Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 25, 2011

Bluejohn Canyon

Bluejohn Canyon, Main Fork. Walls are perhaps six stories.

The foggy 32-degree morning in The Maze district of Canyonlands NP started out crazily. An intoxicated reveler had driven over signs at the Ranger Station, ending up with two flat tires. Towing costs from Moab (three hours away): about $2000. Another party was lost on a back road. After this unusual flurry of activity settled down, ten of us workers hiked into neighboring Bluejohn Canyon to scope out rescue routes, find helicopter landing zones, and determine where radios work.

As this canyon has recently been made famous by the movie 127 Hours, increased visitation — often by the young and reckless — has brought  problems. There was a successful rescue here just last weekend, when a solo hiker got himself very stuck in a narrow section called The Squeeze. Another emergency the same day ended tragically with a fatality nearby, when a canyoneer’s rappel rope was too short and he fell to his death — leaving his brother trapped for six days on a ledge. This area is not for the inexperienced, the careless, or those with something to prove. One must come here with a deep respect for the desert, and humility of spirit as an antidote to cockiness.

Needed a flash at midday. Also need to re-learn some climbing techniques.

Avoiding the problematic Squeeze, our group entered the slot canyon from below and at midday found ourselves hiking in deep shade. Navajo sandstone walls shot up sixty or eighty feet or more (I’m awful at guessing distances) on both sides, leaving a small slit for light to penetrate. Flood debris told of powerful forces at work, with boulders and juniper logs wedged immovably a story or two above us.

I was utterly spent eight hours later when we got back to housing; after a mandatory shower, the couch was all mine. It was my first hard hike of the season and I realized with some trepidation that I have four more 6.5-mile days in a row ahead of me. It’s not the mileage as much as the 750 foot elevation change each day, with the “up” when I’m tired… but I take solace in the fact that I will turn into a Lean Mean Hiking Machine over the next weeks and months.

Please comment: What was your most dangerous outdoor experience?

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