Saturday, January 10, 2015

Life Elevated Part 4 - Capitol Reef National Park

After three nights at the Center of the universe, I left Escalante and drove east on highway 12 towards Capitol Reef. What an amazing drive. I was stopping at every turn to take pictures. I took pictures of course profile for Escalante Canyon marathon (this starts from Boulder and finishes in Escalante). Thats one of the spectacular marathon courses I've seen. Some of my running friends are going to be hooked at Escalante race after looking at these pictures.

I made a turn into one of the viewpoints about 15 miles away from Capitol reef. This is a point at 9600 ft elevation and you get a spectacular view of the mountains of Capitol reef. Drove on that access road for about 15-20 feet and my car got stuck in a foot of snow. I did everything I could to back off and my 4 x 4 just wouldn't move. Fortunately a couple driving on highway 12 noticed my struggle and came to help. This Gentleman was a local and he got the shovel to clean the snow around and get my car back on the road. I'm really grateful for his kindness. I could have been stuck there for a while. These pictures would explain why I was so excited and didn't pay attention to the snow.

Mind blowing. Never seen anything like this !!

Cloud cleared and finally was able to take this shot.

I finally made it to Capitol reef late noon. Picked up maps from visitor center and did some short hikes at Gooseneck, Panorama and Sunset point. 

Checked into Days Inn, which was probably the only hotel open around here. 

It was sunny 50-degree perfect weather next morning and I had a blast exploring Capitol Reef National park. All those mountains and peaks that appeared tiny from highway 12 were monstrous. I headed to hike Hickman Bridge first thing in the morning. Sunlight was directly on the bridge at around 9 am and lighting was perfect for photography.

Easy hike to get this spectacular natural bridge

Upon descending I drove east on 24 and turned south on Notom Bullfrog road just to enjoy the dramatic scenery and take pictures. Made a U turn after about 10 miles (where unpaved road start). Return trip to the park was equally amazing.

Then drove on Scenic road all the way to Capitol Gorge and did the 1 mile hike. Captured some unbelievable pictures from Pioneer Registry and Tanks.

It was almost 2 pm and after a quick lunch I headed to hike Cassidy Arch. I enjoyed the elevation it provides and the views along the way were spectacular.

But this was one hike that went totally wrong for me. I saw the arch from a distance and a direction indicating it’s about 0.5 miles away. I hiked in that direction for about 20-30 minutes and for the life of me couldn’t figure out where the arch was. Directions to the arch at that point are non-existent. 

I was standing on top of a huge rock and realized I’m lost pretty badly. I moved in all directions for 100-200 feet and couldn’t find any sign of the arch. Frustrated returned back to the trail and I had a struggle finding it too. Anyway I barely made it to the car by sunset and drove back to the hotel.
I checked at the visitor center at Capitol Reef and ranger told me for Cassidy Arch you end up on top of the arch.Thats exactly where I was and I'm relieved I wasn't lost.. :) .
I went back to the park next morning for a run and saw sun, rain and snow all within 1 hour of my run. It was quite dramatic.

Saw this beauty during the run on Scenic drive.
Decided Capitol Reef would be my last destination in this trip.There is no point pushing to reach Moab/Canyon-lands/Arches when I cant do justice to those parks. I'll probably do those parks another time. I had two more days to get back to Vegas and I decided I'll drive back west and take my time to transition my legs from hiking to running mode. I stopped at Bryce canyon for a night and was able to run at 9000 ft elevation for an hour and felt quite comfortable doing it. Next day I headed to Zion to spend a night and ran Angel's landing hike to Scout's lookout which was equally comfortable. I felt acclimatized to higher elevation.. Too bad I couldn't stay here and train for my upcoming marathon at Big Sur. Made it safely back to Vegas and then flew back home to NYC without any issues. I'm incredibly thankful to my friend / colleague for suggesting this trip and for all the inputs and guidance he poured on. And also huge thanks to destination experts at Trip advisor for their tips in making this a successful & safe trip. Even after two weeks I feel like I haven't seen anything and cannot wait to go back to explore the elevated grandeur of these national treasures.

Life Elevated Part 3 - Center of the Universe

After a fabulous day at Kodachrome State park & Bryce Canyon, I headed back to Escalante a.k.a "Center of the Universe". I still didn't get a chance to do the hikes I wanted at Bryce. Guess I will have to make another trip during warmer weather to explore Bryce. I had booked two more nights at Circle-D Motel. But I was clueless as to what to do next two days. Firstly it's all backcountry trails with muddy unpaved access roads. Secondly I'm beyond pathetic in route finding & navigation in backcountry.  I found a brochure for "Escape Goat Day Tours" that had guided hiking services to slot canyons  near Dry fork . The owner Shawn was gracious enough to take my call late in the night & agreed to take me on a hike to Dry fork, Peekaboo & Spooky gulch canyons next morning.  He promptly came over next morning at 8:45 am & we were off driving on Hole-in-the-rock road.  We quickly developed a good rapport & were exchanging backpacking ideas around Escalante. We stopped on Hole-in-the-rock rd to take a shot of this cloud formation.

View from Hole-In-The-Rock road
Road conditions got pretty bad after 15 miles on Hole in the rock & I was relieved that Shawn was behind the wheel. It was exceptionally great day weather wise for hiking. It was sunny and mid-morning temps were in the perfect upper 40s. We finally made it to Dry fork parking lot by 11 am which was deserted and  we were the only ones there. We climbed down the rocks from parking lot and as we were heading towards the Dry fork slot canyon spotted a a lone Coyote which sensed our presence and disappeared in seconds. We hiked Dry fork gulch canyon first and Shawn told me to enjoy somewhat wider canyon as it was only going to get claustrophobic.

Couldn't have done this at Spooky or Peek-a-boo
After reaching the top of Dry fork slot canyon we hiked out of the canyon and walked on the access road to get back to  on the Dry fork gulch. We saw couple of guys entering Peek-a-boo Canyon but we walked further to hike Spooky first. Spooky slot canyon was ridiculously claustrophobic and I was pleased that I wasn't doing it alone.

Climbing out of Spooky gulch was quite challenging for me as I'm not used to rock climbing or even scrambling of any kind. For a moment I felt my waist was stuck between two rocks  and I was glad Shawn was there to help me climb those narrow rocks.  I usually panic and make such a hike more complicated than it usually is.. The two tourists who we saw at entrance of Peek-a-boo were already there patiently waiting for this amateur to climb out of Spooky.

It surely wasn't as easy as it looks here.
Entered Peek-a-boo and it felt lot easier than negotiating the climbs at Spooky.  It was really short hike and I was sad it was over even after all those nightmares hiking out of Spooky.

Part of the hike where I felt like a kid
We saw about 8-10 more tourists as we were heading back to the parking lot.  Once we got back to the parking lot we saw a note from park rangers that a cow had died few days ago inside the slot canyon and they were unable to remove all dead parts completely. I didn't remember smelling anything funny in any of the canyons. Probably it explains why the Coyote was wandering around the canyon entrance. Drive back to Escalante was smooth. We stopped at Devil's Garden for few minutes but I ran out of battery in my camera for pictures.  Guide Shaun was awesome. I'm so glad I chose to hire a guide. If I had ventured on my own I would have turned back half way on the Hole in the rock road. He suggested I plan to hike Zebra / Egypt 3 canyons during my next trip. I laughed in my head about my survival just visualizing myself in those canyons.  I was pretty exhausted by day's affairs but did manage to do a quick run at Escalante Petrified Forest trail before crashing & burning for the night.

I was simply blown away by the endless hiking options around Escalante.  It surely would take few more trips to even make a dent on the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Life Elevated Part 4 - Capitol Reef National Park