The rude interruption was not welcome.
As curious as I was to find out what could be making such a bizarre noise (it sounded like someone was slowly tumbling a bag full of empty aluminum cans), I was just too tired. Anyone who has camped alone for significant amounts of time in the backcountry learns how to ignore strange things that go bump in the night.
By 6:30, light filled my tent and I started to think about our impending hike down The Chute of Muddy Creek. Then I remembered the odd disturbance. Was it a dream?
It was no dream. Again, I heard the sound, this time right overhead. An inexplicable metallic clawing, louder than ever. Now everyone was awake and peeking outside their tents. I couldn't take it anymore. I unzipped my tent, shoved my sandals on and looked skyward. It was a huge porcupine, and it had roosted high on a cottonwood tree limb directly above my tent.
He didn't seem to mind all of the commotion we caused below. He had chosen his bed for the day (porcupines are nocturnal) and much like I hadn't budged earlier in morning, he likewise was not letting anything disturb his beauty rest.
|A porcupine sleeps above my tent near Tomsich Butte.|
We headed down the Muddy not quite knowing what to expect. I had been closely monitoring online stream gauges so I knew the spring runoff had not yet began. During peak runoff, let's just say a kayak or canoe would be necessary to safely descend The Chute. Even though stream levels were fairly low, I'd heard of some possible deep swimming holes. For example, Michael Kelsey reported in his latest guidebook three deep holes including a short swim as recently as 2010. Ready for anything, we brought along drybags.
|Hector, Matt, and Eros hike along the dry banks of the Muddy River.|
The canyon starts out wide open with vertical Wingate walls towering overhead. Abandoned uranium mines are easily spotted along the cream Mossback ledge below the Wingate cliffs.
We were just warming up and getting into a good pace when we hit our first deep hole. But how? We weren't even close to the narrows of The Chute. Why were we hitting chest-deep water where the canyon is so wide open?
Looking downstream, the answer was obvious. A tall column of the Moody Canyon Member of the Moenkopi Formation had collapsed across the river creating a natural dam. It was really a cool thing to see, and it's something that won't last long. It'll take just a single good flood to wash the dam out.
|A rock-fall dam backs up Muddy Creek.|
Heading downcanyon, the Muddy cuts deeper into the core of the broad anticline known as the San Rafael Swell. Thus, older rock layers are exposed as you near The Chute. Within a few miles of the trailhead, the stream begins to cut deeply into the Permian-age Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Similar to the much more common slot-former--the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone--Cedar Mesa strata weathers into similar patterns and also exhibits large-scale cross beds. In contrast to the red and white hues of the Navajo, Cedar Mesa sandstone is a soft yellow.
|Aaron leads the way through the initial narrows section.|
|Morning sun manages to reach the bottom of a narrows section along The Chute of Muddy Creek.|
Once in The Chute, we anticipated a deep hole around just about every corner. We had amped ourselves up so much for a "swimmer", we actually began to be disappointed when we turned a corner and saw more of the same calf-deep water. While the water never did get higher than our knees (not including the rock-fall dam which we could have easily avoided), the beauty of the canyon still captivated.
|The Chute Gang stops for lunch; from left to right: Eros, Aaron, Hector, Matt, and myself. Hector Photo.|
|Aaron looks on as Hector works his way up a dry fall near the mouth of Music Canyon.|
Near the deepest part of The Chute, a narrow tributary known as Music Canyon joins from the north. To add a little excitement to the hike, we headed up Music to see how far we could get. Music is a true slot that has been delicately sculpted by countless floods. After helping each other up and over several obstacles, we reached a tall sloping dry fall that looked doable but was just beyond our comfort level. Music is a fairly popular canyon to descend with rappelling gear, and after seeing just a bit of the bottom end, I can understand why.
|Matt pauses in one of the wider sections of the Music Canyon slot.|
|Matt descends an obstacle in Music Canyon.|
Below Music Canyon, The Chute reaches its deepest point near where a large log jam looms a good 40 feet overhead. From there, the height of the canyon walls gradually decreases as you approach the Hidden Splendor trailhead.
|The famous log jam of Muddy Creek has been there for several decades. It's amazing how long wood can be preserved in the arid desert. It will likely take another once-in-a-lifetime flood to dislodge the mess.|
I never paid too much attention to the time but I figure it took us about 8 hours to complete the 15-mile hike including a good lunch break and about 45 minutes goofing around in Music Canyon. A good hike. Not on par with the Zion Narrows or Death Hollow, for example, but a good and easy stroll through a deep watery canyon.
That afternoon in camp my Dad had dozed off in his chair beneath the shady cottonwood. A sharp whack to the head had him jumping to his feet and swiping at the air to fend off the attacking porcupine. When the dust settled, it was apparent that the feisty beast was actually a rogue lid blown off a storage tote by a strong gust of wind.
Turns out, the porcupine didn't budge all day other than to relieve himself on my tent! As we cooked dinner that evening around the fire, our quilled friend decided it was time to wake up and we watched him climb down the tree and waddle into the sunset.