We walk thirty feet and come to another drop-off. The walls are much closer now, only two to three feet apart. Megan throws her backpack over the drop before shimmying down between the walls, while Kristi takes a few pictures. I watch Megan descend and help her by pointing out the best handholds and footholds. When Megan is at the bottom of the drop, she discovers that her pack is soaking wet. It turns out her hydration-system hose lost its nozzle when she tossed the pack over the ledge, and was leaking water into the sand. She quickly finds the blue plastic nozzle and stops the water's hemorrhage, saving her from having to return to the trailhead. While it's not a big deal that her pack is wet, she has lost precious water. I descend last, my pack on my back and my delicate cameras causing me to get stuck briefly between the walls at several constrictions. Squirming my way over small chockstones, I stem my body across the gap between the walls to follow the plunging canyon floor. There is a log wedged in the slot at one point, and I use it like a ladder on a smooth section of the skinny-people-only descent.
While the day up above the rim rock is getting warmer, the air down in the canyon becomes cooler as we enter a four-hundred-yard-long section of the canyon where the walls are over two hundred feet high but only fifteen feet apart. Sunlight never reaches the bottom of this slot. We pick up some raven's feathers, stick them in our hats, and pause for photographs.
A half mile later, several side canyons drop into the Main Fork where we are walking, as the walls open up to reveal the sky and a more distant perspective of the cliffs downcanyon. In the sun once again, we stop to share two of my melting chocolate bars. Kristi offers some to Megan, who declines, and Kristi says, "I really can't eat all this chocolate by myself...Never mind, yes I can," and we laugh together.
We come to an uncertain consensus that this last significant tributary off to the left of the Main Fork is the West Fork, which means it's the turnoff for Kristi and Megan to finish their circuit back to the main dirt road about four miles away. We get hung up on saying our goodbyes when Kristi suggests, "Come on, Aron, hike out with us -- we'll go get your truck, hang out, and have a beer."
I'm dedicated to finishing my planned tour, so I counter, "How about this? -- you guys have your harnesses, I have a rope -- you should come with me down through the lower slot and do the Big Drop rappel. We can hike out...see the Great Gallery...I'll give you a lift back to your truck."
"How far is it?" asks Megan.
"Another eight miles or so, I think."
"What? You won't get out before dark! Come on, come with us."
"I really have my heart set on doing the rappel and seeing the petroglyphs. But I'll come around to the Granary Spring Trailhead to meet you when I'm done."
This they agree to. We sit and look at the maps one more time, confirming our location on the Blue John map from the canyoneering guidebook we'd each used to find this remote slot. In my newest copy of Michael Kelsey's Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, there are over a hundred canyons described, each with its own hand-sketched map. Drawn by Kelsey from his personal experience in each canyon, the technical maps and route descriptions are works of art. With cross sections of tricky slots, identifications of hard-to-find petroglyphs and artifact sites, and details of required rappelling equipment, anchor points, and deep-water holes, the book offers enough information for you to sleuth your way through a decision or figure out where you are, but not a single item extra. After we put away the maps, we stand up, and Kristi says, "That picture in the book makes those paintings look like ghosts; they're kind of spooky. What kind of energy do you think you'll find at the Gallery?"
From Between A Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, pages 1-30. Copyright © 2004 by Aron Ralston. All rights reserved, no part of this excerpt maybe reproduced without specific permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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