Paria Hackberry Traverse 2008
Layover in Sheep Creek
Monday, April 28 It did get to be a cool night. Andy reported 34 degrees on his thermometer when he got up, but someone else reported that there was ice on the threads of their water bottle. Whatever, it had been a cool night for canyon country. Our entertainment at breakfast was Terri. With all the chatter, she became so distracted that she set her plastic drinking cup down on her hot stove, melting the cup into the supports of the stove. Like a loving young couple being married, the two had fused into one. Boy, the old farts start a backpacking trip.
We welcomed the sun's arrival, but knew our joy would be temporary. Susie and I left camp on this layover day, headed upstream toward the mouth of Bull Valley Gorge. First stop was the tiny but beautiful narrows off the west wall of the Sheep Creek Canyon, about a half mile above camp. Opening is at 12S, 407402 E, 4142676 N. Susie and I had been in this spot 14 years ago, and it was still gorgeous. Some ATV's had knocked down a "Closed to Motor Vehicles sign near the mouth, but what do you expect from louts? They try to drive up into the narrows, but don't seem to be able to get all the way, which is just fine with me. The light inside was ethereal. It was a challenge to photograph without a tripod, but it was good practice. We were soon joined by the others in our group, and we took turns photographing each other. Corny, but a good way of spending more time.
Susie and I left the slot first, and were surprised to see a guy, maybe in his early-mid-50's, walking down Sheep Creek. He said he was backpacking, but he carried only a small day pack on his back, some maps in his left hand and a sleeping bag in a stuff sack in his right hand. Talk about lightweight backpacking! He said he was not sure how far he was going to go, as he had come off the road out to the point that separates Paria from Sheep Creek. We explained to him that Deer Creek Canyon was a lovely destination, and probably less than 6 miles away, but it seemed clear to me he was just out for a stroll. We turned and headed up canyon and turned into Bull Valley Gorge.
Immediately, one gets into a short stretch of narrows, and then the canyon opens up quite a bit, and the dominant feature is the soaring walls of white Navajo sandstone. My sense is that this layer is pretty hard, which is one reason for the steep walls. The going is not particularly fast: more loose gravel in the "stream" bed. No stream, or at least none with water in it, on the canyon floor, just nice scenery on a pretty day. Just before lunch, we ran into a couple of young fellows, who had dropped down into Bull Valley Gorge below the narrows, and we doing a "loop," heading to Sheep Creek, and then up to Willis and out at the road. They would be the last humans we would see for the remainder of our trip. Now THAT is solitude!!
Most of us stopped just below a side drainage, about 1.8 miles up the Gorge from its mouth for lunch (12S, 405071 E, 4143947 N). Susie and I decided after lunch to go up into that side drainage, and it becomes an interesting slot for a short stretch. Will showed up about that time, while the rest of the crew had gone further up canyon. The slot narrows down to about a boot-width, and I could see myself getting my foot stuck. Will went a bit further and reported a large, unstable boulder in the drainage. I yelled back to him that Susie and I were turning around, so he should be careful and think "Aaron Ralston" (the fellow who got trapped by a rolling boulder and hand to cut his arm off to save his life).
Andy and Sue would later report that they got to the start of the narrows, and Terri, Barbara, and Ron got to a point within 3/4 a mile of the dirt bridge across the gorge, but were stopped by foot sucking mud, ice and more mud. At some point, it is just not worth it. Susie and I made good time headed back to camp, thankfully, because we could feel the day really warming up. We noticed on the way back that the water was running much harder in the bottom of Sheep Creek than it had the previous day. So much so that it was overrunning the point where it had disappeared the day before, and was now running into the "clean" (ie, less silty) water that we had used as our water source across from camp the previous afternoon. I decided that I would grab Carol's water bag (a handy thing to pump from), fill it full of partially silty water, and carry our water bag downstream to our bath site, in hopes of finding a clean seep or something.
Which we did, as long as you don't mind a bit of pollywog excrement in your water supply. By the time we returned from bathing, and laundry chores, folks were dribbling back to camp. As soon as the sun dropped behind the canyon wall across from camp, things started cooling off, thankfully. It had been a pretty warm day, at least in the sun. We started cooking as soon as we had full shade on the cooking area of the camp. Ron, Terri, and Barbara had finally showed up a few minutes before 6 pm. It had been a long day for the three of them. Ron took off to do some camp chores and came back and started working on dinner, as Susie and I were cleaning up after our dinner of Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff (with extra dried mushrooms). Anyone want some leftover hot soapy water??
Ron sat down and started to work on preparing his dinner, and Will was giving him a hard time about how he (Ron) figures out what dinner to have. Ron pulled out his Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with his meals listed and someone asked him a question about it. Instead of answering, Ron just closed his eyes and slumped over. I got up and ran over to him, thinking he might have suffered a stroke. I grabbed the top of his head and shook it hard, but no response. Others ran over, and released the buckles on his chair so that we could get him to lie on his back while we tried to revive him. He did open his eyes a few seconds later, and we asked him the usual questions about knowing where he was, what he had done today, who is the President, etc. He was slow in responding, but correct. He complained he was nauseous and we tried to give him some electrolytes mixed in with some water. He held it down for about 5 minutes and then barfed. We started querying him about the amount of water he had consumed while he was hiking with the "Two Sirens" and he told us only one liter. Simply not enough for hiking 11+ miles at this humidity. He tried to drink more water but barfed that up as well. Things were not looking too promising. Basically, these sounded like symptoms of heat exhaustion, but the fact that he was not holding down fluids was disconcerting. Eventually, he decided he would be best served by going back to his tent, lying down and trying to sip some water. We helped him over to his tent, for fear he might pass out again, as he tried to walk. Thankfully, he did not pass out, and managed to rest most of the night. The rest of the crew busied themselves with building a small trash fire, and trying to come up with a plan to get Ron safely out of the canyon should such be necessary.
To view supplemental photos of this trip, go to our TwoHikers SmugMug gallery.
To view additional and different photos of the trip, go to Will's SmugMug photo gallery.
© Roger A. Jenkins, Suzanne A. McDonald, 2008, 2016. Photo of Ron being helped to his tent © William H. Skelton, 2008