Date:..........October 28th,2013 Destination:...Ashdown Gorge Duration:......Day trip Weather:.......clear & mild Adventurers:...10 Vehicles:......3
Ashdown Gorge is a beautiful array of the finest scenery you will see in the Zion National Park in Utah. As the name very appropriately implies, much of the hike is downhill into a dark and dank gorge. Well, as you will see from our latest hiking adventure, the dark and dank applied specifically to us.
Preparing for a day hike isn't anything like a multi-day trip where 50lbs backpacks, tents, and extra toiletries are often required. We had been on this hike before, so there naturally wasn't a need for any extras even for a day. Minimal water, food, and other miscellaneous supplies were brought (or not brought) by all.
The trip takes a couple of hours from Las Vegas. We head up the night before, finding a decent place to eat dinner and crash in a warm hotel room. Pampering oneself a bit before a grueling trek into a gorge is a necessity for a sane mind upon exiting it. Once daylight hits, we are off to the trailhead for the start of what is surely going to be a fun adventure...
A Predictable Start
It all began smoothly with smiles and laughter as we eagerly read the trailhead post-it notes and double checked the park map. The first few hours flew by as field of flowers, blossoming trees, and scampering wildlife came and went. The weather was absolutely beautiful, it almost gave you a tear in your eye to realize the privilege of standing literally on top of the world. Not to worry though, as there were plenty of tears for later...
Proper hiking trails will also have piles of rocks that are designed to be markers that you are on the correct path... or at least on a path to somewhere. Footsteps from previous hikers (not necessarily from that day or even week) will also be apparent on occasion. The excitement of knowing where we were and what we were getting ourselves into dissipated any slight reservations some of the new hikers had about our overall expectations.
Throughout the trip there were signs that this trip wasn't going the same as the first had a few years ago. For starters, no one else was around besides our group. That was odd. Every hike we've ever taken, especially in the popular Zion National Park, always had other hikers we ran into eventually. Even "speed" hikers that came up behind us and passed us with hours of daylight to spare as they finished the trail early.
While more of an annoyance, the water level was a few inches higher than last year. This not only meant more chances to get one's feet wet, but a stronger flow also meant a higher chance of getting swept downstream a bit. Not a real problem either if you are looking to take a swim in near freezing water. We were focused on hiking that day though, not skinny dipping.
As we descended into the gorge and followed the stream around bend after bend, other strange differences were noticed. Huge piles of flotsam and debris rounded nearly every corner along the stream's banks. At first we thought it might have been a project by the park, but that didn't really make much sense. It slowed us down, but didn't stop us from marching onward.
The water was naturally near freezing. One by one we slipped on rocks while attempting to cross, plunging our feet into the frigid waters. There were over a hundred such hops, so it quickly became pointless to try and keep one's feet dry. We just dealt with the water's meager depth of maybe two feet at the deepest point. We had kids with us at the time, so a lot of help to get across slowed us further. The sun was sinking...
As daylight wore on, food and water ran low, and the time to get to the end had markedly increased to the point of all of us becoming tired and weary of walking, rumors began to swirl between couples as to whether this was such a good idea for a hike after all. Where was the end? Why was it taking so long from before? Why don't they station McDonald's at key crossing points for obviously disgruntled souls like ourselves?
An Unpredictable End
With less than an hour to spare in daylight, Steve Tall and Mathew Anderson scouted up ahead to find a way out. At that point we had seen the road a couple of hundred feet above one of the stream banks, so we knew we were close. The entire area though had changed in configuration a few years ago when a massive flood had come through. The end was no longer in sight!
With less than 30 minutes of spare daylight and flotsam blocking our every path out but one, we decided the only viable route was trudging through knee deep freezing water for several minutes in the hope of getting that much closer. We knew there was a ramp down from the cars, it just was a tad further than the last time due to the new configuration of the river. Did I mention the park bulldozed the old road down as well?
At this stage the group was in a variety of modes from desperation, anger, panic, and despair. Tears mixed with freezing water as it became hard to see with only our iPhone flashlights to illuminate the way. That's when it suddenly got worse. Not only was there hardly any daylight left, but the stream hit a cement junction that would have required us to slide down like some amusement park ride, only without the safety net and no way to get back up in case it was the wrong choice.
That's when we looked up, silently called for help to the cars we heard passing by, and sent one us up in the hopes that the slope wasn't too steep to get out. It thankfully wasn't, and we successfully got to the top with exactly 0 minutes left of daylight.
- "This hike turned from adventurer to a fight for survival!"
- "Thanks Ted! Wherever you are!..."
All according to plan... till the next!