Twig Adventures

HayDay 2: The Great Wall

Sunday, April 2nd, 2023, 0730-1500
Arches National Park, S1 mm 11.7 to mm 24 Lions Park\Moab
12 miles, elevation 4,000′

A coyote call to dawn was a great alarm clock in the morning. It was 32 degrees as I awoke but I felt pretty warm all night. One of the downsides of wash camping is that they can be cold sinks. Also there’s no protection from condensation, but thankfully it was dry and breezy enough for this not to be a problem overnight. We climbed out of the wash to begin an alternate across the slickrock and the sun hit us almost immediately. It warmed pretty quickly and soon we were stripping layers and donning sun protection. The slickrock alt was very cool and fun. We didn’t actually follow the line on the map but rather made up our own. Comments warned of the cryptobiotic soil but we managed to keep out of it by weaving from the slickrock to the ridges of the sand dunes where it didn’t grow. We were surprised to find heaps of potholes full of water, some deep and wide enough to swim in. The slickrock was actually a tapestry of peaks and valleys, each with its own micro habitat. It was essentially an ancient dune field… very beautiful and unique.

The main route followed upper Courthouse wash, which was reported to be a bushwhack through willows and wading across deep beaver ponds. No thanks. But there was a price to pay for avoiding the wash. We had to eventually drop into the valley and to do so required scaling a massive wall… it was called the Great Wall actually. It was probably at least 500 feet vertical and very daunting to look down on. The one spot that could be descended was sloped more than any other and involved a series of banks and ledges. The goal was to go from one ledge down to the next by whatever was the smallest drop or where there were ramps connecting 2 ledges. We spent a lot of time pondering each spot and often looking for something easier. There were one or 2 spots that made me uncomfortable, just because the exposure was so great and not because they were technical. We only passed packs down one of the ledges, the rest we were able to do with packs on.

In the end, it was one of the coolest scrambles I’ve ever done and I was glad we took the alternate. But I sure wouldn’t want to do it when it’s wet! I also breathed a big sigh of relief when we were at the bottom. We rejoined Courthouse wash and made it to where the park road crossed. We decided to walk lower Courthouse wash, even though there was yet another alternate that looked interesting. We figured doing some part of the wash was kind of integral to the Hayduke experience.

We quickly came to a water crossing that looked deep and muddy. We hadn’t seen any easy crossings beforehand so we thought we’d have to cross or go back to the road. I decided to don my camp shoes and strip my tights. We scouted for the best spot for awhile. I couldn’t see the bottom anywhere so I picked a spot that was wider and had a sand bank jutting out. I went in for a trial without my pack. It was a no-go 2 steps in. I sank to my knees in the quicksand and the water came up to my waist. I used my poles to stay upright and self-rescue from the mud, throwing all my weight back towards the bank. I had to extract my feet slowly lest I loose my cherished camp shoes to the mud. Thankfully they were full-foot shoes and tight like socks.

While an utter failure, I was very glad I didn’t have my pack on and I learned something from my experiment with my new neoprene socks. I’d been using one as a storage sack and protective sleeve for my filter, which I’d mistakenly packed inside my sleeping bag in the morning. So I put the other one on just to see what difference it made. It was a perfect match for my camp shoe, keeping my foot warm and displacing all the sand and gravel that gets inside the shoes normally. I decided to walk the rest of Courthouse wash with my water shoes and one sock, all 6 miles. I’ve walked such distances in the shoes before and they are very comfortable…just very minimalist. I felt every rock but they felt great in the sand and the sock made the shoe even better. I considered wearing the combination for more of the river and creek sections ahead. Plants, if you’re reading this, I absolutely was using the heck out of my camp shoes (personal joke)!!!

We ended up backtracking and finding an easy place to cross that we’d missed, not even requiring wet feet. The rest of the 20 or so crossings were the same…just lots of scouting and backtracking. In one spot, I refused to go back and thought I could make it across a sketchy split log. I went headlong into it and immediately realized it was extremely wobbly. Too late to turn back, I squatted and spider crawled my way across. Success! Tom went back to find the easy crossing while I snacked in the shade of a juniper. It had warmed to over 70 degrees and spring was bursting from all the vegetation, the beginnings of leaves everywhere.

We met one Hayduke hiker, Adrian, who was doing a day hike up the wash. We chatted for a bit and would see him again at the hostel in Moab. We finished the canyon hike and walked to the same park from which we’d started the day before. I rinsed all the mud from my legs and shoes, then we called the free Moab shuttle to bring us a mile or so into town. We were dropped off at the gear store but went straight to the brewery instead. A nice stout and fish tacos went down well. We retrieved our extra resupply from the outfitter and bought some more from them and the grocery store. We decided a town stay was best, given that it was already 5 pm. We were able to get a cheap room at the hostel, very basic but just enough to meet our hikertrash needs. It might be a long time until we got another shower. We also did some light sink laundry and gear assessment. The weather didn’t look great for the next few days but we didn’t want to stay in town longer, plus needed to get to Canyonlands soon to match our permit. We talked to Adrian and another hiker, Stickers, both who planned to hang out in town awhile longer. Already we were passing some hikers… it’s the town stops that make all the difference in hiker schedules. I just get antsy in towns, preferring not to spend more than a day, usually. Towns are also a good way to blow my tight budget. Fewer town days=more hiking days.

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