Oct 16 2008

Solo Hike!

Published by at 2:52 pm under Utah,Western U.S.

There’s a place on the Utah/Arizona border called Coyote Buttes that is a natural wonder and a very productive spot for photographers.  The site is protected and managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  They allow just 20 visitors per day.  Half the visitors reserve their spot months in advance online, and the other half participate in a daily lottery (each morning’s lottery is for a permit to enter the next day).

Dave was very interested in going to this place, so we stopped at the BLM office near the site to ask about the lottery, how to participate, etc.  We got there at 3 pm on the day we arrived in the area.  Dave asked, "I know this is a long shot, but…"  After the park employees chuckled a bit, one said, "Actually, this is your lucky day!  A man who won a permit in this morning’s lottery left early and never claimed his ticket.  So you can buy his permit for tomorrow!"

This was incredible luck.  But the permit was for just one person to enter, so we decided Dave would go to the Coyote Buttes, and I would go on a hike that departs from the same trailhead but is not in the permit area.

I’ve never been on a solo hike before, but the BLM people assured me that it’s ok to do this hike solo, and that there would be other people on the trail as well because it’s a pretty popular hike to do if you don’t get a permit into the Coyote Buttes.  The trail is 3.5 miles round-trip, and goes through a slot canyon called Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch, a very long canyon that people do backpacking/camping trips through.  My plan was to hike to the intersection with Buckskin Gulch, see how I felt, and then either turn back, or hike into Buckskin Gulch for a bit to check that out before turning back.

I was a tiny bit nervous about the solo hike, so Dave an I got two-way radios at the Walmart in Page, AZ.  Never mind the fact that I was in a canyon most of the time and there was no way the radio would work in there.  It was more of a peace of mind thing.  🙂

So Dave and I arrived at the trailhead the next morning, hiked together for about a quarter mile, and then he went off toward the Buttes and I continued down a beautiful wash toward the canyon.  Here is a picture I took from the wash:


Just one of many outstanding views while hiking in the wash of the river

After about a mile, I reached the first narrows.  It was my first time in a slot canyon, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve seen on a hike (more on other slot canyons in the area in a separate post!).  The canyon was about 3 – 4 feet wide in most parts.  Here are representative pictures:


The wash leads into the first narrows section


The beautiful sandstone walls of Wire Pass range from about 20 feet to 100 feet high

Pretty soon after I reached the canyon, I hit my first obstacle.  The people at the BLM office told me there was one part of the canyon where a boulder was stuck between the walls, creating a place where a hiker has to lower him/herself down to the next section of the canyon.  They said the boulder was chest high.  With all due respect, it’s probably only chest high on a pro basketball player.  It was just over my head.  Not that I knew this when I got there, because I was on the high end looking down.  It looked pretty scary, and I sat on the rock for a full five minutes before I worked up my courage to go down.  In my head, I thought, "I’m sure I can get down ok, if ungracefully, but can I get back up by myself?"

I decided to go for it, partly because I wanted to push myself, and partly because I knew it would be a pretty long, boring day for me if I gave up this early and went back to the car when Dave wouldn’t be back from taking photos for at least 5 hours.  Here is the picture I took of the boulder from the bottom:


This giant boulder was taller than me!

I wish I had put something in the picture for scale, but you’ll have to trust me that it’s a big boulder.  The rope you see is supposed to help people climb up the boulder, but it was useless because the boulder is round; if you put your foot in the toeloop, it just goes forward underneath the boulder.

The rest of the way to Buckskin Gulch was beautiful, fun, and I went along without incident.  The other drops along the way were easy to step down, or manage by sitting on the rock and dropping down from there.  I didn’t see anyone else the whole time I went through Wire Pass on the way toward Buckskin Gulch.  When I got to the intersection, I met three guys who were eating lunch (they were hiking Buckskin Gulch on a multi-day trek).  One of them took my picture:


Proud solo hiker

You can probably tell by the picture that I was pretty satisfied with myself at this point, doing this solo hike, conquering boulders, etc.  I decided to turn left into Buckskin Gulch (upstream, if there were any water at that point, but it was bone dry).  I hiked about a half mile into the canyon, then turned around.  Buckskin Gulch was wider than Wire Pass, but I still wouldn’t want to get caught in there when there was any water.  Here is a picture I took there:


Buckskin Gulch

I went back to the intersection, ate lunch (peanut butter and jelly!), and headed back through Wire Pass.  I started to see people on the way back (must have been that time of day).  When I got back to the giant boulder, a couple was just finishing helping each other up there.  I wanted to see if I could do it myself, but I must have hemmed and hawed a little too long, because the guy in the couple asked me if I wanted help, and I accepted after unsuccessfully trying alone for about 30 seconds.  I probably could have done it eventually, but I’m glad I had help – it took a lot of energy.  After I was out of the canyon, I reached for my two-way radio to try to call Dave.  But it wasn’t in the holster!  ARGH!

I assumed that it must have fallen off when I was climbing up that damn boulder.  Luckily, that wasn’t too far away, so I went back to it to look.  There was a guy about to come up the boulder when I got there, and I asked, "Do you see a two-way radio down there?"  The man said, "Ah HA!  No, it’s not down here, but we saw it further down the trail."  Because they didn’t know whether someone lost it coming or going, they had placed it on a ledge where they found it.  Then man said it was about 300 yards away.  Doesn’t sound too bad, except now I would have to do this stupid rock all over again.  Ugh.  I was starting to get tired.

I dropped down the boulder (much easier the second time), ran down the trail as fast as I could, seeing several groups of people who all assured me that the radio was on a ledge, not far now, etc.  I ditched my pack and hiking poles at a more open spot and started running.  I found my radio on a ledge of the canyon.  It was almost at the intersection of Buckskin Gulch.  I must not have put it on my holster tightly enough after lunch.

I raced through the canyon one more time so that I’d catch up with the last people I saw, because now I knew I would need help getting up that boulder (it wasn’t easier the second time).  I stuck near my new friends and made it up that rock one last time, this time with my radio secured inside my pack.  Once I got out into the wash, I had a mile left to hike to return to the car.  With the running back and forth, I probably hiked a little more than 5 miles that day.  I was exhausted, but I couldn’t have been happier.  What a fun day!

Dave got some amazing pictures on his adventure that day – he’ll post them separately.

– Meredith

One response so far

One Response to “Solo Hike!”

  1. Mom and Dad says:

    Great fun reading this.