Ranger Kathryn's Arches

January 5, 2012

Gooseberry Trail

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

October 15, 2011

Moon, Jupiter, Murphy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:31 pm
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As I lay in my down bag a few yards from the canyon edge, the full moon chased away sleep. Its calm light bathed every nook of the White Rim as far as the eye could see, highlighting the light sandstone layer several hundred feet below. Intricate pinnacles and eroded pillars stood down there, every surface shimmering in the blue-black October night. Shooting stars swept in fast arcs across heaven. Jupiter was rising in tandem with the moon, only a hand-width away. And I was there, my soul soaking up light and life.

It was my weekend. I had thrown my gear* into a backpack and grabbed my trekking poles to commence the ten-mile Murphy Loop from the mesa top: five miles down in the afternoon, meet friends camping at the trail bottom, hike out in the morning. I tried not to think about the switchbacks that would enable the 1300-foot elevation change.

I am at a loss to find adjectives to describe the vastness, the immensity, the agoraphobic distances, the layers upon layers of texture and color that define Canyonlands National Park. As I stood on the mesa top ready to drop down through the Wingate sandstone, deep breaths of clear air replenished parts of me that were thirsty and hungry for backcountry — away from footprints and the people who make them. Only three humans crossed my path on my ten-mile trek. Folks, that’s a mighty fine day.

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*Gear list: sleeping bag and pad and small pillow; fleece vest and pullover and warm knitted hat; one gallon water; two peanut-butter bagels, a banana, an apple, and energy bars; camera; headlamp; topographic map, GPS, whistle; toothbrush and paste; contact lens stuff; toilet paper and small disposal bags.

October 4, 2011

Ahhhhhhh

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:39 pm
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Having just unloaded my life’s belongings into my new house, girlfriend Lauren and I headed to the canyon rim on a 3.6-mile hike. I was grateful for her help moving, as I was recovering from a viral illness and didn’t have all my strength back yet. No matter how minimalist one is, suitcases and boxes still get heavy.

In the 40 minutes it took to reach Murphy Point, we tackled a wide range of pertinent topics: grad school, love, job searches, personal idiosyncrasies, future dreams, and why men are the way they are. The last was the easiest.

Looking down a couple thousand feet from the mesa top at Island in the Sky District, Canyonlands NP

Of a sudden, without warning, we found ourselves standing at the precipice. A gouge in the earth stepped down a thousand feet to the handsome White Rim, then another thousand to the Green River. Two mountain ranges, the Abajos and the Henrys, presented themselves for our orientation and delight. Not a sound — and I mean not a single sound — distracted us.

In the effortless understanding between good friends, there was no need to talk. The magnificent vista commanded all our senses. Sprawled on the October-warmed rock for an extended time, Lauren eventually found simple/profound words to break the silence: “It’s calming.” Her summation confirmed the wellspring of peace that I felt last year at Canyonlands. Wide open spaces, horizons eighty miles rather than four miles off, big views… these calm the savage beast, the tumultuous mind, the searching heart.

I am glad to be back.

April 11, 2011

Personal Locator Beacons

Fishing for a signal with the PLB receiver

We climbed the only high sand hill nearby and held the signal receiver up, hoping desperately to catch even the faintest audible or LED input as to where our lost person might be. Its antennae were silent. Was it a battery issue in the transmitter? Was the high wind and cubic tons of sand in the air distorting the signal? Or were we just too far away?

18 Search & Rescue trainees from the park service and the local county were practicing finding someone using a PLB — Personal Locator Beacon. The increasing popularity of these devices requires that we know how to conduct a search if a distress call comes. Instructions on my government-issued PLB say that it is my last resort only… not if night is falling and I’m scared, but if life or limb are threatened.

Not a bank robbery. Needed kerchiefs to keep sand out of nose/mouth.

Last year in Canyonlands NP one of these PLBs had 52 activations (!!!) in a short time span — surely suggesting a major emergency requiring heroic rescue efforts. It was nightfall and the location was down on the White Rim, 1000 steep feet and many 4WD miles below the mesa, where jeepers and mountain bikers can get away from it all. A helicopter was summoned and night vision technology was used to locate the man. His life-threatening “emergency”? Burned-out clutch on his motorcycle.

PLBs have become the “yuppie 911.” Rescuers who risk their lives and limbs are not amused.

Found a dinosaur bone at training! Click to enlarge.

Nothing tops the party hiking in the Grand Canyon who activated their beacon three (3) separate times in three days for such emergencies as “drinking water tasted funny,” “running low on water,” “heard a scary sound.” They were physically removed from the Canyon after the third abuse. Unnecessarily mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues should disqualify you from ever being allowed to own or carry a PLB.

Grand County, UT, charges $500 to rescue people. Arches National Park currently charges nothing. Do you think PLB abusers should be charged for their rescue, in any location? Should legitimate victims be charged? What deterrent can you think of to keep people from pushing the panic button for idiotic reasons?

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