Weekend of wrong turns
Do you remember those times when you were still a little kid and you were out somewhere with your parents, typically shopping? I hear a lot of these particular stories and for some reason, they always occur at either a mall or grocery store. Perhaps, that is the place where children feel the most restless, we feel an undeniable need to test our independence to show our parents and ourselves that we don’t need to be latched on to an adult.
Yet, somewhere along the way that sentiment changes rather quickly. Us kids manage to be all alone when we inevitably realize that the world is a very big, and scary place all by ourselves and we quickly turn left and right in search of the very person we escaped from. We think we see their leg through an impossible crowd of people, so we hurriedly rush forward and grasp it, feeling safe and relief all at once. It isn't until we look up and realize that the leg we are wrapped around isn’t our parent at all but a complete stranger that the real panic sets in. Now, for whatever reason the stories I hear about children losing their parents always end with them finding each other. This story is no different. We did eventually find our way, but the panic that I felt as I realized how lost I was changed me.
Gustavo will tell people that I am exaggerating. We were never really lost and we were always going to make it back to the car in one piece. That may be so, but for about two hours I wasn’t exactly sure where we were in relation to where our car was some six miles away. And if you don’t, believe me, I have Natalie and Jose to attest to that.
The day had started with us taking much-needed showers in Escalante, UT. We had driven from Bryce Canyon National Park that morning and the discovery of these showers had us all feeling rather euphoric. All clean and ready to hike we drove 26 miles down an unpaved, very bumpy road in my Ford Focus to arrive at the parking lot which led to the trail head of Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons. We had been looking forward to this part of our trip for a while. Yet, even through the research done, we didn’t know what to expect. The day was hot at about 85 degrees or so, with no wind or shade to provide relief. It was just after 12 pm. We filled our water bottles and packed some energy bars into our backpacks and then we started walking. The parking lot was a mile from the start of the trail, and then we would be walking a six-mile loop through the two canyons. Excited about taking pictures and spending the day seeing all of these cool canyons our minds never drifted towards how long it might take us to complete the hike.
We walked down into the canyons for about 45 minutes and then began following this path that we assumed was the right way. We stumbled upon beautiful slot canyons. Slot canyons, in case you were wondering, are formed by the wear of water rushing through rock and they are significantly deeper than they are wide. We walked through miles of these canyons without seeing another person. At the time we were thrilled by this. We played our music loudly, took hundreds of what Jose deemed, “dope visuals” and continued deeper and deeper into the heart of these rock formations. It was here where the picture was taken and also here where our day began to take a turn for the worse. The walls around us began forging closer and closer until you had to turn sideways to fit through and the backpacks had to come off all of our backs. Yet, still, we surged on until…
All of a sudden it became really cold and really dark. Gustavo shined a flashlight ahead and we realized we would have to crawl through. As we prepared to do this we became aware that the canyon ahead was filled with freezing water, and in some parts, it appeared to be chest deep.We had to turn back. All of a sudden our perfect day was becoming inconvenient and tiresome. We realized that we had gone the wrong way and with no map to guide us, (Gustavo had left it in the car.) we had no choice but to head back the way we came. The only difference now was that we were rushing. The sun was sinking low towards the horizon we only had about four hours until the sun would set and we had been out walking for about four. We scrambled back along our same tracks through wide canyons, deep canyons, and what felt like mountains of sand. The sun was unforgiving and we needed to stop every 15 minutes or so for a water break. Soon all of our water was gone between the four of us. I knew this was bad. We had maybe four snack bars left, no warm clothes, no tents for shelter, and no water for the coming dusk. I wasn’t sure how we were getting back and my mind began to reel.
Then just as I was about to give up and plop my ass down in the sand in defeat we came across a man with two girls and a dog. Relief washed over me. We weren’t lost and alone we had finally seen people, signs of life I was thankful. Jose and Gustavo immediately went and spoke to him explaining our situation and asking where exactly we were. Turns out we had walked about four miles away from the canyons we were supposed to be exploring. The canyons we had entered were nor part of the protected lands and therefore weren’t maintained. He pointed to the narrow canyon he and his daughters had just emerged from, “That’s Spooky, right there.” They asked if the guy had a map, but he shook his head.
“Okay, guys” Gustavo turned back towards us. “I say we go ahead through and then just finish the loop.”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should just hike back up and head to the car now that we know where we are.” I suggested.
We took a vote, and I was out voted so into the slot canyon we went. It was even tighter in there than it had been in the other. There were some places where I questioned if I would even make it through. I was leading the pack, rushing because the light was fading fast from the depths of the canyons and I was a little afraid. Maybe 15 minutes in we came to a tricky part, apparently called the chimney. Most people do the loop coming from the opposite direction so going down the chimney isn’t difficult. However, we essentially would be climbing up it. The bottom was pitch black with a huge boulder blocking the light, and the hole we had to crawl through was very tight. I kept thinking in my head, this is not smart. I managed to scramble up first scraping my elbow most of the way, then Gustavo handed me all of the backpacks and he and Jose hoisted Natalie up to me and climbed up themselves. I would say this took at least 20 minutes.
We continued walking, me grumbling about Gustavo’s bad idea and poor navigation skills. Then finally we were out of the canyon. Light bathed us, my arms began to warm again. The danger had not passed. There were two ways to go and we had no map to guide us. After some debating, we decided to follow footprints up a step sandstone hill and see what was at the top. We all believed we would have a better vantage point and be able to perhaps see the parking lot. Once up we realized we still could not, and even worse we were standing atop a rock that split down the center with a deep canyon in the middle. The only way across seemed to be through this new canyon. Gustavo and I took the lead practically running. My mouth was so dry, and I felt a little dizzy from being in the sun for so long. I kept glancing behind me to check for Natalie and Jose, but we never slowed down. We entered the canyon and didn’t even attempt to enjoy the grandeur of it. We were on a mission and the clock was ticking. Maybe five minutes in I turned back and didn’t see Natalie and Jose. I began yelling for them, with no answer I was in a panic. We had lost them. Gustavo and I immediately turned back and ran to the last opening in the rock me screaming their names the whole way. We found them coming back from another direction that they had decided to take.
They were furious and so were we, this could have been a disaster. I was trembling, all of a sudden this felt real. We were really lost, and there was a big possibility that we would not make it to the car by dark.
I was crying openly now, not even bothering to hide it. Jose put a reassuring arm around my shoulders and said we would figure it out. Gustavo had lost his stamina too, he was dehydrated, and low on energy. We stood down there for too long. I knew I had to pull myself together and we needed to keep moving. The car park was to the southwest. I aimed our path towards the lowering sun and began walking. We summited another hill, then another. At the top of the third one, I could finally see the beginning of the trail head sitting at the top of the hill we had climbed down earlier. The only problem was that there was a cavern between the hills. I had no idea how we would cross it. We staggered to the edge to measure up the drop, and look for a possible way to climb down. The adrenaline was coursing through me I wasn’t about to give up. I began climbing down, grabbing anything I could reach, it was like piecing together a puzzle. And then I was stuck, I could go no further. I yelled up that this was not the way, the same time that we saw a group of teenagers descending the hill across from us. Natalie suggested we call to them for help, but they were too far away to hear us. So we did the only thing we knew how. We decided to retrace our steps the whole two hours back to where we had seen the man and then we would find the trail again from there after all that was the last place we have been sure of where we were.
I was still leading the group with a new sense of determination to get this done as quickly as possible. I kept walking along the edge of the canyon hoping I would find some sort of path down. I was truly about to give up and rejoin the other three when I saw footprints that led to a curve down the side of the canyon and to the bottom where we would need to cross to go up the other side. I actually leaped for joy. I felt like even though we weren't back at the car we were saved! I yelled to the others and they came running to me. Then together we descended, me running ahead because I had never been so excited to actually know where I was going.
And so that’s pretty much where the story ends. Once at the bottom, we picked up the correct trail that had a marked sign and made our way back to the trailhead and then the last mile to where the car was with 10 minutes of sunlight to spare. We walked over 11 miles during that hike. I learned that I must never panic in that sort of situation again because a level head is what’s going to save you. I also think we all learned that we must always prepare for the worst case scenario and bring a map no matter how much we THINK we don’t need one.
We all piled into the car utterly spent, smearing red clay and sand onto the tan leather seats, guzzling water and professing our intense cravings for burgers. I drove us the 26 miles out in just under an hour and once in town, we settled for homemade pizza at a local camping store doubling as a restaurant. We drank beer, laughed about our crazy day and devoured slice after slice. In this moment we were alive, and if I had to point out my location on a map I knew exactly where I could find me. I knew where the nearest bathroom was, where we would end up sleeping that night, and where my precious car was. It was the first time in a while that I became content with the predictability that my life hinged on.