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Difficult but worth it
We did Keet Seel in June of 2000. It was an overnight backpacking trip and very, very strenuous. We camped out the first night at Navajo National Monument. There is a great little campground there with drinking water and picnic tables. One of my friends has a large truck with a nice camper, but it only will sleep, two adults. I drew the short straw and had to sleep outside like a dog. Silly me, I left a bag of chips in the tent with me, and a mouse kept trying to gain access into my tent all night. I didn't get very much sleep that night and spent the rest of the trip thinking I had Hanta Virus. There is a trail orientation meeting all hikers must attend either in the morning or the afternoon. We got there in time the day before and attended in the afternoon. Our orienteer was a German guy named Dennis. He explained the rules and hazards of the trail, such as quicksand and the treacherous sand dunes from hell on the way down, and consequently, the way back up. You take two steps forward, then three back. Also, you must carry in all your water. The water was extremely foul as there were cattle grazing all over the place. Also, even if you could filter the water, there were still traces of heavy metals such as Uranium in the water, so it was undrinkable no matter what. It was advised not to let the water touch your skin. You had to drop 1,200 down a sheer wall of hell into the canyon and then walk along a stream bed for nearly 8 miles. Our packs were loaded with water and very heavy on the way in. That made the stream crossing challenging with the quicksand and all. I was glad to have waterproof backpacking boots. My feet stayed nice and dry.
We decided to stay in the river the whole time even though there is a side trail to take if there is too much flooding. You have to climb up two waterfalls, then back up an embankment. We stuck to the water and felt we were lost at one point, and my friends went on ahead of me. I started whining out loud, thinking there was no one around and one friend came back to me just in time to hear me say, 'I hate this f****** trail!'.
We finally reached the campground and pitched camp. You had to walk another half mile to the meeting place to go up into the ruins. It's ranger-led, so they wait for all visitors to get there. They only allow 20 per day.
The ruins were spectacular. It's probably the largest, best-preserved Anasazi ruin in the country. Our guide was a National Park Service ranger, a Navajo woman named Shannon. We had to climb a 60-foot ladder to get up to the ruins, and I was petrified the whole way as I have sort of a bit of fear of climbing ladders. But, if I wanted in the ruins, I had to get over it and just go. So I did. Shannon climbed the ladder without using her hands on the rungs; she just went like they were stairs! I was impressed.
The ruins were large enough to hold about 100 people. Part of the ruin was older than the rest, but it all dated approximately 900 years ago. There were still corn cobs scattered around. I was surprised they could last that long, but I guess they're woody, and there were wooden beams, etc., still there. That and bits of sandals made from Yucca plant fibers. There was a lot of broken pottery, and that's where the ruin gets its name, Keet Seel. It's a Navajo expression meaning broken pottery. Shannon spoke her native Navajo, as well as English and Spanish.
We camped the night in the little oak grove on one of the stream banks. They had it fenced off so the cows couldn't get in; I was happy about that. We didn't want to waste any of our precious water, so it was amusing to wash up in a teaspoon full of water. There are compost toilets though, and that was a blessing.
Then the trip out. For most of the way, we walked downstream, so it was easy. Then came the bottom of the cliff. The Cliffs of Insanity! It was the most challenging thing I've ever done physically. The sand dunes were the worst. Ever tried to go uphill in deep sand carrying a heavy pack?? Not easy. Then there were rocky switchbacks going up the side of the cliff. Steeper than steep. I swore if I got out alive, I would never go back.
Once we got to the top, there was another mile back to the parking lot. There was an auxiliary parking lot at the top, but no one was allowed to park there. One of my comrades had gone ahead, and the other got to talking to a ranger who was coming up when we were, and I was just dragging behind, thinking I was going to die. Another group was hiking out about when we were, a man, his wife, and a friend. The husband got out fast. He was a strong hiker and was waiting for them at the first parking lot. I begged for a ride back to the main parking area as I didn't think I could make it. It was another mile and all uphill!! No way, at that point. He graciously gave us a lift back to the truck where our friend was waiting. He even gave me an ice-cold Snapple raspberry iced tea. I could have kissed him full on the lips if his wife weren't there!!
It was a great experience, however exhausting. One of those things you can think back on when you're faced with a challenge and use for mental support!
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This is a moderately difficult hike.