Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 19, 2014

Back in the (blog) saddle again

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:05 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Mesa and clouds

Faithful readers: please forgive my lapse. I’ve been silent for nearly six months, causing some to wonder if I’m still blogging, or even alive. Today I begin composing anew — SEASON SIX! — while continuing my search for adventures to fuel my writing and banish writer’s block.

It becomes more challenging to have a ‘beginner’s mind’ (shoshin*) in a place that’s become so familiar and so known. Sharing with all of you helps me accomplish that. My intent, as always, is to invite you along as I encounter Great and Marvelous Things as a seasonal ranger in Canyonlands National Park.

The high desert of the southwest is my playground and work station, and I love to pique your curiosity and whet your interest. Backlogged winter adventures and off-duty exploits are fair game for blog posts, and I delight in answering questions from my readers about national parks, deserts, wilderness, my job, why I perpetually have bad hair days, anything at all. I’ve enjoyed meeting some of you here at the park and I appreciate every person who takes time to read my thoughts.

While it is still painfully slow to load photos with wilderness internet speeds, I hope to add albums from time to time. Let me know in the comments what you’d like to see in this blog, and I will incorporate those into upcoming posts. How many of you are on Instagram? I believe I can get that going, too.

The photo above was taken from the base of our Shafer Trail, the old mining switchbacks that took uranium hunters down into our canyons in the ’40s and ’50s.

Thank you for your patience, my friends. Glad to be back!

==============

*having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

Advertisements

June 16, 2013

Poison Spring Canyon: ‘Constrychnine’

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:13 am
Tags: , , , , ,

When friends invite you to join them on a trip through slot canyons on a 9-mm rope, there is only one answer. Our resounding “Yes!” brought us to a remote area south of Hanksville, UT, where we set up camp in the desert, all alone but for lizards and ravens. The best adventures start with lizards and ravens.

Next morning at canyon’s edge, as we were gearing up for the first rappel, a loud long WHOOOOSH jerked our attention to the chasm. A pair of Peregrine Falcons was hunting for their next songbird meal, and one was in full stoop. The sound of that tucked-wing vertical dive (up to 200 mph) went to my core. This was a most auspicious start.

Hours of revelry ensued. Rappels of up to 190 feet, down-climbs through contorted squeezy slots, and obstacles like a huge pothole of water at the bottom of 120 feet of rope make Constrychnine a canyoneering delight.

Lest you think it is ALL fun and games, take note that every foot of descent must be re-gained in your exit from the canyon. When you’re tired. And it’s hot. And you are glad you did NOT know it was two hours and twenty minutes’ walk to get back to your camp and some cold drinks.

More pictures are coming, eventually, but with my molasses-like internet connection this is all I could upload for now. Enjoy!

========================

P.S. Blog will be on hiatus for several weeks whilst I travel in the Canadian Rockies.

 

April 17, 2013

The bighorn and I

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:04 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

[Note: this encounter occurred just hours before the Boston Marathon carnage. Draw your own conclusions about the importance of preserving wilderness in this increasingly violent world.]

===========

The last ten feet of a steep slickrock ramp beckoned me upward, and I dug my boots in for the final push. Breaths were coming quickly as I hit the top, where flying pebbles and a furious clatter of hooves announced a startled ungulate. I froze in place.

A magnificent desert bighorn ram with fully curled horns bolted to a sandstone knoll twenty yards distant and turned to study me. Heart pounding, I lowered myself to a crouch.

He sniffed the air, locating molecules of my scent.* His solid muscular body remained tense, ready to scramble, as I attempted to appear even less threatening. I recalled being told that herbivores can be put at ease if you act herbivore-ish yourself, so I lowered my head in a quasi-grazing stance and avoided eye contact.

A good five minutes passed. We were breathing easier now; he seemed more relaxed and less jumpy. He sniffed again, licked his nose, and did something I never would have predicted: began walking haltingly toward me. Not for a second did he take his eyes off this curious green-clad flat-hatted creature as his curiosity drew him in for a closer look. In disbelief, I quickly scoped out an escape route should the need arise.

He and I soon came to a wordless understanding that we weren’t a threat to each other. Finding a small rock overhang twelve yards distant, he parked himself, still eyeing me, unperturbed by my camera work. I snapped photos and admired the physicality of this six- to eight-year-old ram.

A front hoof lifted, scraped the sandstone twice. Repeating with the other hoof, he folded his legs beneath himself and bedded down for a long stay. My senses, atrophied from living in a too-easy world, strained to catch details about him on this spring morning. Silence was interrupted only by the tic-ticking of falling graupel (snow beads) as the minutes slowly passed.

Tingly legs told me it was time to unbend, and bid him farewell; I had more miles to hike, more cairns to build, more trails to patrol. But now this day’s tasks would be colored by a vivid overlay of my chance encounter with a wild, elegant, handsome beast. All was well in my world.

+++++

*(Immediate regret: the single spritz of Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue that I had applied hours earlier. What an affront to his senses.)

September 16, 2012

Atop Owl Rock

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:03 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

 

The crack running up the center of Owl Rock is our route to the top.

Perched on a smallish rounded knob one hundred feet above the ground, my hard-won vantage point provided uncommon views of Arches National Park. The camera was down below; I hadn’t trusted myself to get it up the climb intact. I’d etch these sights in my brain instead of on a memory card.

This climb was my first desert tower — a free-standing sandstone spire rated 5.8+, not overly difficult. Craning my neck, I watched Ranger Bobby and Ranger Chris (both excellent climbers) glide up it without much struggle. Each paused at a few sketchy spots, figuring his next move; I knew I was in for an ascent that was at the edge of my ability. But that’s how I like it.

Bobby goes first, placing protective gear which will hold him in case of a fall.

When climbing is done well, it resembles someone dancing up a slab of rock with grace and poise and balance. When *I* was dragging myself up Owl, onlookers saw a desperate individual jamming her hands in any available crack while breathing rapidly and struggling to place a foot where it wouldn’t slip. My sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’) freely dispensed adrenaline, elevating my pulse, dilating my pupils, drying my mouth of all spit.

Seventy feet up, bulbous outcroppings taunted me: “Let’s see you get past.” Gr-r-r-r. I refused to look down, couldn’t see my companions belaying me from above, and when the words “I can’t” formed on my lips, I recalled my dad’s translation of that as “I won’t.” OH YES I WILL JUST YOU WATCH, I said under my breath, and mentally willed myself to inch up the scary bulges one calculated move at a time.

Two-thirds of the way up, on the left edge, I’m rappelling from the summit. It’s really the only way down.

The summit was worth it, a reward that fewer than 0.1% of Arches visitors ever earn. An hour before sunset, surveying the glowing red kingdom, I forgot about the clawing, scraping, grunting pulls and pushes that had unceremoniously gotten me there. In the end, it doesn’t matter; nobody was grading me. My bruises will fade before my memories do. What’s important to me: I SAT ATOP OWL ROCK.

Leave a comment: what hard thing have you done that was so very worth it?

 

July 20, 2012

Long Canyon, near Moab

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:53 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

 

Monsoon clouds over Long Canyon, 5 pm

En route to a few hours of rock climbing near Moab, Ranger Bobby agreed to take us down a 4WD road the back way. The views in Long Canyon were stunning, and reminded me why off-the-beaten-path is nearly always my first choice. Robert Frost’s poem welled up from cob-webby memory. Today, try a new route to work or home, okay?

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

 

June 11, 2012

Mt Peale 1, Rangers 0

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:06 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Ranger Chris, determined, tries to skirt the snowfield.

(Continued from previous post)

The faint trail had already led us astray once, and now we were slowly picking our way over a vast field of downed tree trunks. Not an auspicious start to our ascent of the highest peak. For encouragement I glanced up at Mt Peale, which momentarily resembled Mt Doom. (I can do this, my heart tells me.)

Verdant meadows, a flowing spring, swarming mosquitoes and gnats, aspen groves, elk and coyote tracks… this was not the desert to which we are accustomed. We’re 5000 feet above our usual elevation and can feel it. Reaching tree line, an unstable talus slope is all that remains between us and the summit 1500 vertical feet above. A pika nearby seemed perfectly comfortable; the marmot loping up the ridge wasn’t winded. (I think I can do this, my heart tells me.)

This is the couloir that stopped us. Angle of repose for granite is 35-40 degrees, and it is steep and unstable.

Up, up, always up — lungs sucking air, I had to rest every little bit to let pulse and respirations normalize. A couple of guys passed us at the bottom of a steep couloir (chute) filled with snow and we watched carefully how they navigated the route. As they kicked their boot toes into the whiteness with each step, and dug in with their trekking poles for traction, Chris and I exchanged a glance; these conditions at 11,300 feet have caught us unprepared. Exploratory attempts on the couloir leave us shaking our heads. (I really wonder about doing this, my heart tells me.)

My hiking partner’s the safety officer at work, and he takes his duty seriously. We conferred. Without ice axes, there’s no way to arrest one’s slide if footing is lost; you’d end up at the bottom of the couloir crumpled around granite boulders. The mental image of a mangled body deters us; concluding that the wisest route was down instead of up, a postponement seemed the appropriate choice.

Mt Peale, you win this round — but August is coming. We’ll be back.

May 17, 2012

Desert fish = a rarity

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:52 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Here in the southwest we mark our trails with neatly-stacked rock piles called cairns. When one follows cairns a lot, one becomes cognizant of  the countless different ways stones can be piled up: messily, artfully, crazily, larger-to-smaller-ly, monochromatically, unbalanced-ly, demurely, or with a surprise on top. I’ve photographed many beautiful cairns in the past three years, each time with a nod of appreciation to its builder whose personality shines through in the making.

Yesterday on the Alcove Spring trail I added a new adverb: FISHILY! Rounding a bend in my 11.2-mile hike, a rare desert carp occupied the trailside. Made my day. Whether an ichthyologist or an artist had a hand in this, I tip my hat to the one whose creative spark has brought many a smile along this daunting trail.

March 2, 2012

Looks suspiciously like a grave

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:45 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A piece of fire-cracked rock (repeatedly heated, as for cooking fires) grabs my attention. I will call the Bureau of Land Management and inquire about this earthen mound.

Our eyes were sharpened by hours of looking at — and for — everything and anything. Clues of past occupation present themselves to the vigilant observer, and we had been hiking in canyons, scouring alcoves, poking around springs — anywhere where people would have hung out. The only down side was the heavily-used ATV trail nearby, and the tens of thousands of hoofprints and cowpies. Ranchers love canyons that have perennial water sources in them.

I was following a cliff wall, looking for lithic scatter on the ground to indicate a place where ancestral Puebloans would have knapped their points, when I came upon a curious mound of earth looking very different from its environs. About my size, it was covered with hand-picked and hand-placed stones of three types: smooth river cobbles, sharp angular chert, and tabular sandstone slabs. A glance over my shoulder revealed a clue.

In cursive hand on the sandstone wall was etched “Press” followed by a last name I couldn’t make out. Underneath, “3/4/33.”

Time for a little archival digging. Might Press have been an early 20th-century cowboy who met his end in this canyon?

January 17, 2012

Spiderphone

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:04 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

[WARNING TO ARACHNOPHOBIC FRIENDS: SKIP THIS POST.]

You know, if you make a New Year’s resolution that states “Go into the wilderness at every opportunity,” and you find instead that wilderness is coming to you, doesn’t that count? At least a little?

Diameter with legs: about size of a quarter

After I reached for the phone and found an arachnid (species unknown) guarding its buttons, I went outside to our porch benches and looked underneath them. Black Widows hang around buildings and structures, and their webs are blowing in the breeze beneath the seats. Oh, the things it’s better NOT to tell visitors…

Nobody has ever been bitten, by the way. It’s not a safety hazard. I see it as a teachable moment — like the telephone spider who sidled away after my camera lens got too close. Learning to co-exist peacefully with other species that share your space is a useful and compassionate skill.

January 5, 2012

Gooseberry Trail

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:26 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

White Rim, canyon edge at far left, is our destination on this steep hike. It's a glorious and unseasonable 45 degrees.

Glancing back at the cliff top from which I had just descended, I shook my head. 1400 feet of elevation loss in 2.7 miles of trail is, well, steep. The perpetual steps and switchbacks that had brought us through five rock layers would feel more like a perpetual StairMaster on our way out of the canyon. This, however, was no ordinary jaunt; my boss and I needed something by which to remember the first day of 2012.

Not to be done in icy conditions.

I had never done this treacherous trail before; summer heat makes it more of a cruel slog than a breathtaking hike. Winter provides sweet respite if you don’t mind a little snow and ice underfoot. In one section the trail narrows to just over a boot-width along a few feet of ledgy slickrock, talus slope on the right, comforting wall on the left. Although I don’t send a lot of visitors this way, I personally like the challenge. I like edges.

As with many of our trails, the rewards come at the end. Having passed through the Kayenta, Wingate, Chinle, and Moenkopi, we find ourselves standing at the edge of yet another abyss. Beneath our boots are massive chunks of bright sandstone — the White Rim layer.

Silence, in one large gulp, swallows all distractions. What is left but to look outward, and inward?

I am 5-1/2 feet tall, for scale. The White Rim blocks are massive.

Blog at WordPress.com.