty and adventure never ends.

Laurie said...

You are some pretty brave hikers! Good for you!

Paigeo said...

Living in that beautiful area, and doing ranch work has always sounded like heaven to me. Those cousins are lucky.

You are too.

Beautiful photographs!

kj said...

How did you negotiate a guided tour by such delightful people? What fun! Your pictures are stunning.