I’ll be honest, I had never gone backpacking before. Yes, we backpacked through Asia & Europe for a few months but every evening we had a bed to crash in or room to call our home for the night. I’ve never walk so far away from society into nature with everything I needed on my back, slept overnight, got up the next morning and continued walking.
At first the idea didn’t seem too great to me and I wasn’t looking forward to how much hard work it would be, but as we entered the Canyonlands park the excitement started to bubble. We got our permit, drove to the trailhead parking lot and began to assemble our packs. Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, water, food, snacks, camera, change of clothes and toothbrush… and thats about all one really needs. The idea of minimalism isn’t a foreign idea to us, we have everything we need in our van, but just the fact that everything you needed could fit in a backpack was pretty wild to me.
Laces tied & packs tight, our group of 4 started walking. Our friends Derek and Dani from our earlier Moab climbing venture, were the cultivators of this trek. Because we were hiking Canyonlands, day one was basically 4 miles completely downhill into the canyon with so many false bottoms of the canyon. You would come to a flat oasis of a valley to continue on to yet find another ledge with a steep scramble further and further into the canyon. The deceiving depth of the canyon was wild and was just eye opening. We were just ants in the vast size of a never ending canyon formation.
Not only was this my first backpacking trip, it was also my first real experience immersing myself in the desert climate. I grew up visiting my family in phoenix, so I’ve seen the desert, but I’ve never actually experienced the nature of it. It has a beautiful harshness to it. Walking down and around formations heading toward the greenery at bottom, you realize how important water is and just how much life a fragment of water can provide.
Down, down, down; it was still just as hard as walking uphill. Each step was repetitive and strenuous. One foot in front of the next, bracing and balancing your pack and weight over your knees so you don’t go toppling forward. It’s a lot of looking down and making sure you have a sure foot, but man did the views get better. I had never been in a canyon of this size before. The walls grew taller & taller and the formations grew wilder & wilder.
The best part about this hike was the number of people we saw. On day one we saw 4 different small groups. So much different than Colorado or our later hike in Zion, where you are literally hiking with hundreds and hundreds of people. It was refreshing to be able to experience this beautiful place and have it almost to ourselves! The hike we were doing was a loop. You could finish it in a day if you really wanted to, we just chose to split it up and do the descent on day one and the accent on day 2. When we finally reached the bottom we came to this intersection of five separate canyon ravines. Each direction took you down a different path, which would lead you further and further into the maze! We continued to follow our trail to the campsite which wasn’t much further than the intersection and came upon a rolling green valley with a 360 degree view and a perfect little camping pad.
We dropped our packs, took our shoes and sweaty clothes off & set up shop. All I wanted to do was lay down and get the weight off of my feet. I was sweaty and hot, but I felt okay. I wasn’t in too much pain but just ready take that pack off. Dani and I laid on the dirt and just enjoyed the sun. We sun bathed, and gazed at this crazy formation looming in front of us. It was beautiful, strong and held a power over the valley. We both said we were just waiting to see a Native on horseback emerge from over the top to gaze and check out his valley. The formation radiated a spiritual presence, so untamed & so primal and you knew that it hadn’t changed much in the last hundred years.
While Dani and I were examining the structure, John and Derek went exploring. There was a perfect boulder up the hill a bit and they went to test their strength on it. After they tired themselves out a bit more, because the hike obviously wasn’t enough, and Dani and I were rested we went exploring without our packs. So much easier. We walked a mile and a half down one of the gorges to a landmark titled “Upheaval Dome”. Apparently a meteor hit at the end of the ravine and the rock & sand looked different from anything else in the canyon.
The hike there was actually incredible. I highly suggest doing it if you get a chance to. You feel as if you walk through 5 different desert ecosystems on the way. The rock goes from deep red to bright orange to white and everything in between with many different textures.
When we reached the end, sure enough, it looked like a meteor hit. A massive pile of rock and sand darker and different from the rest that basically blocked you from going any further. I’ll be honest the landmark wasn’t as rewarding or memorable as the hike was. Basically just a reminder of a well know metaphor – its not about the destination but the journey. True. So we looked, we awed and then we turned around and headed back. It was dinner time & we were hungry, plus the sun was about to set!
Back at camp Derek whipped up a delicious curry rice and bean dish with hard beans – I mean not everything could be perfect – and it actually was still sooo good. It was a hot meal and we were so thankful for it! We watched the sky turn from pink to orange to dark blue to black and headed to bed. I SO wanted to get up in the middle of the night and look at the stars and I was sure I’d wake up a few times because let’s be honest, no one sleeps well on the ground. I did daze in and out of sleep a few times to hear the small pitter patter of rain on the tent and came to the acceptance that it would be cloudy all night and gave up. But from like 3 am on apparently the sky cleared up and the star gazing was incredible – so Derek said. A little bummed, I woke up before the sun was rising and we walked up the hill past the boulder to watch the canyon come back to life with color. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Almost as if the rock is alive and waking up for the day. It turns a deep red in the morning within a few hours its back to its vibrant orange awake & alive!
We packed up camp, reassembled our packs, strapped on our shoes and began day 2. I was a litttttttle sore. Mainly it was just my feet, they hadn’t experienced stress like this in awhile, but overall felt pretty good. Day 2 would be harder, we had just a little more than 5 miles to go, not bad, but completely uphill with many scramble portions. Day 2 was 5 times as beautiful as the decent on the first day. This portion of the hike was mainly in the shade for most of the morning, which mean that much more foliage was able to grow. I’m talking we walked through an enchanted forest, followed a little stream and saw tall vibrant green grasses all in the bottom of this crazy desert ravine.
Don’t get me wrong it was still hard, so hard. One step at a time, one foot after the other, it was just walking. Walking was easy, I could do that. I can do it. The environment and foliage definitely helped distract my mind from crashing or stopping to rest every 10 mins and I just kept plunging on. I’m a slow hiker and I’m so okay with that. Clearly, I’m not an advanced hiker, I didn’t grow up with parents who were into hiking so we never did things like this. But I do enjoy it. As hard as it is, and as much as I think I dislike it in the moment, I like the mental game and love the places it takes you. The ability to push yourself is so rewarding and worth every sore muscle.
False summit after false summit, Carmella (our van) never looked so good when we took that last turn and the road to the parking lot was revealed to us. I did it. I survived my first backpacking trip. I can’t wait to do that again.