Dark Canyon 2000
You Can't Go Home Anymore
Up Dark to Youngs
Tuesday, May 9 Susie and I were packed and rolling by 8:20 or so. Judging from the last trip, I knew this would be a "full" day, and it would prove to be so. (Click here for a 3D rendering of the route.)The first 3/4 of a mile up to Lost Canyon goes quickly, but then things slow down pretty well. Above Lost, there are huge long slabs of what is either limestone or sandstone - boy, you can tell I am knowledgeable in geology. The good news is that often, it is like walking on a sidewalk. The bad news is every 100 meters or so, there is another discontinuity or pour off to negotiate. It is not that these are huge obstacles, just little ones that take time. If you don't pay attention to the folks ahead, you can find yourself repeating their mistakes, and double backing on yourself. The trip from Sundance is a bit like a flight across the ocean: once you get started, the alternative to not completing the entire route is not pretty. Oh sure, there are occasional spots where you could put up a free standing tent, but they are few and far between, and while there is plenty of water, it is always nice to lay your head down on a flat spot. Nine of us (the crew excluding Will and Diane) moved along, pretty much in sight of each other for a couple of hours. About 11 am, we ran into a spot which was more vexing. I would imagine it took us more than 45 minutes to cover less than a quarter of a mile. As we had moved up canyon, we had noticed a small path heading up to our right. We decided to stay in the stream bed because it is much more inviting. It is cooler, the path is smoother, and you hate to expend energy climbing when you don't need to, especially with an "extra" 50 or 60 or 70 lbs on your back. We got to a spot where there was some exposure when we were 15 feet above the floor. Not enough to kill upon falling, just enough to break bones. It took us all a while to work our way around. Then we came to a spot where it was tough to go up to avoid a big pour off. Some folks went up the slot. Sue availed herself of my offer to stand on my right femur, which I conveniently braced at a critical point: sorta like walking on air. She made it up pretty easily, but the less flexible of us (Andy, Susie and me, to name a few) opted for retracing our steps (sans packs - we hoisted them up the slot in a three person chain) about 200 meters and found a much easier spot to go up 12 feet. About this time, Sue did some scouting and we all determined that with some shade on canyon left, we would try a lunch break.
After lunch, the fun increased. I left the lunch spot first, and it was clear that Up was the preferred direction. The path was not too tough to follow, although folks used to hiking on-trail may find the experience more daunting. Every time I thought it was time to head down, the path turned further up. Mother Nature started calling, so I directed folks past my bathroom spot, and everyone plodded uphill. By this time, Diane and Will had caught up, but when we finally got down to the stream bed, they felt like a dip in the pool. I would have as well, as there were plenty of nice pools, but I also knew if I did not keep pushing, it would be late when we rolled into camp.
One of the good news/bad news things about GPS units is that they tell your location. They are brutally honest. None of this: "Well, we might be as far as here." Their bedside manner leaves more than a little to be desired: "You are here, like it our not." While there are curvier spots and straighter spots to the canyon, you can often use the fraction of the total straight line distance that you have come as an indicator of your progress. On the other hand, there are no divisive arguments among the group about location. You are here, period. I could tell by both inspecting the map (no reliance on high tech here) and the GPS position readout that we were not making outstanding progress. Not bad, but we were taking our time. The canyon opened up a bit for a while, and we decided to stop and cool our feet in the pool. The temperature was rising and the shade diminishing. That boosted our spirits for a bit. We took several breaks that afternoon, trying to minimize the forced march aspects of things. We knew we would get there, and the scenery was delightful, but it was hot and the packs seemed to be getting heavier.
George seemed to be losing some of the spring in his step. Being the only member of our party with two bypasses under his belt, so to speak, I tend to become more quickly concerned when he is not several hundred meters out in front, because that is where he usually is. A tad before 4 pm, we pulled into a little side canyon which had water running out of it. It was a delightful little spring, one of the first water sources that I did not feel compelled to treat. (579,000 East, 4188550 North). There was also a lot of white columbine around, which added to the oasis character of this place. George sat himself down and looked at the map, and remarked that we only had two strong rights and a minor left to go to Youngs Canyon Mouth. Of course, that translated to just about a mile, but it sounded good. Susie and I rested for just a bit longer, and then took off. As I may have mentioned above, the number of "campable" spots between Lost Canyon and Youngs Canyon are severely limited. We were interested to see, as we rounded the first bend (579,400 East, 4188600 North), that there was, in fact, a pretty good place to camp, with trees and nice afternoon shade. Something to keep in mind if you are headed down canyon and the campsite across from the mouth of Young's is full.
About the time that we finished making the second bend to the right, I noticed the distinctive green algae in the stream bed. I did not say anything to Susie, who was plowing along at a ferocious pace, because I did not want to raise false hopes, but as I recall, the green algae only grows downstream of the mouth of Young's a few hundred meters. I don't know if it means that there is always water there, or that there is a particular type of mineral in the soil of Youngs that leaches into the creek, but it is very distinctive. Sure enough, I caught the water slide at the mouth of Youngs out of the corner of my eye, and announced that we were here. It was just turning 5 pm. Boy it felt good to be done. A&S were right behind, and George was right behind them. Apparently, the candy bar that he had at the last rest break had restored both his energy and his ability to convert it into a torrid pace. He had spotted us a 10 minute lead, and had nearly caught us in less than 40 minutes. Whew.
We immediately set to picking out a spot for our tents. I had warned everyone that in ‘83, the 9 of us were sufficiently close that the guy lines of our tents were crossing. Well, 17 years later, the tents are decidedly more modern, but the campsite wasn't any bigger. We noted that while we could squeeze in a party with 8 tents, I think that 10 tents might be tough. We remarked that the scrub cottonwoods along the stream had grown considerably, and maybe they were consuming some of the precious space. Susie and I erected our tent where we had to take care not to break down the little sand bench on which our tent was perched, lest we slide into the creek. Then, we decided that privacy would lose out to convenience, and we went over to the creek bed and took a bath, about 35 feet from our tent. We were hot and tired, and felt quite adult-like. There was a nice rocky spot on the far side of the creek, which was perfect for dinner, except for the fact that even at 6 pm, there was still full sun on the rocks. Nobody wanted to cook under those conditions, so the guys occupied themselves with "GPS chores," a term coined by George, which refers to the need to review and rename key waypoints taken during the day, and calculate the straight line distance between our campsite and say, Oak Ridge, or Bastrop, TX (from whence Sue and Andy hail). Dinner was postponed until about 6:30 pm, and we had our dried tuna fish and Uncle Ben's Rice with Broccoli and Cheese, or some such thing. Everyone was sociable, but no one stayed up long. It had been a full day.
© Roger A. Jenkins, Suzanne A. Mcdonald, 2000