Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 31, 2010

Rescue at Delicate Arch Viewpoint

It was my one day as Visiting Ranger, where Arches and Canyonlands swap a staff member for a shift. I was down near the century-old log cabin at Wolfe Ranch, answering visitor questions, trying not to think of the 92-degree heat. One family had already staggered down from the blazing hot Delicate Arch trail (3 mi round trip) asking where the nearest water was; when I answered that it was only to be found at each end of the park road, miles distant, their looks told me to give them mine. I did. They drank half of my liter. I tried valiantly not to scold them for hiking without water at the peak of summer heat, but managed to squeeze in a safety message for the future, for the man in the black — yes, BLACK! — T-shirt.

Minutes later, as I was picking up garbage and wondering why I hadn’t brought TWO liters with me, I glimpsed a frantic woman running up the trail toward me, waving her hands. “Help! Need help! There has been a serious accident up at the viewpoint and a man fell down a ravine and has blood everywhere, and a head injury. Please! Right away!” I calmed her down, and gave her what little I had left of my own water, and asked her to repeat what she knew. I couldn’t picture the place she was trying to describe; she was agitated, and I needed more information to radio to law enforcement.

Soon I was on my way to the site, which was only a mile by road and then a 10-minute hike. Other rangers were much farther away. I whispered a prayer for God-empowered wisdom, grabbed my nearly-empty water bottle, radio, and first aid kit, and sprinted up the steep trail.

A 14-yr-old boy had begun running down a 45-degree talus slope strewn with jagged chert rocks the size of melons; losing his footing, he tumbled head over heels a good 20 or 30 feet before coming to rest against more rocks. The trail of blood told the story. The 4.5″ gash on his forehead, macerated right ear, and shoulder hematoma confirmed that he had bounced from sharp rock to sharp rock. His family was with him, shading him, giving him sips of water, and several Good Samaritans were holding pressure on his bloody head wounds with their own T-shirts. When they saw me I heard a collective sigh of relief go up: Help was here at last.

I knelt down and asked the boy his name. “James,” he whispered. Good; he knew that much. “What happened?” I asked, as I looked him over for signs of trauma besides all the cuts and abrasions. “I don’t know. Where am I?” “You’re in Arches National Park. You took a bad fall. Help is on its way, James.” I established radio contact with law enforcement and described the situation, requesting a litter carry-out team. An ambulance would be called immediately, after the assessment I gave, but they were 35 minutes away.

The poor kid was starting to go into shock. I made him as comfortable as I possibly could, gave him some sips of ice water, and constantly reassured him that he would be okay and an ambulance would be here soon. His pulse was 100, indicating blood loss and shockiness. I opened my first aid kit and found a pair of latex gloves to don, and did a more thorough head-to-toe check for other injuries. Grateful to find him basically intact, we waited in the blistering heat. I didn’t even notice my own thirst.

You can picture the rest of the story. Litter team arrives, puts boy on backboard. Ambulance crew arrives, checks pupils and blood pressure, confirms serious head injury; we wheel the litter 1/4 mile down the rocky bumpy steps to the rig which whisks him away to the hospital for stitches, x-rays, and close monitoring. I am offered chilled PowerAde by a fellow ranger, which tasted to me like the nectar of the gods. I was exceedingly thirsty and didn’t realize it until the icy coldness hit my tongue.

Remarkable things happened in this incident. First, no ranger has been scheduled to be in that area for a very long time, and there I was today, a former nurse, for just one hour. Second, while nobody’s cell phone could dial 911, there were people at the scene who had just come from where I was. When I asked the witness how she had found me, she replied, “The Lord must have arranged circumstances because everyone I met on the trail as I was running down had a new piece of information that led me to you.” Third, my boss had handed me a backpack as I was leaving, and said out loud, “Let’s get you a first aid kit to go in here.” Mine was back in my home park that day.

Days like this one keep life interesting. I’m grateful I was in the right place to help James. I give thanks for every small circumstance through which God displayed his watchfulness. I appreciate the helpfulness of total strangers and of teammates. And I’ll never quite look at orange PowerAde the same again.

July 30, 2010

Double rainbows on my birthday

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:28 am
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Aaron, me, Mike T and the double birthday rainbow

Some birthdays are sweet because of thoughtful people in them. Some are sweet because of where you are. Some bring just the perfect weather. On some, you feel every blessing on earth is being heaped upon you.

Welcome to my recent birthday.

Our summer monsoons came that afternoon, lighting the sky with electric spears that ultimately started several trees on fire on the mesa. Booming thunder reverberated through the canyons. Drenching rain fell, for a good twenty minutes, which I measured at a remarkable 0.25 inches in our weather station next morning. (Remember, we get only 9 inches a year here.) A rainbow appeared between us and the La Sal Mountains.

Two hours earlier, yet another rainbow, and my un-tamable hair

The humidity took some getting used to, as typically it runs 10 to 20 percent out here. I’ve added a photo of my humidified hair, longer than it’s been in fifteen years, getting to that unmanageable “whatever am I going to do to tame this while it’s growing out?” stage.

After work, co-workers Mike and Bobby knocked on the trailer door and informed me they were grilling me a birthday chicken dinner with potatoes and gravy, but did I have any vegetables? The new bunch of asparagus came with us to their house and I watched in amazement as Mike’s heretofore-unknown chef skills became obvious to all. That was one delicious chicken dinner.

And then, in the golden-turning light that just precedes sunset, a double rainbow appeared. Rainbows are always, always a sign to me of God’s grace and mercy; a double one was a memorable birthday gift. The bronze light sealed the blessing in my soul.

And so begins another year. I don’t know what it will hold; I don’t know where I will be. I do know that I am smack in the middle of living my park ranger dream, using my skills to make others’ nature experiences rich and full. This is my deep, deep satisfaction and joy in mid-life.

July 29, 2010

Venomous creatures

Nearly stepped on him. 1.5 inches long.

I was walking back to my room from the bathroom at about 11 pm, barefoot, a distance of about three feet, when my eye caught something on the carpet. A small scorpion was just sitting there. They are nocturnal creatures, never seen in daylight, and perhaps this one had just woken up. After photographing him with Barbie for scale, I caught him under a Tupperware and slid a birthday card underneath to secure him. It’s the third one we’ve captured in our trailer this summer, and the long-timers are wondering why so many this year. Of course, if you ask previous inhabitants of this particular abode, nicknames like “Scorpion Den” surface frequently; must be something here, like water drips underneath the trailer that attract them…

We’re still working on a definitive ID for this species, but several here believe it may be a bark scorpion, the smallest and most venomous of our five species. “A strong bee sting” is how local scorpion stings are described; however, you’re sick for 48 hours with a bark scorpion sting. Children and elderly folks can land in the hospital. They’re the most common kind found in houses, and it’s the right size, but the jury is still out. And, no, the park service does not spray the housing…

A beautiful gopher snake. Non-venomous.

Midget Faded Rattlesnake.

A ranger from Dead Horse Point State Park came over the other day to work a shift here. I went into the freezer to get an Icy Pop on a break, and found a paper shopping bag full of dead reptiles. Yes. I did. She reports that they are specimens collected dead in their park and preserved for posterity (and ranger talks) in the freezer. A show-stopper, that’s what they were, out on our front porch…

July 27, 2010

Putting the summer into jars

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:06 am
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Apricot Salsa ready to be processed

Moab is thick with fruit trees. July is thick with fruit. Mulberries, cherries, plums, and apricots… everywhere. Deliciously wonderful.

Karen -- stirring, stirring

I invited myself over to boss Karen’s house to assist her with the two boxes of very ripe apricots she had, and busied myself halving and pitting the fruit. The food processor made quick work of the ‘cots, red peppers, and jalapenos that were going into this salsa recipe. As we chopped cilantro and garlic and onions, and added the cumin and cayenne to the big pot on the stove, the savory aromas filled the kitchen. Cooking it down a bit brought it to the right consistency, ready to be ladled into the sterilized jars hot out of the oven. Lids were boiling on the back burner. Thunder rumbled and boomed, many canyons to the west, as the full moon rose in the east. Everything was just right for putting the summer into jars.

Apricots galore!

July 26, 2010

Mesa Arch: Showcasing my sister’s photographs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:19 am
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First rays of sun strike Mesa Arch. Look at that beautiful Navajo sandstone.

Mesa Arch sits precariously on a cliff wall, six hundred feet above Buck Canyon, facing due east. When the sun peeks over the La Sal Mountains, the first rays hit the red sandstone wall below the arch and bounce upward onto its underside. A fabulous deep copper color appears to emanate from within the very rock itself. How one could forget one’s camera when sunrise at Mesa Arch is on the agenda, I don’t know… but I did. Maybe it was because I was trying to wake up a few tired campers and get them moving at 0520. At any rate, my sister Becky took these photos. Some of them are her own compositions, and some she got by following around a Frenchman and shooting from his locations.

I must say, our favorite quote from that morning was his utterly sincere assessment of his younger California girlfriend, as he turned to snap her photo:  “Ah, she ees more beautiful zan zee arch…”

Gorgeous view of Monster (R) and Washer Woman Arch (L) in distance

This copper color lasts only a few minutes each morning. Arch dimensions -- about 50 by 15 feet.

July 24, 2010

O happy day!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:41 pm
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So, my hat's not on right.

Joyous news: my contract is extended for seven additional weeks through the end of September! I will have the privilege of experiencing the sweet autumn months in the desert — and a paycheck, to boot. It is wonderful to have superiors who believe in you and see the value of what you are doing. It didn’t hurt that both Arches and Canyonlands are a bit short on staff, and can share me as I’m trained in both parks. I am very, very happy at these good tidings.

July 21, 2010

Lumpy Ridge #2: “Melvin’s Wheel”

Summit of Melvin's Wheel. You can almost hear Wagner (Overture to Tannhauser) playing.

Twelve stories up a granite wall is no place to lose one’s composure, but mine was fleeing fast. There was no place I could see to put my hurting feet, and the smallest hand and finger holds seemed equally elusive. To make matters worse, a summer thunderstorm was rolling in from the west and ominous clouds were gathering for an attack. I looked up to see how much farther I had to climb, and saw nothing but lots more of the same difficult nothingness.

Good job, Ed — you make it look so easy!   [fully zoomed in]

Except... there aren't many holds between here and there.

And it's a long, long, long stretch.

I did what any utterly-inadequate-feeling human being might do. I burst into tears.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of heights. Simply speaking, I was in over my head, had not a clue how I would pull out of it, and I let my emotions get the best of me. I HAD to get up to the top of this climb, as descending was no longer an option after that first pitch was completed. That is a lot of pressure.

The photo says it all.

To be fair, I knew at the start of the day that we were undertaking a route more difficult than yesterday’s pleasant White Whale. My climbing buddy assured me that something rated 5.8+ (plus meaning “more than”) would challenge me, but he was confident I could do it. Ed is a professional climbing and canyoneering guide, and I trust his judgment. Right now, however, it was all I could do to keep from yelling some colorful epithets in his general direction. I was not pleased to be stuck on a crag feeling a sense of desperation and doom, with lightning approaching from behind.

I had already made it through one “crux” (the hardest part of a climb), but everything conspired to make this one feel worse. We had worked on hand techniques before starting, but in the face of meteorological vagaries that could be life-threatening, the ‘jamming’ wasn’t exactly working for me. I was inexperienced enough that I couldn’t punt very well.

Lump in throat. Not smiling.

Panic was rising in my throat as I struggled to focus on even one single thing I could do to propel myself upward. It was then that I heard words come out of my mouth that I rarely allow myself to say: “I can’t do this.” Up there on the wall, halfway between ground and summit, I said it again: “ED, I CAN’T DO THIS.” I meant it, more than I have meant many things. I was convinced that this was an impossible task.

Ed’s voice had a reassuring steady cadence as he calmly directed me blindly from above. “Use your feet. Don’t get tunnel vision. You can do this, Kathryn. Just one small move at a time.” I took a few deep cleansing breaths, more to stop the tears than to fill my lungs, and found the first move I could make. It was only a few inches up, but as I put that slack into the rope and Ed tightened it up immediately from above, he commended me and re-introduced a tiny ray of hope.

Well. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, which included shameless whimpering, more tears, scraped knees and elbows and back, self-pity, thirst beyond describing, and a desperate longing for three magical wishes. I’m rarely a wimp, but on parts of that climb I was a total wuss. It was not pretty, working my way inch by inch out of the slot of doom.

Package says "Snacks for the Bold." I guess I forgot to eat some jerky before climbing.

Ed’s considerable experience guiding all types of people has contributed to his being patient, compassionate, always encouraging. He knows how to empower others to muster the strength to get up and do what needs to be done, even when it looks impossible at the moment. I hope you enjoy the summit photo he took of me as much as I do. It is a reminder of what comes when you push hard at the edges of your ability and refuse to succumb to the “I can’ts” that impinge on your thinking and being. I’d call it a watershed day on the rock.

Our ascent took us up the left face of this crag.

Lumpy Ridge at Rocky Mountain NP: “White Whale”





White Whale. See teeny tiny people on the ledge; I was there. (Taken next day from adjacent crag.)

[Note to non-climbers: this piece contains explanations to help you understand the sport.]

I was attached by a climbing harness to a rope 250 feet above the valley floor, standing on a comfortable ledge of granite, gazing at the ever-majestic Long’s Peak. From the top of this first climb, the sheer beauty of the crags and the the mind-assaulting green of the valley stole my breath. Adrenaline rush! It had been a very successful ascent with a difficulty rating (5.7) right in my comfort zone — excellent to warm up on in a new place. I felt as confident as a beginning climber can feel when she doesn’t really have any technique down yet.

It was a rare 3-day break for me and it was time to get out of Moab where the highs have been in the triple digits for over a week. The Rocky Mountains were a no-brainer; my climbing buddy had plenty of experience on rock near Estes Park, Colorado. I’d never been; that’s where we would go. Besides, I’d get to check off one more national park from my see-’em-all list.

Ed selected “White Whale” (an easier route) from the climbing guidebook as it had been a while since I had been climbing, and we were not on sandstone any more but on metamorphic rock. It was also my very first multi-pitch climb, which means it takes more than one rope length to reach the top and therefore intermediate stops are required. This adds one more layer of drama as one must belay one’s partner (i.e., provide the safety rope from below or above as they climb) from a small ledge somewhere on the wall. It’s different from the more straightforward top-roping I had previously done, and I truly wanted to learn. Getting up high on the walls is exhilarating.

Leaning into Twin Owls on the approach to our climb. Man, the pack weighs a lot.

The hike to the cliff base took me by surprise. I was carrying about one-third of my body weight in rope and gear in a backpack, at higher elevation than I’ve been all year, and that 1.5 miles seemed interminable. What kept me going was the wildflowers, the conifer forest smells, the new birdsongs, the cloud formations, the wind whispers… and the thought of getting back on the rocks again.

Ed and his rack -- all sizes and types of protective gear, carried up the wall...

Reaching the base, Ed unceremoniously dumped his huge pack upside down and began assembling his rack. He would climb the route first, pausing frequently to place protective gear into cracks, then clipping the rope on his harness into carabiners attached to the gear. If he were to fall, my belaying from below would stop him, and the nearest metal device in the crack would hold him suspended while he regained his footholds and handholds. The leader must, of necessity, carry a whole lot more gear than is needed, because you never know which piece will work in which small crack. It’s disconcerting when you must place protection and have nothing that fits.

My guide scrambled effortlessly up the first pitch, or first rope length, installing gear as he went. When he got to the top of it and pulled all remaining rope up to his level, tensioning me for safety, I put on my climbing shoes with sticky rubber soles that would help grip the rock. One deep breath, one heave-ho up to the first foothold, and I was on the wall. Learning how to trust one’s feet, learning how to wedge one’s fingers and hands and fists into cracks, are the first tasks when embracing this sport. My job was to clean (remove) each piece of gear as I went up, clipping it to a loop over my shoulder. Soon enough, I found myself on the small ledge next to Ed. I returned his gear, and we repeated the process two more times, reaching our destination in a couple of hours. After taking a few minutes to give high fives, coil our rope, and admire the views, we hiked down to our packs.

The White Whale had been bagged. I was much pleased. But… what would tomorrow hold?!?

July 17, 2010

One rattlesnake, just for fun

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:10 pm
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It couldn’t have happened at a better time — the last night of the memorable trip. The four younger generation people had grabbed their cameras to photograph the sunset from atop a Navajo sandstone knoll adjacent to the campground. Becky and I had not stopped to ask adult-ish questions like, Do you have flashlights? What time do we expect you back? Sunset was 40 minutes away and off they went.

By 30 minutes AFTER sunset, I began scanning the outline of the knoll for shapes of humans. It was dark. I wasn’t going to get worried quite yet, but I did want them back home. Meanwhile, my sister and I enjoyed the peace and solitude for a little bit as we tidied up camp and loaded things into the cars. We laid out all six sleeping pads and bags under the stars; there would be no tent-sleeping allowed on this final night.

Shortly, the quartet of young photographers sauntered into camp by the light of Evan’s one flashlight. Stories began to emerge; they saved the best for last. Mothers’ hearts skip a beat when one child says to the other, “Is this a good time to tell her?”

A Midget Faded Rattlesnake, nocturnal in nature, had decided to warm itself on the paved road leading to Willow Flats campground. Marta was in the lead and walked right alongside it, about a foot away; it rattled, she sped up her steps and quickly got ahead of it, and then as it rattled again they all pulled out their cameras to photograph it.

Although shy, this snake has a potent neurotoxin in its venom that makes a bite very nasty. I am glad it didn’t have an inclination to strike at my dear daughter. That would have ruined the trip a bit.

It gives me a warm satisfaction that I’ve raised children who don’t throw rocks at snakes, or squeal, or run, but document the event instead. Way to go, offspring!!!

(Photo courtesy of Google images — said reptile’s portrait is not on my camera or computer.)

July 15, 2010

Precious beyond telling

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:31 pm
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Days with family have worth that cannot be described; I am so grateful for their willingness to drive 1400 miles to spend time with me. Our adventures have been sweet and it is my hope that memories are being made that will last a very long time.

Hiking up Professor Creek to the waterfall was refreshing as the mercury hit 102 degrees in Moab. It seems considerably cooler than that as one walks in the stream that runs off from the La Sal Mountains.

Kathryn & Becky along the Professor Creek hike, north of Moab

The 15-foot waterfall pounds the girls after 3 miles of hiking

Tonight’s secret hike to XXXX (a Class 2 archeological site near here) was a highlight for us all. We had the trail all to ourselves. I asked the other five members of the company to please approach the alcove in silence and respect the silence while we were there. A thousand years ago, ancestral Puebloan people lived and worked in this area and the site was regularly used. I wanted us to be thoughtful about its history, rather than cavalier about trekking through their space.

Evan prepares for yet another photograph of the stunning canyon

Family: nothing can replace them.

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