As I made my way over to my campsite on day six, I kept eyeing circle cliffs to my left. I knew that the DoingMiles route had me ascending them, but there was one problem: they were cliffs… 800+ foot tall cliffs. And yet the
trip report described the route as “easy class two.” There was nothing easy looking about it. I went to bed with some anxiety about what the ascent would hold.
The trip report highlighted a notch in the cliff that I was to climb. I packed up camp, had some freeze dried “Khatmandu Curry” for breakfast (terrible) and spent the morning walking towards my ascent route with trepidation.
Along the way, I passed through what may have been my favorite canyon of the trip, a rather shallow gulch with beautiful white stone that wouldn’t even register on most maps. Once again, my route was silent and empty.
And then, I started climbing. First, sandy foothills, then a muddy consistent slope. As I got closer to the cliff, I used my inReach to let my emergency contact know I was doing something spicy. Eventually the uphill walk
turned into a rock scramble. I’d go up and over one boulder and immediately meet another rock to climb. It kept going like this for more than an hour and 800+ feet.
I am astounded that the DoingMiles folks were able to find this incredible route. As I was climbing, I concocted a story about them working for the NSA with access to advanced military satellites. Not only did they find a
single 50 foot notch in a miles-long cliff band, but they had the confidence to plan an entire trip around it working. What would have happened if they got cliffed out 600 feet up?
As I kept climbing, my heart rate kept rising. This wasn’t the workout of easy canyon miles, I was in Z3 and Z4 for an hour. It was hot and I was shvitzing like mad.
When I got to the top I was filled with a sense of accomplishment. I had been down there, now I was up here. But, I also knew I had work to do: My Garmin showed less than five miles and the day was flying by. I only had a
liter of water left and the sun was brutal.
The good news was that I had only easy miles left ahead of me. Right? Right? WRONG.
What looked on the map like an easy straight line traverse across mostly flat ground was actually hilly, with identical trees and random 10 foot cliffs everywhere. Typically, I would sight a landmark and walk towards it, but
the hills were too tall to see anything in the distance and, of course, trees that all look the same don’t make very good landmarks either.
After walking in a full circle and realizing just how drained I was, I decided to sit in the shade, drink some water and recuperate. I pulled out my kindle and read the last 50 pages of my book (The Adventures of Kavalier
and Clay). I cried my eyes out immersed in the world of comic books and friendship and love and shame. There really is no feeling in the world like climbing a cliff and then finishing a great book. Trust me.
As a got a bit of energy back, I set off towards the top of The Gulch. After a few hours stumbling around with my phone in my hand for navigation, I finally made it the handful of off-trail miles to the top of the canyon
that leads down off the bench to the Gulch and the next leg of my journey.
Once again, things got harder instead of easier. Every hundred feet or so the canyon would require a drop/scramble of six feet. I was tired to the bone, very thirsty and determined to make it the two to three miles to The
Gulch. But, the drops kept coming and I kept getting more exhausted.
Eventually, I came across a pothole with enough water to filter for dinner. My resolve to push on dissolved. I decided to pitch my tent on some flat-ish ground and rest up for the night. As I was setting up my tent, I was
filled with a sense of accomplishment. I had climbed a cliff, waded through narrows, meet live cowboys and had a million and one adventures. I was also exhausted and–I realized I wasn’t excited to continue. All of the miles
ahead of me would be like the miles behind me–unexpectedly hard.
I took out my inReach and emailed Sean from Escape Goats to arrange a shuttle back to my car. In the past, when I’ve cut a trip short it’s felt like defeat. This felt like victory. I had come to the desert for an adventure
and I had accomplished that in more ways that I could have ever imagined.