The wind had blown throughout the night the temperature dropped significantly. Combined that with the incline that we were laying on and previous day’s activity and it was little wonder that no one slept very well.
We were all awake by 4:50 and Mason had already gotten up and started a fire with drift wood he had scavenged when the cold became unbearable. We all grudgingly got up and made breakfast. I boiled water and made what was supposed to be scrambled eggs with bacon. The bacon parts weren’t so bad but they were intermingled with something that resembled eggs but tasted like powdery bloated death. Shortly after eating this I abandoned my goal of not making twozie on this trip and quickly made a make shift toilet to relieve my suffering.
Then we all changed back into our hiking clothes from the day before, burned our trash and packed up our bags. We made our way down to the creek to pump water. At this point I learned that Kyler had lost all his water bottles the day before and Marc had lost one of his. I gave one of my water bottles to Kyler and Marc got a second from one of the boys Gatorade bottles.
All night I had been dreading getting back into the water. I was resigned to the fact that I had to keep hiking but getting back into the water after a cold windy night seemed just too daunting. Much faster than I wanted, the time came to take the plunge. The sun had still not peaked over the canyon and the day was still cool when my ankles and feet first sank into the ice cold creek. Then with one misstep I was up to my waist and fighting to catch my breath.
Eager to get out the boys, Cedar, Mason, Kyler and Kolter, sailed ahead trying their best to stay out of the water. This was for two reasons really. First, as I’ve already illustrated the water was cold and second, you could move much faster out of the water than in. Unfortunately this particular course meant scaling boulders and cliffs which was physically demanding and dangerous. More often than not I found myself choosing the left strenuous colder path which meant falling behind the lead group.
For the first part of the morning I stayed with Jeff and Zane with Marc just behind us. Before too long Jeff and Zane made their way ahead and I was left alone with them ahead of me and out of sight and Marc somewhere behind me. I didn’t mind hiking alone because I could go my own pace and didn’t feel the need to keep up with the faster boys. I could tell where they had been by the water marks on the rocks and for the most part just followed their trail.
There were two particularly unpleasant experiences I had during my morning sojourn alone. There was one area with gigantic boulders that I could see no way around or over. After some searching I found a small crevasse underneath and between two of the boulders. I had to crawl on my hands and knees through the passage scraping on the rocks in about three inches of mossy water. Much to my delight I found that this was also the home of twenty or so spiders that scurried about the rock walls that engulfed me.
Next I encountered a small waterfall/rapid area. I thought I’d be able to keep my feet or at least my hands and feet as I made my way down. Quickly though I was disappointed as I slipped and was pushed down stream by the current making sure to hit every rock on the way down.
After this though the rest of the morning was a piece of cake. I just had to rock hop and climb in between intervals of getting into the ice cold water and then swim for about a ¼ mile stretch. Now I know a ¼ mile doesn’t seem like a long way and you are thinking ‘hey it’s swimming, how bad could it be?’ Well let me tell you with a 30 pound pack on your back it’s no picnic. While I was swimming this last ¼ mile stretch I had determined that if the lead group, which now included every one but Marc and myself, hadn’t stopped for a break at the end of this swim to allow us to catch up that I would punch the first person I saw in the face and the next person until I was overcome by the group and eventually beaten. I know this is a disturbing thought to come from a young men leader who is charged with protecting these boys, I only share it because during this trying experience I had many more such thoughts that I wouldn’t normally have. Thankfully as I came out of the water and began to empty my pack of the 15-20 pounds of water I had taken on, a fun ritual I repeated after each swim, I heard Mason in the distance and the urge to punch someone in the face subsided.
I rejoined the group and was able to persuade Kyler to pump some water for me as my one water bottle had been empty for some time. I again feasted on a protein bar and some jerky. Yummy. And we awaited Marc’s arrival. Every few minutes we would yell for him as I explained to the group that hearing their voices had given me strength and saved them from what would have surely been my feeble attack on a group of well rested and younger combatants.
Before too long Marc made his way around the bend before collapsing next to us on the sandy beach and expressing a desire to not continue much longer. Some of the boys had already determined to lighten his load by taking some of his equipment and set about divvying up some of his things. I was particularly proud of Mason who took the lead in this labor of love and would later take the bulk of Marc’s dry bag for the duration of the trip. I’m sure Marc would take much more the one sentence to express the love and gratitude that he felt and feels for Mason’s service.
After our rest we continued on, this time making an effort to keep the group together. We stopped at shorter intervals and allowed everyone to catch up before moving on. I know this was a sacrifice to the boys who just wanted to keep going but I was glad we all stayed together for most of the afternoon.
Our goal all day was to make it to the final camp site that Jeff knew of. Making it there would guarantee us getting out in three days. Anything short of that we risked spending another night in the canyon. All of us were driven by the desire to make this site which led us to again forego the wisdom and counsel of our good Bishop and pass on a perfectly good camp site continuing on past a large sandy area with plenty of drift wood to make a fire. This decision was not reached lightly or unanimously. Mason, Cedar and Kyler wanted to press on. Kolter and Marc would have been happy to stop. Zane, Jeff and I were indifferent leaning slightly towards stopping. We had checked the GPS loaned to me by my friend Mike with the waypoints provided by Bishop and saw that the next closest waypoint was 0.94 miles away as the crow flies and we thought that it might be the location we had been seeking. I told the boys we could continue towards that waypoint but that we would not pass another camping spot. Kolter muttered something about doing harm to Mason, who had led the campaign to continue, if we ended up sleeping on the rocks.
The lead group flew ahead while I hung back at a slower pace to wait up for Kolter who had to pump water. After a few hundred yards Kolter caught up to me. From the GPS we knew the canyon was going to take a right and then a long semi-straightaway before banking back left and our waypoint and hopefully our camp site would be there. After 45 grueling minutes of hiking and climbing and wading through the water we hit a long swim that we weren’t anticipating. This was just when the sun had dipped below the walls of the canyon the water was now freezing as was our bodies. I couldn’t paddled and keep up with Kolter and he moved ahead of me shouting back when he had reached land. I was only half way through the swim when I found myself alone once more.
It was then that my mind started reeling again. My first thought was that I couldn’t keep going not knowing how much farther I had to go for the day and that I could potentially die. Oddly enough that thought was morbidly comforting being that I wouldn’t have to continue as I had for the past two days. I quickly dismissed that thought when I thought of my lovely wife and three beautiful children. My next thought was when I spotted a patch of sand about 4 feet by 6 feet and thought that I could just stop there and when Marc came along he and I could make camp for the night and with my stove and his water pump we’d be just fine. I began to fantasize about the two of us building a life there on that little spot of beach, a life of no more climbing and no more swimming. We would have been happy there. That plan was quickly dashed when I remembered that he’s 6’5 and wouldn’t want to sleep with his feet in the water the rest of his life. So I continued swimming.
At the end of this swim I discovered that the canyon indeed did turn to the left and, as I drained my pack once again, I saw that to my right was a relatively sandy area that would have been passable as a camp site. To my horror though there was nobody there. Before working myself up into a homicidal rage again I thought I’d a least yell for Kolter to see if he was in shouting distance. So I yelled “Hello!” and was relieved when several voices bellowed back from the other side of the creek not more than 200 yards up the canyon. I traversed my way through the bush and sand and rocks across the creek and up to where they were. When I drew near I saw that they were making camp and asked “Is this it? Did we make it?” Jeff said that this was the place. I smiled and told the boys I was proud of them for making the goal they had set. They mumbled something back to the effect of ‘Wipe that smile off of your face you crazy old man how could you bring us to this horrible horrible place, I hate you’.
I basked in the glow of their love and adoration for a moment and then set to work making camp and drying out my soaking wet sleeping bag. After several threats of physical violence a couple of the boys made their way down to the creek and relieved Marc who had showed up right behind me and immediately set to pumping water for the camp.
Since we were assured we’d make it out the next day the boys set to work consuming all the food they had brought for their journey. Seriously they ate three and in some cases four meals worth of food in one sitting. Jeff gave me some powdered Gatorade packets to add to my water for the night. I could literally feel the electrolytes flowing through my body. I hastily made my beef stew and set my still damp sleeping bag between Kyler and Marc near the fire Mason had built.
Although Marc’s body was clearly hurting he seemed to be in good spirits, although he was concerned about being cold so I gave him my emergency blanket. Likewise Mason, who had hiked in his jacket to cover his sunburned body, got a jacket from Zane. Everyone really pulled together and when a need was found somebody was always willing stepped up to fill that need. I was honored to be a part of this group of men.
A fire was started and we all attempted to sleep. It was a full, or nearly full, moon which was somewhat like trying to sleep directly underneath a florescent light bulb. Again it was windy and cold. Everyone slept in 30 to 40 minute intervals before being awakened by something or another. It was a long night.