Base camp was in a sandy spot, so found some fairly flat sandstone nearby that I could do some sun salutations. I love doing yoga when I’m camping. It totally warms up the muscles, increases energy levels, and helps stretch and work kinks out of tight muscles. Also, there is something more energizing in nature than on a sticky mat in a studio. Love both, but maybe I just get the synergy from my love of nature and yoga at the same time.
Breakfast consisted of formerly frozen toaster strudels. Delightful when warmed by pan frying in the wild. We made a bunch of bagel sandwiches. Joked about rolling them (inside joke that will go on forever probably). Then we set off to find the barracks.
You may recall that I originally said I had been dreaming about hiking the barracks for 2 years and thought this trip was all about the barracks. Like all good plans, sometimes you have to make changes. Due to the generous amounts of precipitation Utah has received this year, the river levels were higher than usual. That’s why we hiked into Checkerboard Mesa from Zion’s. So, the adventure changed from exploring the barracks to reaching them.
The first big challenge was finding our way across the first slot canyon on our way there. We had a topo map and an expert guide, but it can still be tricking finding the right spot to get in and out. We were only interested in non-technical canyoneering (that means without ropes, if you need ropes and stuff it’s technical). We thought we had found a spot and I went ahead and threw my backpack over the side at about a 20 foot drop. Then we inched further down the sandstone slope and realized one or two of us were not “comfortable” with the steepness of the rest of the route. We backed it on up and headed further up the canyon.
We found a better spot and got down in the canyon. During this interlude was when I remembered I had left my camera in the belt of my backpack. I had time to imagine the various states it might be in before we got to the spot where my pack and Jake’s poles were. Camera had bounced out onto the one small patch of sand in a pile of rocks my pack rested on and continued working like a charm until the batteries died about an hour later (note to self: check batteries in camera before beginning epic adventures).
We went up and down a couple other more friendly canyons until we came to Poverty Flats. From our approach it looked fairly flat. Then you get to the first rise in Poverty not-so-Flats and it is much more rolling that it seems from afar. Not complaining, just setting expectations for anyone who goes there after me.
In Poverty Flats we entered Poverty Wash. We ate our then amazingly sticky PB & J bagel sandwiches that were slightly smashed when “somebody” dropped them. “Somebody” dropped a lot of stuff. So, anyhow, sticky sandwiches. Delish. The first part of the wash was a long sandy riverbed like terrain. It’s never all that easy though. We would occasionally come upon drop offs that we would have to get out and find a way down to.
Then we came to the slot canyon part of the wash. Laaaaaaa (choirs of angels). Slot canyons are magical. I’ve been through a couple of small-ish slot canyons before. This was so much more amazing though. It was remoter and taller and just incredibly beautiful. Jake and I had a discussion about how it’s really just like walking through a hallway, so what’s the big deal. Ok, it’s not really like a hallway at all. The shapes of the canyon walls and the way the sun shines in through them is art. There’s also the adrenaline rush of jumping over and down off of boulders. Shimmying over dank, dirty pools of water. One cess pool had some kind of tapeworm thing in it. So disturbing.
Where we left the love birds with the last of the chips and water
At a certain point in the day we realized we were running out of time and just about to run out of water. 3:00 was our cut off time for when we needed to turn back to base camp to beat the twilight (didn’t bring headlamps, so there were no other options). Our first time backpackers were really doing super well, however Jake knew the final ascent was going to be tricky. We climbed out of the slot canyon and left the couple under a shady V-shaped tree with the last of our water and took off with increased determination to reach at least the portion of Poverty Wash with flowing water. We could have filtered the cesspools if we had to, but only if we had to. A discussion about that was when the word a-money was born. Basically you can filter nasty water and it will be safe to drink but it will still taste bad.
We got out of the canyon because of a major drop off. Below this drop off is where the fresh flowing water was. We could see it and hear it, but we were having a hard time finding a spot to get to it. This was probably the most challenging part of the whole hike. The walls of the slot canyon were just so much higher here. Jake eventually found a possible descent and we went for it. Ask me sometime about the difference between possible and passable.
When we got to the bottom it was like choirs of angles from the first slot canyon times 10. The water was bubbly and clean and I’ve never been so aware of how life giving water is. I want to point out that we were not in danger of dehydration at this point, but the risk of it in the desert is so high. Mostly I was just really happy we didn’t have to drink water the rest of the trip that tasted like a-money (if you’re not sure what a-money stands for, put a couple of money signs after the a). We filtered enough for all the containers we had and drank our fill. It was so clean, crisp, and cool.
At this point, we were about a half mile, as the crow flies, from where the wash enters the Barracks. We had told the happy couple we’d be back in 60-90 mins but decided to risk making them nervous by finishing the quest. My camera battery was dead at this point so I have not pictures of this part of the journey. It was just incredible. The vegetation was incredible. We even past the biggest patch of poison ivy I’ve ever seen. Gotta keep your wits about you at all times in the wilderness.
We finally made it to the Barracks. If you’ve seen pictures of the Narrows in Zion’s you can imagine the Barracks. What makes it a little more awesome than the Narrows is it’s remoteness. Just getting to it is so difficult that that accomplishment alone makes it feel more amazing. Usually the water in that canyon is more like a creek. We came upon a river. The entire canyon was full of rapidly flowing water. Based on some pole poking, it was probably about 3 feet deep.
The last real noteworthy adventure was on the final descent before ascending to camp. Right near the bottom Casey sat on a cactus. She says she slid into it. I say she did it on purpose. Just kidding. I already told them the advice from the Zion’s guide, “Cacti. Don’t sit on them.” Eh, that’s what it said more or less. So, within sight of camp we were all gathered around Casey’s bottom trying various methods of getting most of the tiny but annoying spines out of her jean's. We got enough of them to finish the final ascent. Lovely bottom.
We made creamy cheese and broccoli soup and instant potatoes for dinner. Everything got a sprinkling of bacon. Just after dinner at about 9:30 PM our tuckered out first-timers went straight to bed. I played a little game called Satisfaction for a bit before I headed to bed. Satisfaction is a lovely game. You take dried out branches of juniper tree and break off pieces and then burn them in the fire. It may not sound like much, but it is soooo satisfying. We ended the night listening to Pumped Up Kicks on Jake’s iPod and visualizing someone we know as the protagonist of the song. Fabulous day.
I think we all slept like the dead that night. Until you have pushed yourself like that, you will never know the sweet, deep sleep of the bone-weary hiker.