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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Deathmarch - Prequel pt. 1

It seems like prequels are the rage today in movies, and I like that. Maybe I am just a sucker for things out of chronological order, but I think it has more to do with understanding why the characters are the way they are when we meet them. Well, This is my homage to those those movies, this is the prequel to the deathmarch.

This story starts out innocently enough, My friend Dan asked me if I wanted to go camping and hiking in South Central, Utah. "Sure" I thought. What could go wrong? When pressed for details Dan explained that the hikes would be taking place in the San Rafael Swell area near Green River, Utah, North of Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef national parks. We drove the 4 or 5 hours to get there early on a Friday morning with hopes of hitting the first hike, Cable Canyon around noon. Besides being a little tired from getting up so early everything seemed great as we arrived. When we got to the trail head we loaded up our gear and water. Up until this point in my life I didn't really pay all that much attention to the amount of water I drank during the course of the day, and with 8 hours of sleep and a 4 hour or so car ride behind me, I hadn't had much to drink at all in the last 12 hours. I "thought" I brought sufficient water for the day, I had over a gallon on me, but I was already dehydrated before we left (this will be revisited later).

We started out on the hike on top of the plateau before you drop into the canyon. The view up there was amazing, and oddly you couldn't even see that there were canyons around us. As we walked to the drop in spot I found the coolest nearly perfect ripple stone I have ever seen. The specimen was about 6in by 8in and weighed about 2 pounds. I didn't feel like hauling 2 pounds of rocks around with me during the hike so I left it behind to try to grab on the way out. Shortly after that we descended into the canyon and our adventure really began.

After about 20 minutes of climbing down we came to a large pot hole that we could have easily chimney climbed over, but there was a step on the wall about half way across that if you timed right you could jump to, then immediately jump to the opposite dome wall and then on to the flat ground on the far side. Of course Dan dared me to make the jumps, and of course I was cocky enough to accept. I handed off my pack to Dan, and backed up to get a bit of a running start. I leaped into the air, and stuck my first landing, I immediately jumped again and twisted my body to rebound off the sandstone dome to my right and onto the flat ground ahead of me when the strangest thing happened.... That "sand" stone dome was really a "sandy" stone dome and my foot hit at just the right angle to slip off into the air. I don't understand how cartoon physics took over after that, but I hung in the air for a few seconds before I realized what had happened and like Wile E. Coyote I dropped pot hole below me. The water I dropped into was as close in temperature to liquid nitrogen as water can be and I have no idea how it wasn't a solid block of ice. I don't know what shocked me more the drop, the icy blast of water, or the fact that my glasses were no longer on my face and were missing in neck deep silty water. My worries didn't end there because when I looked around Dan inexplicably started having a seizure. Which in actuality was just him laughing so hard he couldn't breathe or stand up straight coupled with me being blind without my glasses.

Well, I climbed out of the hole and after Dan calmed down enough to stop laughing he tossed our packs over and then chimney climbed across. Thankfully about ten feet from the pot hole the canyon opened up and the sun was shining through. I peeled off my wet clothes and laid them on the rocks to dry while I tried to figure out how to get my glasses back. Since I didn't have any swim goggles with me my next best option was to go in bare foot and try to monkey grab them with my toes. I reluctantly ventured back into the water, which unfortunately hadn't warmed up in the last 15 minutes and I began to sweep the muddy bottom hoping to only find my glasses and not something decomposing.

To my great joy, and relief I quickly found my glasses and they weren't damaged (this little expedition was one of the deciding factors to get LASIK). I put them back on and went to sun myself in the heat while my clothes dried to warm up. These little dips into the water really wiped me out physically it was extremely cold, and when this was all over I was completely exhausted. Despite the exhaustion, I wasn't injured, and I was determined to finish out the hike so we marched on. Little did we know that it probably should have served as a sign to turn back early.

As the day progressed I got a second wind, and felt a lot better than right after the pothole. I have always had a high pain tolerance and the ability to ignore my physical body when I needed to, but I really should have listened this time. About 1/2 way through the hike I started feeling dizzy. I had been drinking my water and knew the signs of dehydration so I began to get a little worried. I started drinking more water, and told Dan what was going on, but since we were on the way back anyway there wasn't a ton we could do but keep moving. I continued to drink my water but about 2/3rds of the way back I started seeing spots, and I needed to rest more and more often. I was worried, but I knew I could make it, they were only "little" spots, and Dan kept encouraging me. I was good until I started to black out about 3/4 of the way through. I was feeling delirious, and about the same time I ran out of water. Still highly motivated to not "die" in the desert we kept moving up the canyon, stopping to rest every 5-10 minutes so I wouldn't fall over. Dan shared his water, but he was close to empty also. We knew we had to get back to the Jeep quickly. We were very close to the rim of the canyon (about 20 minutes out) when we came upon our final obstacle, a 15ft cliff. This wasn't anything spectacular we hadn't given it a second thought going down the canyon but now it looked like the side of a skyscraper. Dan decided to go up first and I would hand our packs up and then use a rope to climb up. Dan free climbed to the top, and when he reached up and grabbed the top of the cliff to pull himself up, he put weight on his handhold to pull his knee up. The handhold came free of the cliff face, and in an instant I looked from him to the ground and saw that he was going to land on a huge jagged rock that was aimed squarely at his back. I almost gave up then, I resolved that I was at the very least going to be sleeping in the desert that night. There was no way I could drag Dan's dead body up in my condition. Luckily as he fell he twisted enough to land sharply on his backside, which he said later bruised up extremely badly.

Well, Dan's near death experience did the trick. My adrenalin was pumping so hard I could have run up the cliff. I quickly climbed up before it wore off, and we hurried up out of the canyon and just barely beat the sun, which dropped below the horizon as we stepped above the rim. The walk back to the Jeep was quiet. I was too dizzy to talk on one hand, and was thanking God for letting me live despite my bone-headedness on the other. When we got back to the camp, I drank my entire body weight in water and I slept like the rocks that surrounded us.

I am pretty sure that this experience was the overall most physically and mentally demanding thing I have ever done. It wasn't the toughest canyon, or the most painful thing I have ever done, it wasn't even the most mentally challenging thing I have done, but the combination of everything was brutal, and really took its toll. Despite all this though my only regret is not grabbing that stupid ripple stone.

Continued in part 2 the next day.......

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