29.9 miles hiked
I fall asleep in my incredible sleeping bag (the western mountaineering versalite) as soon as I zip it up against the cold, at 7 p.m., and wake at 4 a.m. feeling like I just had the best sleep of my life. I’ll tell you something about me: I go to The Nature to sleep. In towns, insomnia follows me like a stray dog. It has always been this way. In The Nature I sleep. It doesnt even have to be the wildest of natures; any outside will do. In my early twenties I discovered, while strung out on an entire summer of relentless insomnia, that I could sleep in forgotten stands of trees next to the highway while hitchhiking to Alaska. I could sleep in abandoned fields on the edges of industrial neighborhoods. I could sleep on freight trains- a little too well. I’d sleep through the crew change in the town where I wanted to get off, and end up somewhere else. Towns often make me feel like I’m slowly losing my mind but if I can feel the cold night air and see the stars, I can sleep.
The exception to this rule is dating Muffy. She sleeps like a champ and exudes a magic mist that somehow helps me sleep too, even when I’m living in a house. We’re both really into going to bed at 9 p.m., and for the last year my town insomnia has been much more chill.
Muffy slept great too last night, and we’re both in good spirits this morning. The trail after the Taylor cabin deposits us back down in Sycamore canyon, which at these upper reaches is mostly dry, and we are to walk the boulders of this dry streambed for three miles, ala the Hayduke.
Redrock canyon walls rise up on both sides and fingers of morning light reach in, making the pale boulders glow. Sycamore trees, white and gnarled, clatter in the wind, and I would think they were dead if not for the fists of new leaves on the ends of their branches. We skirt huge pools of water in the canyon bottom, sparkling clear and big enough to swim in. It’s a slow going and very magical land.
I packed out a bottle of diet coke, which is a weird guilty pleasure that Muffy and I share (gotta love that phenylalinine, amirite?) and Muffy and I drink it sitting next to one of these swimming holes, in the sun. It is an incredibly pleasurable experience.
The trail that takes us 2,400 feet up out of the canyon, back into the cow-trodden higher country, is… a mess. A mess in a way that’s fun for me, but not so much for Muffy. Rocky, crumbled, steep, brushy with catclaw and “knifey bois” (agave), occasionally hard to discern.
We attain the ridge and the cool shade of the ponderosa forest and have lunch at a spring next to a low, ancient cabin where I imagine someone lived a hard, lonely life.
We’re already weary, and it’s only midday. Both the canyon bottom and the trail out of the canyon where 1mph terrain for us.
A mix of dirt jeep road and soft single track gentles us through the afternoon.
It’s cold up high around 6800 feet, and the wind whips up, and we gather water from a rusted steel drum at another ancient cabin, eyeing the sky.
I get 4G and check the forecast- steady rain all day tomorrow. Dammit. We’ve got to get down to lower elevations.
A beautifully maintained trail drops us quickly into Loy canyon, where the whorls and stacks of redrock rise up like multistoried buildings around us, and then I see them- ruins! Masonry! A doorway made of red brick! Way up high under an overhang, like a castle!
Very zoomed in
I drop my pack and run toward the ruins. A dusty trail leads me through thornbushes to an expanse of redrock where I have a better view. There’s a shallow tinaja here, coyote prints in the mud. A hunded bats dip in the air above me. I can’t climb the vertical slickrock to get to those ruins, hundreds of feet up. But I can stare at them and dream.
We camp in the soft sand next to the trail, and eat our dinners in the gloaming. It’s cold down here at 4800 feet, but not as cold as it would’ve been up top. We did a good job getting down. We’re exhausted. What will happen tomorrow, in the cold rain?