September 30 (Sunday)
Ate breakfast with Dave and Marie at a crowded small bakery. We were seated without much waiting, but by the time we left, there was a large line of people waiting outside. We used the bathrooms at the Hotel Jerome, as Dave and Marie do all the time, which made me nervous, but evidently they are (barely) tolerated. Then we started out for Utah. We had lunch at a view area just West of Green River. I did most of the driving (under the agreement that I would do most of the driving on the interstate, while Roz would do most of the driving on 2 lane roads). We bought some dramatically overpriced gasoline in Beaver: note, Beaver merchants: you can get away with that once, never twice. Never again anywhere in Utah did we see gas priced so high.
We were about half way through Tolkien's story when we pulled into the Kolob section of Zion. I thought this telling of the tale was pretty good, and quite faithful to the original, although to reduce a 1200 page trilogy to 13 hours of audio (minus miscellaneous time on each tape with credits, etc.), obviously a lot of detail must be left out. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I should point out that while I have read it a number of times, I haven't in at least 10 years. The only major detail that I can recall being left out was Tom Bombadill, and various events before and after (like running into the statues of the trolls). I can think of a few things that were abbreviated, but every other plot development that I can think of was there. My familiarity with the story was a boon to Roz: every time she wasn't clear on what was happening, we stopped the tape, and I filled her in.
We went for a short walk out to the Kolob Canyons view point. At dusk, I walked up the Taylor creek trail a few minutes while Roz laid out a picnic dinner at the trailhead. We ate dinner as it got completely dark. We stayed that night in a hotel in Hurricane.
We took the Kayenta connection trail to the Grotto picnic area, where we had lunch, and then we started off for the day's 'main event', Angel's Landing. As we started up, Roz suggested that I walk on ahead and out the West rim trail a little way, come back, and meet her at the intersection of the Angel's Landing trail and the W rim trail. As I was heading back towards Angels Landing, I was getting a feeling of disbelief. No way could the trail go up that ridge! It was no more than a few feet wide, rose steeply away from me, and on the side I could see, had vertical cliffs extending down a thousand feet. At first I assumed that the trail must extend up the other side, up terrain hidden from me, but a look through my monocular showed people on the ridge (the other side of the ridge, although not quite as sheer at the top, was too steep for casual walking, and did have substantial vertical cliffs somewhat below the ridge). As I got closer, it became apparent that this climb would easily be the most terrifying thing I had done since Yosemite's Half Dome.
I met Roz at the intersection, and we started up. Wherever the ascend crossed an area of exposure, they had a heavy chain strung between poles set in the rock. This was not a uniform setup (as with Half Dome), but an off and on thing, as the route wound its way up the ridge. The longest stretch of unbroken chain was perhaps a hundred feet long. After ascending several stretches of chain, to a false summit, Roz announced (to my relief, actually), that she wasn't going any further. As I climbed the ridge, I actually saw only a few places where slipping (and letting go of the chain) would be followed by certain death (after a somewhat lengthy delay). Unlike half dome, most places on the ascent were not actually all that terrifying. Nonetheless, Roz and I both heaved a big sigh of relief as we descended past the last chain. There were only a couple of spots where I felt the chain could have been installed but wasn't. It was quite windy, something I could have done without. Thunderclouds threatening earlier never materialized.
After descending to the valley floor, Roz and I took the shuttle bus back to the lodge, took quick showers, and showed up the the restaurant just in time for our reservations, and after a frustrating and very annoying 45 minute wait, we were seated. This was one of those high calorie/high fat meals where just seems inevitable: you know, where after the bread you get the feeling that you really have eaten enough. To try to work off some of the excess, I went for a walk afterwards. The moon was full, and I walked up the road 2-3 miles, up to a triangular pullout they call the 'big bend'. This was something I had been looking down on all day, both from the W rim train and Angels Landing, and for some reason, I just wanted to get there before leaving Zion. After the last bus passed me just after 10, I saw no other vehicles (an advantage of the mandatory shuttle system). I did see a couple on the road, and a flash of light that might have been someone taking a picture at the observatory point (2000 feet above the valley floor). I saw no one else, and got back to our cabin about 11:30.
When I fell, I had been using the same hiking boots I had been using for years, since every new pair I bought gave me problems (ref. Grand Canyon trip Nov. '00). These boots had been terrific, but I have been unable to find another pair anywhere. This is what drives me nuts about fashion: find something you really like, enjoy it while you can, because you will never, ever, be able to buy it again. As a consequence, the tread on these boots had been completely worn off. Comfortable as these shoes were, I have regretfully concluded that they are due for retirement. The REI boots that had given me so much trouble a year before in the Grand Canyon were along just in case, and I wore those for the rest of the trip, pretty much without incident. The new tread on these shoes gave a refreshing degree of traction. The problem with these boots persist, however, so they are not suitable for a really long hike, or extensive hiking over a number of days (these boots were fine on the GCNP trip until the 11 hour hike). No, they haven't 'broken in': I am convinced the whole 'breaking in' concept was invented by shoe retailers to persuade reluctant customers to purchase shoes that don't feel quite right. Every pair of boots I have ever owned has either never given be problems or never stopped giving me problems.
Outside of Escalante, we stopped at the BLM/USFS visitor center, and asked about sites in Escalante. We were told that the only maintained trail in the monument was to 'Calf Creek Falls'. The 'hole in the rock' road, under consideration since the last time through the area, when I had purchased the 'Trails Illustrated' 'Canyons of the Escalante' map, was said to be an all day venture, if taken all the way to Lake Powell, even without any side trips. Note the aforementioned map actually covers only about half the monument. We found a hotel in Escalante, had lunch, and drove to the 'Calf creek falls' TH. It was mid afternoon by the time we started out, and I wasn't confident that Roz could make it there and back before dark, and I recommended that she consider going only part way, but she informed me that she was going to do the whole thing. The highway parallels the trail, and in a few places we could see it above us, climbing out of the valley. It was 3 miles, or maybe just a little less, in to the falls, which really were impressive, over a hundred feet tall, a good sized creek coming over the cliffs at the end of the box canyon, with a pool of emerald water. Roz indeed made it to the falls, and took some pictures. About half way back, I rushed on ahead, to start cooking dinner at the picnic tables at the TH. Roz, taking her time, made it back shortly before I was finished, right about sunset (we stayed in touch with our radios). We ate dinner by twilight and drove back to our hotel.
From the trailhead, we could see the Gorge of the Escalante river, several miles distant. This was evidently where the trail went, although we hadn't seen any map indicating this for sure. Roz didn't feel like doing this hike, so I started out by myself, again staying in touch with our radios. The trail started out down a hill of solid rock. There was a route which avoided all the dangerously steep places. With her vantage point at the top, Roz helped guide me down. There were also cairns here and there. At the bottom, I followed a somewhat casually marked trail, with occasional cairns and foot tracks, across the flats. I had the presence of mind to keep looking back, so that on the way back, I would be able to find the place in the cliffs where I had come down, if I for whatever reason failed to find the same trail. Before long, heading for the inner ravine, I was following a dry wash tributary of the Escalante, bounded with dangerous cliffs in most places (Fence Canyon). The trail was difficult to follow, but clearly kept me on the North side of the ravine. At one point I was sure I was supposed to head into the ravine, but after careful examination, it became clear that the trail stayed on the rim, as I got closer and closer to the main gorge of the Escalante. Finally, I came to a point, where an unnamed canyon from the North intersected Fence Canyon, and the trail headed down into the ravine. Not long after, I was at the river. I looked around briefly for the trail heading up and down the Escalante, but the way downstream was blocked by a sheer rock plunging into the creek. There might have been a trail heading upstream, but I didn't see one. Evidently people that do these trips do a lot of wading. The trail appeared to drop down the steep bank into the creek, which was just clear enough that I could see the bottom, maybe a foot deep, with a slow but clearly discernible current. I did see a woman on a sand bank on the other side of the downstream rock. As I climbed back out, I observed that the downstream rock became the cliffs on the South side of Fence Canyon, so clearly, the only safe way to get downstream involves getting your feet wet.
Climbing out of the ravine (with the usual trail finding problems: I apparently got waylaid by a trail that went to a small pond) I sure enough found myself following a different trail across the flat than the one I had descended on, this time further to the North. Roz called me on the radio, and reported that, through her binoculars, a person she thought might be me was me was very close to a large party with lamas. I didn't think she could possibly have spotted me, since there was no one in sight. The trail seemed to be veering off to the North, away from where I knew the route up the cliff was, so a broke off it, following a single track of footprints in the sand. It turned out Roz had indeed spotted me, and I caught up to the lama party just before I reached the base of the cliff. Some of the members of the party seemed to think that because of Roz's guidance, I had some kind of an edge going up the cliff. They soon learned otherwise. It wasn't Roz's fault, but I started up the wrong way, misguided by a sequence of cairns set up in totally the wrong place. The lama party guide, at least, knew what she was doing, so I backtracked, and followed them up. With a little assistance from her, I found the right route, which was for the most part very clear once I was pointed in the right direction, and I came out just ahead of them, much to my relief, since I didn't want to follow a lama trailer on the way out (don't for a minute think that it was due to my competitive nature). That night I treated Roz to a restaurant dinner in Escalante. I also waited patiently while she bought some stuff at an antique store.