I've only had to call my wife to bail me out of an adventure once before. I put a lot of planning into executing long trips with precision. This time I simply ignored a major warning of difficulties to come while preparing for a single-day run through the Paria Canyon near the Utah-Arizona border.
My plan was to run through the canyon at a fairly leisurely pace, camp at Lee's Ferry Campground, and then ride a stashed mountain bike 70+ miles back to the White House trailhead via House Rock Valley. This seemed very doable and within my current fitness levels.
Since we had been in a monsoon pattern, I had been closely monitoring a couple of Paria River stream gauges. Too much water in the Paria could make a traverse through the gorge impossible. Just three days before my trip, my heart sank as the radar showed a strong thunder cell sitting over the upper Cockscomb. I checked the gauges downstream, and sure enough, a whopping flood peaking at over 2,000 cubic-feet/second pushed through the canyon.
I considered postponing. But, in the following days, water levels receded, and while I figured there would be some residual mud, I figured the canyon would be mostly runnable. I should have known better.
The flood waters had left the canyon bottom in absolute terrible conditions for travel. Everything was covered with a film of slick, clayey sludge. Even the more stable gravel bars that are typically good running were a slick mess. Seemingly firm sand would suddenly liquefy at the slightest tap of the foot, and my entire leg would would be swallowed by the earth. You can usually adapt and learn to discern "soft spots" on the floors of Colorado Plateau canyons as you go along, but in this case, it was a total crap shoot. Every step was a guessing game.
The poor conditions and the fact that I took way too many self-timer shots (help, I'm an addict) made for some slow going. An abandoned side trip up to see Wrather Arch added some mileage. I started running at about 7:30 am, and didn't get to Lee's Ferry Campground until 8:30 pm. The worst part was that I had stomach issues the last 15 miles, and by the time I got to camp I couldn't eat or drink any of the goodies I had stashed. By about 4 am, after sleeping a few hours, I finally started to get my appetite back and started nibbling food and sipping Gatorade, but I knew there was no way I'd have time to refuel for a 70-mile bike ride back to the White House trailhead.
I was done. At first light, I called Susie and asked for a ride.
Here are the pics. Don't be deceived, the decent running conditions seen in the photos were few and far between.
|Long stretches of the canyon were filled wall-to-wall with murky water. I never knew what my next step would land on.|
|Red-spotted toad at Wall Spring.|
|Spider at Wall Spring.|
Playful pup fish dance at Wall Spring.
|Patience is required at Last Reliable Spring.|
|The Paria Kokopelli.|
|Frank T. Johnson inscription.|