Tuesday, April 4th, 2023, 0640-1730
S2 mm 5 BLM camp to Rustler Canyon mm 35.3
28 miles, elevation 4050′
What a great night…so not what I expected! I was toasty and content in my quilt. Once again, I was very glad to have a tent because it’s so much warmer and protects from the wind and sand. I love my 1 lb tent! I’m using my old (2016) Solplex for this trip, since I figured it would take a lot of abuse in this environment. Goodby zippers! I already replaced one slider a few years ago and brought an extra in case I needed to again. But it held up just fine to the light rain and wind overnight. Our site selection had everything to do with it. What a marvelous spot. The grass kept the dust from getting stirred up and the wash walls were like a fortress against the raging gusts. It was like we were in a whole different world than what was above and around. I guess there’s a reason the grass and trees grow right there. Nature signs.
We packed early, lest Kobea come wandering by and flatten our tents. Death by tortoise smothering. The morning was brisk at 38 degrees but felt a lot colder in the wind. We quickly came to Chicken Crossing and admired all the decorations. I squeezed a few rubber chickens one too many times. They made me very happy, especially the ones drinking shots of Fireball. We then took a crosscountry alternate up a canyon that cut a mile and got us off the road. There were a few spots that we had to pass packs and climb small pour offs but overall it was easy and quick. We saw some other footprints, Leah and Sky’s, the 2 hikers we first met in Moab.
Back on the road, the morning passed quickly. We didn’t see a single motor vehicle all day, which was nice. We did run into 3 bikepackers and it was nice to talk to them for a few minutes. We wove in and out along the bases of huge bluffs. It was very scenic but unrelenting. I was happy when we came to another cliff to dive off. The main route had us meandering down Lockhart canyon but we took Jamal Green’s alternate that led down the cliffs. We found easy ramps the whole way down. We pondered some sketchy stuff but thankfully always found a better alternative. We had lunch at the base. We didn’t break very long since it was so chilly. It was a great day for just walking.
I’m not great at describing the fantastical terrain we passed, and also lazy, so I’ll insert this paragraph from Carrot Quinn’s blog. She’s got a way with words, probably because she’s like a real writer: “Today is on this flat dusty jeep road, contouring the infinitely intricate edges of canyons as they cut in and out of the burnt-brown mesas- these branching labrynthine canyons with their fluted edges and stacks of delicate boulders- these great scalloped cakes of dirt and rock- and today is cross country, scrambling down into canyons and following their smooth rock and sandy basins until impassable pour-offs. A pour-off is basically more canyon, opening even deeper- you think you’re at the bottom of something, the canyon walls reaching high above and then suddenly you’re at a cliff looking out into open air and the tumbled houses of fallen rock piled way below and you can’t get down there. The cracks in the earth are deep, they go both below and above. This world is a burnt-brown MC Escher painting and I am a wild creature, covered in dust, drinking silty-green water from the Colorado River and losing my fear of scrambling on slickrock. This is a world as vertical as it is horizontal. One could get lost here, spend a hundred years here and never learn its secrets.”
We came to an old cabin and some running water in lower Lockhart canyon. It was only 2 pm and looking at our maps, we figured we could go “only” 10 more miles to another water source. I still had a liter left from the lodge the day before. Right after the cabin, we caught up to Wolverine, a Hayduker I knew from the Facebook page. It was great to finally bump into someone on the trail. Everyone else we’d met was in Moab. We walked together for a few miles, back on a road and high above the canyons. The wind was cold and the sky off and on with low, threatening clouds. I saw a few snowflakes. Despite all this, we marched on, distracted by conversation.
Wolverine dropped back just as we descended into Rustler canyon. We needed to keep moving to find some water before the day’s end. The canyon was very sandy and full of cow evidence. We passed some gross muddy water but were pretty sure we’d find some better soon. Wolverine said that the water near the cabin tasted very alkaline, so we were glad we’d passed on it. The canyon was quite wide in places and we were able to shortcut many of the bends by traveling over the benches. Cow trails always cut the shortest routes, so we followed them. We probably saved half a mile over walking directly in the main wash.
Right at the end of the day, we came to a 40 ft pour off that had to be carefully assessed. According to the notes, there were several ways down and we chose the left side wall rather than going down the middle. There was water dripping in the chute so it looked very slippery. The left wall looked equally treacherous but a cairn marked the best spot to descend. On close inspection, a series of slabs offered an easy step down of about 9 feet. Kind of like a ladder. I was even able to do it with my back facing the wall instead of downclimbing. Most people feel a lot more comfortable facing a wall…and of course this is the correct way to place hands and feet in holds. But for some reason, I feel more comfortable going down facing out. I’m sure this just means I’m not a skilled climber but in this instance, I felt very comfortable.
We were going to lower the packs with a rope but I just had Stellar pass mine while standing halfway up the wall. He came down a little ways then passed his to me at the base. Easy. We then navigated a steep slope of chossy rock to the bottom, done. Looking back at the pour-off, the ledge after the chute looked really dicey, like it had eroded away. I was very glad we didn’t choose that route. As a reward for our troubles, we found a clear pool of water at the base. We collected enough for the night and began the search for a protected camp spot. Even though we were in a pretty deep canyon, the cold wind was swirling all around, following every curve. We finally found what seemed like the perfect spot in a side wash, but little gusts reached it now and again. A few wreaked havoc just as I was getting my tent into position, whipping it away 5 feet. I couldn’t believe such a secluded spot could still get wind, and from every direction. Thankfully the wind died down after sunset and we settled in for a comfortable but cold night. I would sleep well given the miles we’d put in.