Grand Gulch 2001
Collins to Todie - Opus 2
In at Collins
Saturday, April 14 We had a hard time sleeping much past 5:30 am NST (Navajo Standard Time, which is the same as MDT, but different from MST, which is the time throughout AZ, except for on the reservation. I hate that term, and try to use "Navajo Nation" when I am around that part of the world). We got up and brewed some in-room coffee, which was probably the worst brewed coffee I have ever consumed. Everyone else except Barbara went to the motel restaurant for breakfast, but were pretty much ready to roll, with all gear packed at 7:30. We did not get far before our first stop: the local supermarket. No one else had gotten stuff for lunch that day, so we frogged around there for maybe 20 minutes or so. Ray and Barbara decided to go on in the car, after announcing that the route up the Moki Dugway, Utah 261, had to be faster than the way I had planned, up US 191 to south of Blanding, and then west on 95 to 261. Like I always say: it is like a herd of cats trying to keep folks on a single path on these trips. I figure that after all these years, I can tolerate a bit of independence.
Apparently, the coffee everyone had drunk had worked its way through the respecitve systems, as north of Round Rock, AZ, George pulled over on the shoulder and announced that this was a bathroom break. Everyone availed themselves except 16 year old Cora, who I would imagine was pretty amazed to see all these guys in their 50's, 60's, and 70's acting like what she considered to be 16 year old boyz. We stopped again in Bluff, Utah to get some more gas and chocolate chip cookies - Ray and Barbara were long gone, and in fact, had turned west to head toward Mexican Hat.
Despite all the stops, we made it to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station by 10:30 am, and found Ray inside chatting with the folks manning the station. He pretty much had our permit filled out for us. In contrast to our experience in 1999 in Escalante, our interactions with the ranger were extremely pleasant. We chatted about hiking in the area, and she asked us to keep track of the water situation in the canyon, and leave us a report when we came back. I still could not get a satisfactory response to the question: "Why can't we enter the canyon at anyplace we want?" The response is that they control the access to the canyon through the number of permitted people entering from each trailhead, but it seems to me that a permit for any entrance on the east side of the canyon should be good for any entry point one feels like using in that area. I think there is a reason they are reluctant to provide: other than the standard entrances to the canyon, most of the rest of the routes are "more exciting" than the BLM feels comfortable encouraging people to use. Indeed, the route in/out of Todie Canyon is permitted for exiting only if you are a backpacker. Supposedly, they will not permit one for entering at that point, and now having done the exit, we can see why. The ranger did - very politely, mind you - warned us that the route out Todie was a bit rough, and encouraged us to take a piece of rope or some webbing to help haul packs up and over rocks on the way out Todie. This was new information for me, and probably just as well that I had not gotten it until now. We usually end up carrying our "canyon rope" - 2 pounds of 50 feet of Goldline - around these places, usually for nothing (although we have used it a few times at strategic spots), and as it turns out (see below) while there are a couple of places where pack handing up is nice, you can probably do it without rope.
We headed down the highway a few miles to the turnoff to Todie Flats, and it did not take long to get to the trailhead. Next, all nine of us squeezed into the van, and we bounded off around the head of Grand Gulch, and the turn off to Collins Canyon. The road out to Collins is not one you should plan to travel at 40 mph. Some of the spots require that one essentially crawls through the dirt over the rocks. It was about an hour from one trailhead to the other, and we were surprised to see passenger cars out at the trailhead. A low clearance vehicle will need to be particularly careful. There were 6 - 8 vehicles there already, although we imagined some were those of day hikers. The breeze was cool, but the sun warm. I enjoyed my last beer for a week, and munched on the small sandwich I had purchased at the Gallup Safeway, while lusting after Susie's huge chunk of Onion Foccacia bread. Hopefully, she would want to carry in the leftovers.
Well, there is only so much gear sorting and frogging around one can do: eventually, you have to saddle up and hike. We all rolled about 12:45 pm. The trail down into Collins was pretty well defined, and much more developed than I remember, or that my 19 year old slides indicate. We got to a pretty big pour-off, and it seemed like they had nearly paved the trail after blasting it out of the rock. Before long, water begins to be seen in the bottom of the canyon, always a re-assuring sight. Soon, we were on the floor of the canyon, and the walking was pretty smooth. George, as usual, was out in front.
I looked up, and could seen the mushroom rocks that are on the mesa top opposite the mouth of Collins Canyon. We had been walking barely an hour, and we were nearly to the main canyon, without, mind you, a rest break. I was feeling good about my level of conditioning, since 19 years ago, I recalled (and have a photo to prove it) stopping for a break prior to reaching the mouth of the canyon. Unfortunately, the mouth was not at all like I remember it: the bench on the far wall of the main canyon seemed hotter, drier, and dustier than before. There were already some folks camped under some trees along the dry stream bed, and that seemed to be the only half-decent spot to camp, so I figured we needed to move upstream a bit. Unfortunately, there was no George nor John at the junction. I dropped my pack and walked back a couple of hundred meters to the Collins Canyon mouth and discussed the situation with Ray: I could not imagine that George had gone on without telling us, and Ray had me absolutely convinced that George would not turn down canyon. So I took off - sans backpack - up Grand Gulch, trying to chase down George. Turns out Ray was wrong: George HAD turned down canyon, but realized his mistake when he got to the narrows. Depending where you are standing, as you head down Collins, it would be easy to mistake the main canyon for the side canyon of Collins, especially if you had not seen the latter earlier in the hike. Ray and I headed upstream in search of a better spot to camp. About 400 meters upstream of the Collins Canyon Mouth, there is a huge rincon, that promised us some flat places to camp, but Ray reported that such was not particularly appealing, so we moved up and around a big bend in the canyon, and I found a shady spot in some big cottonwoods, that looked like a pretty good campsite for a couple of nites, so I headed back downstream. I ran into Susie waiting by her pack, a couple of hundred meters up from the rest of the group. She was concerned that if I sent her up to the spot I had found, the rest of the crew would want to stay put. I assured her I would kick butt if folks wanted to stay put. When I got back to the main group, everyone seemed to be easy with the idea of walking another kilometer or so to find some shade. While the air was not hot, it was definitely on the toasty side in the sun.
Where we were camped was a narrow spot (UTM 575,121 Easting, 4141275 Northing), where I think the floor of the canyon was less than 30 meters wide. However, that meant early shade, given a nice shear wall immediately to our west. While there was not a lot of water flowing in the stream bed, there was a trickle, and there were several nice pools from which one could fill a water bag. Susie and I headed down to some rock sheets in the stream bed, maybe 100 meters below camp, where that water ran over rocks for a while. Outstanding spot to bathe. It is wonderful to be able to walk a nice smooth rock, and wash yourself off with sun-warmed water. And with a steady footing, you could really fling your rinse water far, far up on to the bank. Life was good.
Back in camp, it was GPS-chore time. This was a term coined last year on the Dark Canyon trip, referring to how the guys with GPS units would get together at the close of the hiking part of the day, and compare critical waypoints, and distances to home, or other waypoints still left in the GPS from previous excursions. On this trip, we had four GPS units, all Garmin. As one would expect, the differences in our waypoints were typically due to differences in where we sat while we were engaged in the practice of noting waypoints. Yes, it is true that often, we could tell that George was sitting 25 feet from me, to the northwest. These things are amazing.
We had such a short hike today (probably less than 3 miles) that it had taken us longer to look for the campsite than to actually hike to it. There was lots of time for relaxing, but as soon as the shade hit us, we all started thinking about dinner. A few no-see-ums joined Susie and I for a dinner of black bean humus on tortillas with salsa (the latter being dried and reconstituted). "Medium" spicy salsa has a way of getting hotter when it is dried: folks with gentle palates, take note. Cora was our only vegetarian on this trip. Her dad - an omnivore - and she had agreed, based on the difference in their eating styles, to just bring pour-the-boiling-water-in-the-bag dinners as an easy way of addressing this lifestyle conflict. However, Cora, having not done a lot of long distance backpacking, complained that the freeze-dried vegetarian dinners left much to be desired. One could probably say that for most freeze-dried dinners.
The most exciting thing to happen this evening was that John thought walking around in Tevas with wool socks would provide his feet with adequate protection. It turns out he was wrong, having rammed a cactus spine into his big toe right after dinner. I loaned Lance the scalpel from my snake bite kit, and he used it to dig around in the end of John's toe, to the encouragement of the entire group. John survived the surgery, although Lance was unsuccessful at getting out all of the spine. Hey, when there are no movies to watch, you have to find your entertainment where you can.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 2001