Monday, June 24, 2013

Lucky Weekend

"Luck" is not necessarily good. This long Memorial Day weekend was a roller coaster of good and bad luck that had my head spinning, wondering if we'd get back alive.

The itinerary was to hopefully do the Knowles Canyon, Mee Canyon 36.8 mile loop.

Instead of leaving Friday after work, I was repeatedly ordered to attend a birthday party until they wore me down. I opted instead to take a Tuesday vacation day and attend the party.
Paul G and I left after 10am Saturday and drove to Fruita.
On the way, a big bug splattered artfully across my windshield. Not being a Jackson Pollock fan, I hit the windshield fluid and wiper. IMMEDIATELY after covering my windshield with fluid, and before the wipers came up, I barely noticed a full-sized deer bolting in front of my car. Because of the bug, I let off the gas slightly and was moving at 71mph (in a 75mph zone). I swerved sharply, barely missing the deer and almost certain death.
Good luck/bad. The timing of the deer was PERFECTLY bad, timed to coincide with partial blindness from the fluid, but I put extra effort into seeing through the fluid for safety sake and nearly couldn't believe my eyes. Illusion? NO!!! SWERVE!!! OK, we were awake. Who needs coffee? Not me. Maybe some coffee would help calm me down!

We arrived in Glenwood Springs and ate lunch at the Brewpub. Time to pay. No wallet. That's right, its in my long jeans. I decided last-minute the weather forecast wasn't going to allow any cold or wet weather, so why bring my jeans? Guess who got to drive the rest of the way?
Sunset from Mee TH

We decided to drive to Mee trailhead first. We read a report that said we could cut a couple miles off by start/finishing at the Mee trailhead. So we tried to find the Mee trailhead. It was hard because the maps were CRAP!!! We had several different references from paper maps and my phone with intermittent weak signal. To make matters worse, there are a few land features and road features that, from ground-level, look similar. If you've never been there before, you can mix things up.
From Mee TH looking west
We parked the car where we thought we should be and were about to leave. That's when my phone got enough signal to pull some emails and it chimed. When I unlocked the screen, I saw the map app was up, and our GPS signal pinpointed us... a couple miles from where we thought we were! Lucky that email came in and I saw it before we left the car.
So we drove further west and found the actual place we were supposed to be.
At that point, we decided it might be better to stay there for the night, looking over the lay of the land from our high campsite. That could help us in a lot of minute ways in the days to come.

The trail down into Mee gets rugged and precarious. Neither of us had heard anything about any of it, so it was all completely new as it was experienced. You come off the upper rim, and immediately go through a hole in the cliff and down a rickety ladder. Then down slanted rock and then a dirt/rock gully until you reach the mid-level rim.
We hiked all over the place. Our different maps said there were two trails. One went to "The Alcove", turning south. The other went straight down the lowest drainage to the canyon below. NOT! There is no such trail. There are 30ft drops to bushwhack around, ending in a dead-end drop of over 100ft.

We spent hours going every possible alternative, being hampered by cryptobiotic soils that blocked our paths (not supposed to step on that stuff). We finally determined that the only trail is the one to the Alcove, and it ends with a shelf-to-crack rock climbing situation that was beyond our prudent skills, especially with camping backpacks.

So as we returned, we crawled through the little keyhole slot and Paul put his pack down. But his pack had a curvy shape that resists holding still. No matter how you try to lay it down it wants to roll, so it rolled right off the cliff. We were lucky that this particular cliff was short, and the pack caught on a tree before going hopelessly all the way down, rim after rim until it reached the bottom. No, bad luck sent it over the edge and good luck caught it on a tree not far away. So I jumped off the ledge, retrieved the pack and a few items of other people's garbage, then jumped and tried, tried while Paul pulled to get back up.

So this ended in failure - we returned to the car and drove to Knowles trailhead to spend the night.

The nights were perfect temps, about 50F, and the winds mostly mild.

The the west at dusk, Mercury, Venus, and Jupitor were visible in a small triangle. In order to see Jupitor aligned closely with Mercury and Venus, it had to be way beyond on the other side of the sun. The scale and perspective was interesting.

We headed out to Knowles a bit late, at about 8:30am(?). I was still stuck on stupid. I learned in Mee that it would have been more prudent to bring more water. I brought enough, but only barely, anticipating the water at the bottom, but we never reached the bottom. So for Knowles, I brought a measly extra 16oz Platypus. Dumb. I had other bottles I could have brought, even if empty on the way down. Again, I ended up not really needing them, but it was stupid.

Dumb again, we brought no cord to hoist our packs into the trees at night.

When we got to the bottom of Knowles, we saw digging. Lots of digging. Claw marks, bear footprints, bear poop with berries in it (thank god no bits of Garmins and sunglasses!). Lots of tracks. Lots of poop. Lots of digging. Narrow valley. Felt very uncomfortable.

We did spook a mama turkey in tall grass, and the little chicks shot in every direction, including one that went our way, saw us, freaked, whirled about and ran the other way. It was hilarious. Then ma-turkey started calling them back, and you could see the grass moving as each chick homed in on her call.

There was plenty of water, but some of it looked pretty gross. We had that taken care of, though. We each brought water filter pumps, each had Steripens, and Paul even had chlorine-dioxide tablets. When we found a decent looking pool, we each filtered several liters and drank until we were drowning. Then we lay under the shade of a rock and took naps.

A hummingbird was our alarm clock. Knowles is like a jungle on the upper end. We didn't think we could make it to the Colorado River as we'd hoped, so we turned around, not wanting to camp up-valley with the bears.


We climbed up on the rim back into dry, desert terrain. There was no water, I swear not even if you dug for it, but up there we saw the Biggest Black Bear prints I've ever seen. I wondered if it was a grizzly, but the symmetry of the prints said it was black bear. In sand, on a windy day, you could see the little creases in it's pads, so they weren't old prints. Where the hell do they get water? The only berries are juniper. Surely there's not enough water from their diet to survive?

We also saw unshod horse prints. At least four horses. One set of prints was shod, so I'm not sure if they were broken or wild.

We kept climbing out until we got to the upper rim. There, overlooking the western Colorado canyonlands, we made a bivy camp.
The sky was mostly clear and a large bat kept the mosquitoes under control.

The last day, we decided to try our hand at Rattlesnake Canyon. We ended up getting a very flat tire. We took it off, poured water on it to find the leak, plugged it with a tire repair kit, and aired it up with my bike pump. You always have a tire repair kit and bike pump, right? And snowshovel (even when it's not winter), and battery jump unit?

Eventually we made it back to Denver, more tired from stress of wondering WTF will happen next than from our leg work.

1 comment:

  1. What a weekend! I hit a deer once, not pleasant...though I survived, thankfully. Great photos and glad bears were avoided!


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