We rose early this morning, our newly aching bodies crying out as we left the warmth of our sleeping bags for the cold of the pre-dawn campsite. After a brief breakfast, we packed our things, and then the rest of the ball kids played with green fuzzy for a bit while I took the single most scenic poop of my life. I walked the recommended five minutes away from camp (so as to avoid digging up someone else’s poop, per the warning of the ranger at the visitor’s center), hiking to the edge of a canyon. If I craned my neck, I had a view of the river a few hundred feet below, and in front of me were the great red cliffs of the Kolob Canyons. Refreshed, I returned to the group, and we departed.
The first few miles retraced our path to Kolob Arch from the previous afternoon, but soon afterward we crossed a river and began to climb up… and up and up and up. It was at this point that we started to have an inkling of what the day might have in store for us. We realized that we had significantly underestimated the difference in difficulty between walking along the flat path of the river, and attempting to escape from the canyon it had carved. We soldiered on.
Totally fine, and not exhausted in the slightest, we emerged onto a flatter section that defined the beginning of Hop Valley. We loved this part, because it was beautiful, and, as I mentioned, very flat. Red rock walls framed the wide sandy valley floor, through which a stream meandered under the noontime sun. As beautiful as it was, the novelty wore off after the first three or four miles, at which point we became very tired and a little cranky. We decided to stop for lunch.
Recharged, our feet having spent time happily soaking in the cool stream, we resumed our walk. After a few more miles, we reluctantly began to climb again. A few hundred feet into our ascent, though, our tired trudging was interrupted by what looked like a big bird flying quickly overhead, passing only a few feet from Philip, and settling in a large bush near the path. We realized that it had been a stick, not a bird (at least, I did--maybe everyone else had correctly identified it as a stick from the get-go), and midway through being confused where a stick had come from, we heard an unsettlingly carefree voice call out, “Oh shit, man! You almost got tomahawked!”
A pack of shirtless young men (youths) emerged from around the bend, joking with each other and marvelling at Philip’s apparent luck. They seemed to be of the mind, rather fatalistically, that there was nothing they could have done to avoid this near-miss. That stick was going to be thrown, high and far and out of their field of view, and its fate would inevitably be out of their control. There didn’t seem to be anything to be gained from trying to shake them from this worldview, so we exchanged a few facetiously friendly words with them, and continued onwards. There was more uphill to do.
It was at this point that I began to suspect Philip was leading us into some kind of trap or ambush. Early in the day he had given us an estimate for our mileage, but as we hiked he seemed to continue to “realize” that we had further to go than we thought, and I feared he planned to double-cross us at some upcoming trail junction. Suddenly wary of our surroundings, I tried my best to enjoy the scenery of the higher elevation, which was drastically different. The upper crust of these rocky formation was a kind of volcanic deposit, and we seemed to have left the desert behind in favor of a terrain dominated by low-lying, scrubby plants, littered with big chunks of brown-black pumice-y kind of stone. It was cool.
We arrived at the Hop Valley trailhead, our 10-mile marker for the day, and found that we still had four more to go. After making full use of the restroom in the parking lot and checking for evidence of sabotage by Philip, we turned on to the connector trail that would guide the last leg of our journey. We were a little worried that we might not find water at our campsite, and resolved to collect it from the next source we came to.
Finding this water took a while. We were entering mile 12 when we crossed a small drainage through which a small stream flowed, and excitedly dropped our packs to fill up. (Not to rest, though--we certainly weren’t tired.) Luke and Philip valiantly offered to carry the five liter dromedaries, which added a literally nauseating 10 pounds of weight to their packs. They admirably carried them almost a mile before handing them off to Aidan and I, who were determined to see if masochism was really everything it’s cracked up to be.
Alternating between freakish bursts of energy and bouts of delirious exhaustion, we set off ahead of the group— of the mind that the sooner we reached camp and could remove the weight for good, the better. It seemed to pay off: we arrived at the trail junction that marked our intended campsite sooner than I expected, and after regrouping and selecting a good spot, finally dropped the weights from our shoulders for good. Or at least for a few hours.
We now prepare our feast— Philip supervises rice, mixed with curry paste and laden with an ungodly quantity of butter, and I chop cabbage, peppers, and garlic, in preparation for a kind of stir fry. I am overjoyed to watch Bo crank open the cans of chicken that had sat like bricks in my pack for the past two days. Thank god for whoever invented dinner.