It had been 11 years since my brother John had flown out from Michigan to bag Whitney and Langley on a 46 mile loop in California's High Sierra. It kicked my
, but we were due for another trip.
I had eliminated the Royal Arch Loop from my solo Bucket List due to the rappel, but John and I had done some climbing together so it seemed like a good choice.
I had hoped that the closure of the reservation would be over by our permit date, but it was not the case.
Some people have posted that they drove to the trailhead anyway, but those roads are officially closed.
We started on Sunday, knocking off the first easy seven to the dry trailhead for the night. We carried 64 oz for the evening and morning, and cached 32 for the way out.
Day 2 was a monster - our goal was Royal Arch where we knew we would have good water. 14 miles of progressively more difficult trail then route. I've done over 200 miles of trails in the canyon, along with the Utah Flats and Escalante Routes, and this was easily equal to all of the hard parts of them put together. I had never even taken my pack off for an obstacle, and I took it off at least 6 times. We arrived at the Arch at 9:30 pm.
The next morning we talked and decided that a recovery and rehydration day would be a smart choice, and that returning the way we came would make more sense after the loss of a hiking day. This allowed us to spend an entire day at the Arch, kicking back and enjoying the slowly changing light on it's towering architecture.
The gentle sound of running water, the slight echo off the stone walls, and an ever-changing chorus of frogs serenaded us through the day. Bliss.
This plan allowed us two days to cover the 14 mile return to the rim, and we stopped about halfway after replenishing our water at one of the good, clear pools found in the Royal Arch East drainage. John found some Mountain Lion tracks in the sand, and now that we were out of the narrow canyon we had a nice view of the moonless night stars. It's probably been at least 10 years since I have seen the Milky Way - I usually plan my trips for the Full Moon.
We arrived at the rim camp right on schedule, finding a Toyota Tacoma in the parking area that was not there when we arrived, but had not seen anyone on the trial the whole time. Odd.
I had time to wander a bit, and found a nice open view of the canyon about 200 yards west of the trailhead, where we watched the sunset on our last night.
The hike back to the truck was punctuated by free-roaming horses who we kept spooking up the trail. You could feel the vibration of their gallop in the Earth -a wonderful, slightly scary sensation.
I hope the Forest Service opens and improves the "road". I understand the right of the tribes to not allow access to cross their land, but now that an alternative illegal route is developing they might as well make the best of it. As it stands, the road requires high clearance and 4WD is recommended.
We had an InReach Mini, but it did not work almost anywhere in Royal Arch canyon. We had some luck at the ledge pour off below the Arch, but even that was hit or miss. Apparently you need a big piece of sky above you.
Royal Arch is spectacular. It's location deep in a canyon makes it both grand and intimate. The work required to get there was substantial, but experiences like these rarely come easy.