Well I’m home safe and as sound as I normally come with a great many photographs, a sense of peace and a slightly stiff right calf muscle. I’d first like to apologize for not phoning a Happy New Year’s to more folks, reception was spotty in the canyon and the mobile phone gave up a charge not too long afterwards (perhaps for the best, as I suspect connectivity might have detracted from the aim of my trip). Anyway, the trip…
If you aren’t one for ramblings, scroll all the way to the bottom for a link to the photos of my trip.
A History of
This much I gathered from exceptionally friendly rangers, park literature and my sparse knowledge of geology.
The formerly rolling hills of the area belay a series of complex and stunning strata. The uppermost is generally reddish-orange sandy clay called the Clayton Formation, that most Georgians can readily identify. The next few layers are called the Providence Formation and range in color from white to pink, lavender and yellow, being composed of kaolin (white), manganese (pink & lavender) and limonite (yellow). Next is the Perote Member, a brownish gray sand with striking flakes of mica adding a gold and silver highlights. Finally, at the canyon floor is the Ripley Formation, which is an ancient sea bed with the occasional fossil. Here the erosion finally ended, further down lays only unyielding bedrock.
No champagne or fireworks this year, but I did get some shooting stars, remarkably crisp air and a lot of meandering thoughts. I can’t say as I feel shorted in any way.
My journey began in earnest just before sunrise on January 1st. I choose to explore the White Blaze section of the park which consists of nine primary canyons and several side ravines as well as the upper canyon wall trail. I estimate the former to be five miles or so while the latter is three miles, not including inevitable distractions. For those with limited time or endurance, I recommend the canyon floor and white blaze. They are easily done in under half a day though you could stretch this out to a full day hike.
The canyon floor in winter is a trickle of a stream, but I still recommend real hiking boots for the sake of dryness and footing. Regardless of the warnings of rangers and numerous signs, its apparent that some visitors have insisted on climbing some of the structures. I cannot recommend against this more highly, several are quite soft and easily damaged not to mention posing a risk of collapsing on a climber. Moving to the canyon rim, several fortified overlooks afford excellent breaks to catch your breath, have lunch, photograph or simply soak up the view. I choose all four options in abundance.
The Red Blaze trail is by permit only and because traffic on it is limited, advanced reservations are highly recommended. It?s a pittance, $4 a night (not including a modest $2 parking pass) and the money well spent. For a good portion of its run, the Red Blaze follows the remaining seven canyons in the park, none of which may be entered by park regulations for safety and conservations reasons. For those desiring a higher impact trip, I recommend taking the Red Blaze from the south entrance (contrary to the normal flow). Look at the contour lines on the free map at the ranger station and you’ll see what I mean.
On this route, the canyon vistas and overlooks sneak up on you. You’ll round a heavily forested bend looking for a place to rest and come across and break in the vegetation to be rewarded with stunning views. Mind the warnings and resist the urge to peer over, as several are perilously undercut. Later, the Red Blaze moves away from the canyon and into the forested areas of the park. Here are several switchbacks and a great deal of grades, the lowest of which dip into some boggy areas.
Camping areas are set and numbered, and some appear to have firepits if you are so inclined. They are first come, first served so consider taking the first empty one you take a fancy too or you might find yourself backtracking.
The days were mild and sunny, reaching 60 Fahrenheit and only dropping to freezing briefly around 3am or . Not a drop of rain the whole time and the breezes were light, maybe 10 mph.
The park has some visually elusive but audibly daring wildlife. During the day I only caught brief glances of crows, turkey vultures, hawks, cardinals, more squirrels than I care for and adorable chipmunks. Most were lightning fast and shy, but one thrush did concede to follow me briefly in the canyon floor in exchange for the occasional piece of a cinnamon raisin bagel. He was so swift and his wings thrummed so violently, I thought he was a hummingbird at first. I almost missed a huge paper hornet’s nest hanging a few dozen feet above the trail. It was nearly as big as my torso and a few of its intimidating denizens crawled over its exterior warming themselves in the morning sun.
By night, the situation changed and the forest leaf-litter churned so violently, I swore a herd of hikers must have been passing through. A couple times, I gave up sleep and came out of my tent to peer into the darkness. A couple shapes were obviously deer, the familiar hooting of an owl, the leathery swoop of a bat, and the odd lopping gait of something that might have been a raccoon or fox and, of course, a fearless possum skirting the edge of my camp. Somewhere in the distance, I’m certain I recognized the yipping of a coyote (or a very convincing dog).
By morning, several tracks could be found. I’m guessing the ones in the stream bed were fresh as they’d yet to be marred by water or hardened by sun. I only recognized the armadillo and deer ones for certain. The other might have been a raccoon and I really hope the huge, clawed ones were a very healthy dog and not a bear. I’ll look up the one’s I don’t recognize later and try to shine some light on their origins.
I brought far too much food and slightly too much water. The later was intentional until I was confident with the Katadyn water filter, which performed admirably by the way. My sleeping bag and choice of clothing provided ample warmth, but I might fine tune my laying to account for the remarkable temperature difference between the canyon floor and canyon rim… places were like dropping into a “pool” of cold air. I must have a better wicking set of upper body wear, however.
The antiquated Optimus Hunter stove performed like a champ and produced such tasty treats as a southwestern omelet, chili, fajita, a makeshift pita pizza, mochachino, cranberry-mint tea and toasted bagels. The non-stick GSI cookware is a dream to work with but still a bit large for a one-man operation, I may keep it for other expeditions but invest in a Snowpeak Titanium solo set at some point. Moose Goo is simply brilliant (homemade mixture) honey, peanut butter and fine soy flour packed in refillable tubes); thank you for introducing me to it, Implementor.
The Kelty Redcloud pack, while large by some folk’s standards, is perfect for me. I adjusted it about a half-dozen times till I felt it fit just right but I think I have it down now. Hydration bladders are definitely the way to go, allowing you to drink without digging around for a canteen.
I really regret not bringing a small hammock. Also, I think I’ll pass on the hiking stick for now, as I found myself using handholds, holding my camera or otherwise too occupied to make one practical.
Thoughts & Soulsearching
Performed no shortage of internal monologues and snippets jotted down in my journal. Most took the form of whimsy of rhyme or prose. Who knows, perhaps they solidify into presentable works in the future. Geological allusions, ghost stories to one’s self in the dark and natal quatrains born of awe. Even if they don’t I will look back on them as well as my sojourn frequently with great fondness.
Hoping folks celebrated or otherwise enjoyed their turning of the wheel with similar satisfaction. May the new year bring you all your fondest hopes and desires.
And of course, The Pictures, pared down from hundreds. It?s almost impossible to find an unpleasant view, except when I turned the camera around. ;-)
And finally the pictures. I too far too many and this is the edited list. The best canyon shots are in my opinion are from the canyon rim and can be found in the last half of this album.