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Dark Canyon 2000
You Can't Go Home Anymore

Another layover - two arches!

Saturday, May 13   Everyone seemed to agree that last night was the coldest of the trip. For this trip, most of us had goose down bags good to 25 degrees or so, and nearly everyone said they were on the edge of comfort. There was a significant amount of ice in our water bottles, so upper 20's is probably a good estimate. We woke to high, thin clouds, and all cooked breakfast in the glow of a campfire, the radiant heat taking the chill off nicely. No one seemed to be in a hurry: who says human backpackers are not cold blooded. We seem to move like lizards in the morning: If it is warm, we are stepping out soon, if it is cold, we are slower than molasses. Of course, the lack of having to move camp was contributing to our apparent sloth.

We took off after breakfast XC with Andy and Sue, going over a big bench to get into the mouth of Keyhole Arch canyon. It was slow going, but Sue's finding a couple of pottery shards, seemingly so far from any "permanent" structures more than compensated. We were also afforded a good look, albeit from a major distance, at ruins way up on the canyon walls. It seemed nearly impossible that anyone could get into them. We dropped to the floor of the canyon, and followed the stream bed for about a mile or a bit less. There was flowing water in the bottom of the canyon: not a lot, but enough to support a group, and a couple of nice pour offs. On the first trip here, I had found a huge fossil impression of a leaf, maybe 18 inches long, in a boulder in the stream bed. But it was way up the canyon, probably even with Keyhole Arch, and I knew we would miss it when we left the stream bed. But the most efficient way to get to the arch seemed to be to go up on the slickrock walls now, and traverse over to the arch. Besides, there seemed to be a lot of hootin' and hollarin' from the rest of the crew, so going up was the preferred direction. When we got up on the slickrock, we could see another arch, way high up to our left, probably a half mile or so from Keyhole Arch. Ray was up on the bench, "directing traffic," so that everyone would take the most efficient route over the arch (up to the correct level, and then down to the best level, then back up and back down: contouring on slickrock can be a far cry from a true constant elevation traverse). Ray always likes to help, and his assistance is usually most welcome. We came around the underside of the arch, and around to its back, from where the impression of it as a keyhole is strongest.

We crawled inside the arch, and took photos. Sue - I guess if anyone would find it, Sue would - found what amounted to a large adobe pictograph of a big horn sheep, right inside the arch. It was very faint, so you had to look a long time. (I took photos, but it doesn't show up well.) Of course, Will and Diane, always seeking to display their physical prowess, climbed up through and into the arch. It was not a tough climb, but I figure that any exposure that I do not have to endure to see something is well worth avoiding. Besides, recollections of the day which we explored Keyhole Arch Canyon 17 years ago kept me behaving conservatively. It had been a bad day, and could have been much worse. On that day, BJ fell coming down from the arch, and severely sprained her ankle. Having to hike out nearly 16 - 17 miles from the point where she had injured it (the access road had been washed out just below the Bears Ears that year, and we were forced to hike an extra 8 - 9 miles on the road) put her in crutches for three weeks. In addition, as Ray was coming down from the arch, a boulder released, and nearly crushed both his legs. He leaped out of the way at the last possible second, and remembers vividly to this day thinking that if the boulder hit him, his legs would be useless forever. I was not taking any unnecessary chances today.

While we ate lunch in the shade of the arch, Susie announced that she wanted to traverse the slickrock back to the point where we could see if we could get to any of the ruins nearer the mouth of the canyon. Having been called a wuss just a couple of days previously, I thought it would be in my best self interest to accompany her, and whoever joined us, even though I suspected it would likely be a huge expenditure of energy with a futile outcome. As I alluded to previously, "traversing" across slickrock can often be in name only. We tried to stay at constant elevation, but having to cross numerous gullies, filled with all kinds of prickly vegetation and trees, was about as much fun as I could tolerate. It took us about 90 minutes to go a mile or so, and we were "rewarded" with a damn near impossible climb to get up into the ruins. We moved along at the same level, and got to an easier spot, but the step was a bit more airy than I wanted to make, and no one was offering to let me stand on their cocked femur, so after a couple of attempts, I gave up. Andy had already confirmed his overwhelming level of common sense by having headed back to camp hours ago (claiming he was having some exposure issues due to bad camera batteries, but I figured any excuse was useful.) Sue and Barbara and Dolph tried to push it a bit further, but decided it was getting late, and came on down after another 30 minutes.

Susie and I now had to find our way back down to the canyon floor, so we tried a ridge, which was less vegetated than the gullies. It took us about a half hour to get back down. When we got down the canyon a bit further, we came to this nice spring, and I climbed up to its source, where all the water was coming through one little spot, so it filled the water bottle quickly. About that time, the other ladies and Dolph got down as well. As we got to the mouth of the canyon, I decided that nature was calling, so moved off the trail a few feet, dug a small hole, while Susie and the others headed up to camp a few hundred meters upstream. No sooner than I had just squatted when I could hear strange voices. It was four older gentlemen hiking downstream. I got further back in the bushes, dug a new cathole, and marveled at another difference in 17 years: the number of people. It had not been like the hoards on this trip, but almost every moving day, we had seen at least one or two parties. In 83, from our layover day at the foot of the Sundance Trail to the end of the trip, we had seen no one. As I walked into camp, George was talking with another couple of hikers

The group split up for dinner: too much sun on the rocks at the dinner spot. About 64 degrees this afternoon, but the sun was bright. Those of us sitting on the rocks were treated to another display of falling water levels in the creek bed. After dinner, the GPS-ers discussed today's findings, and I decided I would write a comparative article for the Tennes-Sierran. You can read the article elsewhere on this web site. We built a trash fire in the fire ring, and huddled together, telling stories, to keep warm in the dying sunlight. Susie and I were in bed by 9:30 or so.

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Roger A. Jenkins, Suzanne A. Mcdonald, 2000