I awoke in my camp overlooking Arch Canyon and knew I had choices to make. I could either descend Elk Ridge towards Blanding and Monticello, get gas and ice, and make my way to Canyonlands OR drive across the ridge and drop down into Dark Canyon. I wouldn't need gas for the second option, but my cold food would probably spoil. My piece of crap cooler couldn't even manage to keep one bag of ice frozen for 8 hours. Garbage. Choices choices. I made the more expensive choice and following the winding dirt road along the eastern side of Elk Ridge, then dropping down into South Cottonwood. Along the way I surprised a mother with her fawn, only a couple hours old. So cute! The little feller couldn't even use his legs right yet, so he just tucked himself into the defensive ball. "I hope you don't see me, human!" Good luck - located right in the middle of the forest road. I crept by slowly, taking pictures.
I drove down through Blanding and then headed for Monticello. I figured gassing up further north would extend my legs into the backcountry. Daylight was burning, even on this almost-longest day of the year. Choices again at Church Rock. Do I continue north to Island in the Sky and the Upheaval Dome, or bear west for the Needles?
I turn left, bearing west. What the heck, why not? No map, no coverage to download a topo onto my GPS/phone. Who cares. I'm going hiking one way or the other.
I rolled my way past Newspaper Rock, down into Indian Creek. What a freaking amazing gorgeous gorge! At Newspaper Rock the canyon is narrow, the walls towering around you. Below Indian Rock, however, the scale changes. The canyon opens up. The walls become higher, the views longer. Far off monuments and spires shimmer in the heat and distance. The Orange Cliffs, the Chocolate Drops, Island in the Sky all visible on the horizon. It is almost too much to bear - a terrible endless vista of insane stone with no shade and no way across it save for toil and sweat.
And the road I'm driving on, which brings me promptly to the Visitor's Center. The ranger was busy talking to another guest. I wandered around in the tiny museum. Ranger was still busy. Resigning myself to a wait, I got in line. Another ranger came to help her (and therefore me) out.
"Hi, can I help you?"
"Looking to do some hiking."
"Ever been here before?"
"Well, we've got all of our hikes arranged in these binders. Here's the short, medium, and -," closing another binder and pushing it towards me, "the long ones. Let me know if you have any questions."
I already did but it was too late. She was on to the next customer. I thumbed through the "medium" binder first. Then the short. Its hot, I thought, ignoring the longs and going back to the medium ones. Nothing was jumping out at me. What the heck. Let's see the long ones.
At first they seem too long for a half day in 97 degree heat: 17 miles, 22 miles, etc. But then a crack in the rock with a ladder caught my eye. Peekaboo, it said. More pictures: a keyhole arch and ancient rock art. Fantastic. Now, just a few questions...
It was not to be. The ranger helped a few more people before I gave up. Without so much as a park map in hand I headed for the door. I hoped I could find my way to Squaw Flat, where the trail to Peekaboo began.
Despite having limited paved roads I did manage to get turned around a few times. Eventually, though, I did make it to the trailhead. I made myself a sandwich, pre-hydrated, loaded my gear, and got on the trail.
The trail crossed a sage park before ascending a slickrock fin, then dropping down into Squaw Canyon. At the bottom of Squaw a trail branched off to the right. It headed downcanyon and looped back to the trailhead. The sign at the junction told me I had covered 1.1 miles and still had 4.9 to go until Peekaboo Spring. Spring? Damn you ranger!
Another sage parkland, the trail angling for another slickrock fin jutting out from a large mesa to the east. On the approach I passed an NPS volunteer - the last person I would see on the trail. I walked into a copse of juniper and pinon at the base of the fin and then began my ascent. From the crest of the ridge I was treated to insane views of slickrock, hoodoos, fins, arches, canyons - naked geology everywhere! Then followed the descent into what I knew was called Lost Canyon. According to one display at the VC it was so named due to the ease of getting lost in its many branches. Reassuring stuff.
Once below the rim it was easy to find and then follow the sandy wash-bottom trail. Gradually the canyon widened as I moved downstream. The side canyon I was in intersected another, much larger, canyon draining from the west. Lost itself. At least that's what the sign in the wash bottom told me. 2.6 miles under my boots already, 2.8 to go to the spring - and already 1/2 down on my supply of Gatorade. Slightly concerned but undefeated I pressed on.
The trail climbed sharply up the south wall of Lost. I took a 15 minute break in the shade on the trudge up. Hot. Tired. I finally dragged myself out of my reprieve and over a low pourover to make the bench at the rim of Lost.
I had crossed into a land of slickrock. No more easy wash-bottom hiking for me. The rest of the hike would be on an angle. I crossed fins, traversed sloping platforms and climbed over domes as I worked my way around the heads of several Lost tributaries.
Walking next to one such sandstone fin I spotted a cairn - one of the dozens that had done an admirable job of guiding my path to that point. I walked to the cairn and there, to my surprise, was the keyhole arch. Peekaboo! I dropped my kit right there and rested in the shade of its aperture. As I rested I contemplated. The trail continued around the next tributary, as evidenced by several cairns, but I was now out of Gatorade. Without disassembling my pack I had no way of deciphering how much water remained in my Camelbak. To sort things out I decided to at least step through the arch and look around on the other side. I still hadn't seen the Barrier Canyon rock art that the VC photos promised so I scouted briefly for them. No luck. I wanted to press on, but the water situation weighed heavily. "I just don't have enough water," I said aloud - my first vocalization since dropping into Lost.
Turning around to go back through the arch then I paused and looked down. No joke this is what was there - a blue water bottle half-filled with some electrolyte drink. Goosebumps ran up and down my spine and limbs. "No way." I looked around again to see if I had simply not seen another hiker. No one was in sight. There was no sound at all. It was hot and smelled. I didn't care - I had water. I had permission to hike on.
I loaded back up and with the new water weight on my back I hiked around the head of the Lost drainage. At the point opposite the arch the trail dropped down towards the wash bottom, just south of where Lost dumps into a tributary of Salt Canyon. I almost headed all the way to the bottom but something caught my eye before that last drop. A masonry wall beneath the rim of three connected mushroom rocks. Instead of going down I moved out laterally, exploring the ruins. Still no rock art. Leaving with only a mild sense of disappointment I headed back up the fin to the slickrock above Lost. Back around the camel rock. Across the joints and down the big drop into Lost. Sipping water.
Uh-oh. My bladder ran dry just at the bottom of Lost. 2.6 miles to go, 97 degrees in the air. No choice now - time to push on through. Pushing myself up the canyon and up the slickrock. The ladder. The fin. Dropping down into Squaw. Pushing on - at least the pack was light then. 1.1 miles to go, a dehydration headache building. Shriveled brain banging against my skull with every step. Sun in my face and wind now too. Hat tries to escape. Face down. Watch the trail. Stupid hiking poles - dead weight now. Pushing up the last fin. Across the last parkland. I see the water spigot. Almost...there.
Next time I talk to the goldang freaking ranger no matter what.