Wednesday, March 30, 2005

On roosting survival camp leaders...

Climbing out of the Grand Gulch canyon web at Bullet canyon the night before last was a harrowing experience. We hadn't seen the weather reports for six days but we knew something was blowing in when gusts of 70 MPH (just guessing) started shooting every which way in the most difficult portion of the canyon.

We had crossed paths with a group of Navajo kids and thier guide a few times in Bullet. They seemed worn down and disoriented (read: dehydrated). The guide, a white guy in his forties, told us he knew that uper Bullet had no water in it and told us to plan accordingly. That didn't seem right for this time of year, but we packed some extra water anyway. On the way up to the base of the difficult portion, we noticed their party was fractured and spread out over about a half mile of the canyon while the leader and a few kids went up ahead to look for suitable camping. There was none and the entire group ended up flailing high up in Bullet in pitch-black night with something nasty bearing down.

I have good night-navigation skills with years of foolish night scrambling under my belt, so I offered to guide them out the canyon. We were in the middle of the exposed section with a member of our party (Jess) suffering from a bad ankle sprain from three days previous, so the prospect of climbing out or down with ice on the rocks was out of the question, and boy was that guy wrong about the water situation. It was flowing in excess.

The leader had set up tents on an exposed shelf a hundred feet off the canyon floor and said they were camping. I thought a tricky night exit with kids might be better than an exposed bivuac in a possibly disasterous storm. He chose the latter after showing me what he thought was the exit of the canyon; a hard dog-leg left off the main canyon and over a treacherous flowing waterfall that he had tried to climb. This thing (5.7 or 5.8 with eight kids?) could kill, at which point they'd be wandering on Cedar Mesa in the wrong direction without access to water.

At that point, I knew he was irrational and could not be trusted. My plan was to get on top of this shit before the storm if possible, get up in the wee hours and get to the Kane gulch ranger station to call out a search. We cleared the crazy stuff and dropped our packs when the blizzard started. It dumped for a good three hours--six inches. It must have been positively Himalayan up on that cliff. I awoke early to get the ball rolling, and much to my dismay, there they were, clomping up the river at five in the morning. This clown, rather than wait it out, had his kids climb down that face and up several waterfalls over ice and snow. He was lucky no one died.

After our exit, I stopped by the ranger station to let them know what had happened. As it turned out, the leader called out a search and rescue on his satelite phone (correct course of action) at about 4 AM but cancelled it at about 4:30. As we conversed with the ranger, she was answering satalite calls about another party from the same Navajo youth group who had gotten hung up by the storm in Fish and Owl creeks. They chose the right course of action and decided to chill out until the ice melted (possibly up to two days).

As we all at INFDL know, the desert can whip up some crazy shit. We are all lucky that we had leaders who were smart as they showed us through the desert and mountains of Utah when we were kids, even if we did get exposed to some heavy metals.

Update: I shal post some pix of the amazing ruins and paintings of Grand Gulch shortly.

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