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Dark Canyon 2000
You Can't Go Home Anymore

No water at Black Steer!

Thursday, May 11   We awoke after dawn, around 6:20, to a light breeze, and a low of only 63 degrees. Convinced that today would be another toasty one, everyone seemed to be in a brisk mode: wanting to move on for what should be a short day: only about five miles or so to the mouth of Black Steer Canyon. It did not turn out that way. (Click here for a 3D rendering of this day's route.) We left camp around 8:30 or so, not being in any kind of hurry. We had to climb way up behind our campsite to negotiate a big pool just upstream from camp. We came down, and were met with another pour off. I went up a slot to the right, and with careful movement, got up ok. Susie, still in a bad mood, must have been pumped with adrenalin, because she went right up the nose of this rock face, like it was a set of stairs, big pack and all. Some negotiating around pools and obstacles went on for about an hour. Sue found a small grainery, right at ground level, on the right wall, tucked away back off the path. There was a little ornament inside, with an ancient cord wrapped around it.

Abruptly, just like our experience 17 years previously, the water stops flowing in the canyon bottom, about a couple of miles upstream from the mouth of Youngs. Mistakenly thinking that the water would reappear in the stream bed in a mile or so, like it had done before, I didn't bother to fill up all my water bottles. We hiked along in the rough stream bed, now strewn with small rocks (no water to wash and wear them down on a regular basis), fully expecting to encounter water. Instead, we encountered a Western Collared Lizard, who sat posing for us on a boulder in the middle of the stream bed. He seemed unconcerned about all the attention he was getting, seeing us not as a threat but as mild amusement. We stopped for a break a bit before noon, but still no water. We cut across benches, now making a beeline for the Mouth of Black Steer, with, I am sure, everyone having water on their mind. I was starting to get a bad feeling. We rolled into the vicinity of our old campsite, and I dropped my pack in the shade of a juniper, and set out to find this allusive pool that had blessed our campsite 17 years ago. Well, it was not there. I hiked about 15 minutes above camp, and nothing. I got back, and Ray announced he was taking off and looking further upstream than I had gone. A search by A&S and Lance up Black Steer revealed that the spring that Lance and I had found so long ago was completely dry, and the three of them had managed only to find a couple of liters of water in some depressions in the rocks. As Ray approached, he gave us a thumbs down, and I knew that we had little choice but to hike on to the next day's camp, 6 miles of dry canyon upstream. The day had not warmed up like I had expected, and the breeze felt good, but I knew it was sucking the moisture out of us by the second.

Susie took off with George, which kept her from chewing on me, a good thing. I hoisted about 1:50 pm. The main canyon above Black Steer really opens up, and there are lots of wide, grassy/sandy benches. Of course, all that sand really adds to the fun. There are some big bends in the canyon, which are possible to shortcut by doing climbs of a 100 feet or less. It saves some bench walking and breaks the monotony. With only a half pint of water in my bottle, I was concerned about my thirst getting the best of me. Sometime around 3 pm, before I caught up to George and Susie, Lance caught up and indicated that he had found a couple of quarts of water in a tiny depression in the creek bed, and how about a take a quart to lighten his load, since it was so cool and pleasant hiking. Well, it was hard to turn him down, and for that quart, I will be eternally grateful. When I did catch Susie, I gave some of the water to her, even though she seemed in pretty good shape. I figured I had it made in the shade, so to speak. Sue caught up to me, and indicated that she had not seen Andy for a while. I think the crew was getting scattered, as this herd of cats approached the multiple route choices (climb and shortcut or go around). Eventually, he did catch up, and Lance, who had gone looking for him, was not far behind.

Sometime during the next leg of the trip, a group of 5 or 6 nice young fellows, all dressed in white shirts, came hiking downstream past me in a flash. They stopped briefly, seeming not to want to break their stride. They had left the Woodenshoe canyon trailhead THIS MORNING, and were headed to the mouth of Youngs Canyon tonight. That would be something like 22 miles today, and then they were headed out tomorrow up the Sundance trail. Hey why spend an entire 9 days hiking in Dark Canyon, when you can do it in 2. Of course, there are obvious answers, like not being able to linger and enjoy a damn thing. But everyone has different motivations, and theirs certainly were. I could start to see what I thought was the mouth of Woodenshoe in the distance, and it felt like a good time for a break. I sat it the shade, and noticed the breeze was doing an awfully good job of keeping me cool. I took a GPS reading to confirm my location, and Diane, Will, and Ray caught up. Everyone seemed to be in pretty good spirits, no doubt figuring that if we had two days worth of hiking today, that would surely mean that we could goof off for a day later in the trip.

I hoisted, and almost caught the front crew as they were turning up into Woodenshoe, but after a short distance in Woodenshoe, I stopped so I could take a look at the first spring that Kelsey has marked. Well, there was water there, but frankly, it was little more than a sheen on the rocks. I think that with some experienced (at Dark Canyon) hikers in the lead, (George, Sue, and Andy) no one was even thinking about stopping until they got to the "real" spring that flows out of the east wall, about a mile up into Woodenshoe. I pulled into our camp (588,209 East, 4,185,697 North) about 5:20 pm. Susie's mood seemed to have improved with the decreasing temperature, and she already had a tent site picked out. We were scattered all over this forested bench across from the spring, I would imagine over several acres. It seemed a reaction to the last couple of nites, having been squeezed into small spots. Our tent was up quickly, and we decided to take a quick bath (after taking a long drink from the spring) before the temperature fell any further. Andy reported that it was about 56 degrees out, and with the wind whistling through the pines, it made for an airy bath. Brrrrr.......... It felt great to be both clean from the hiking grit and wet, at least for about 30 seconds, before the wind dried you off. The spring was not exactly roaring, like it had been on the previous trip. We settled for dipping our water out of a small depression at the edge of the creek bed. Not as aesthetically pleasing, but it did not require treatment, and it was vastly faster.

No waiting around for the sun to drop tonight. Most folks had dinner cooking pretty fast. Hot soup when the temperature is falling like a stone is true elixir, and combined with a massive amount of Santa Fe Turkey and rice (our own brew, using Knorr Rice Mates, dried tomatoes, FD turkey, and rice - and a spot of extra cumin and chili powder), washed down with lots of water, it made for a wonderful dinner. As we cooked, I noted that the temperature had fallen to 46 degrees. What a contrast from last night: we are dressed in long underwear, polartek, hats, and in some cases, gloves. It would be a big goose down night. George's idea of a change in itinerary - we always seem to have them, no matter how extensive the planning - seemed to carry the day. We would do a full day again tomorrow, heading for Keyhole Arch Canyon area, and then layover there a full day, which would permit detailed exploration of the area. I was surprised, and delighted that George had suggested it. I had been concerned that today would be too tiring, but then, he had been in the front of the pack all day, so I figure, why argue with smashing success.

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Roger A. Jenkins, Suzanne A. Mcdonald, 2000