Today was an absolutely exhilarating day. I climbed around countless rapids and waterfalls heading up Paria Canyon further into the wilderness area in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The soil around here can be cryptobiotic – essentially, living – so I stayed in the stream whenever possible to avoid damaging living soil. The canyon has started to narrow from its wide open nature at the bottom in Glen Canyon NRA and the lower section of the wilderness in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. I spotted petroglyphs a mile or two into the hike. It’s still very hot and sunny, so I went through water a bit faster than anticipated. Since it’s not usually advised that one drinks from the Paría (even filtered), I ended up rationing water until I made it to the first reliable spring where the canyon breaks out of the Chinle Formation and into the Navajo Sandstone. The clay and mudstone that make up the Chinle don’t hold water particularly well, so there are no reliable springs for the first 15 miles of the route. I decided to camp at the spring for the night since it gives me a reliable water source and cuts back on how much I may have to carry tomorrow. (Relive video follows photos below.)
The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing. I was told that there may be water in one direction near the crossing but didn’t need it and therefore didn’t check. Climbing out the other side, the northern aspect of the slope is apparent – while ponderosas covered the southern slope opposite, the northern one featured Douglas fir and blue spruce. Obviously the different sides show different microclimates depending on the sun aspect, the temperature and moisture levels on each side given the orientation and angle of the slope. The trail rises back to the ponderosa forests on the Mogollon Plateau and traverses them, the site of my first human sighting in 3 days, then reaches General Springs Canyon. Dipping into General Springs Canyon, silence and quiet take hold. I passed a nice campsite near the end of GSC, but the pools nearby were still frozen at the end of the day, suggesting it would get colder in the canyon overnight (and that solar exposure during the day was limited) than on the Rim, so I continued forward to the rim itself. Lights can be seen in the distance, but I’m not sure which town. Likely Pine or Strawberry. Tomorrow begins the descent off the rim at long last.
The low last night was projected to be 12º, the coldest night yet on the trail, and I would say that may well have been accurate. Fortunately I came prepared for such conditions. Today I will be one of the first to walk the full new Happy Jack passage routing south of Shuff Tank.
It is brutally cold this morning, making it hard to even move much before 11. I believe it was around 20 at 9:00. Packing is a slow process in these temperatures. But, I pick up a few things that might make future packings faster in these temperatures, like doing most of it inside the tent at first and having a solid plan in advance to minimize time spent debating with oneself in the cold. Once packed, I head east along the forest road until coming to a trail crossing. There is a problem; the trail crosses on both sides. Clearly I missed a turnoff in the twilight yesterday evening. In both my purist nature and out of curiosity to see just where I made a wrong turn, I take the trail to the right, and it winds through the ponderosas back to Shuff Tank. It is clearly new, so this must be part of the new reroute, which has gone around the road stretch that I walked to get to the junction earlier. Instead of following the road on the north side of the tank, the trail now follows a singletrack around the west and south sides of the tank, then crosses the road on the east.