A hiking post.
The High Sierra mountains
The Utah Canyons.
A great big layer cake.
Georgraphically and even geologically the High Sierra mountains of California are relatively simple in that they are mostly formed from granite which has then been shaped by glacial action to give some very deep valleys : like Yosemite valley itself.
In the valley there are at least 2 huge granite monoliths ; one being the main chunk that forms the wall and nose of El Cap and the other one (that i know of ) is Half Dome. It’s all pretty simple : big and tall mountains with high passes, lots of lakes in the valleys and drainages and some really nice pine forests lower down…..in contrast the canyonlands of Utah are like an enormously complex layer cake !.
So, iv’e got a couple of guidebooks to the area and an overall map of a large part of the Escalante area and it’s hugely complex : aside from the dire warnings about water….oh and watch out for the rattlesnakes, scorpions, giant centipedes, tarantulas and so forth….one of the features i notice from the guidebook is that routes and trails are often described in terms of which ‘layer’ they are in or cross : thus “you will be in the Kayenta” or “stay below the Chinle”. Just when i think iv’e learnt the layers i go back and find that i can’t remember whether the Moenkopi is above or below the Shinarump !.
It’s a bit like learning a maze, in fact there is a fascinating area called ‘The Maze’ which i would like to get to but suspect we won’t have the time or skill level for, except that most of the canyonlands is like a 3 dimensional maze and a lot of the hiking is done by going down into the landscape rather than hiking up and across it. It’s almost an upside-down kind of hiking experience by the look of it.
It’s also got an entirely different language to describe it’s features : mountain ridges, spurs, spires and so forth i’m familiar with but in the canyons we now have to add draw’s and canyons, slot canyons , slickrock and bench, hoodoo’s and arches, buttes and mesas.
Right now iv’e gone back to geography and geology class, not that we ever learnt about anything as excitingly dynamic as the formation of the Utah canyons although i do vaguely remember volcanoes and glaciers….for years prospectors and young scientists were poo-poohed by the experts in the USA when they suggested that the deep valleys of the High Sierra were formed by glaciers…there are still some small remnant glaciers there today.
I’m gradually getting my head around how the canyonlands were formed and over what kind of time….basically that the whole region was pushed upwards and then a combination of wind, water and debris erosion in the different layers…some hard, some soft, some middling…carved the canyons down through the layers and still continue to do so. In some of the canyons features that were most likely formed by human hands a mere thousand or so years back are now often ten or twenty feet above the new canyon floor…many of the canyons having been lived in.
Physically it makes for very different hiking than the mainly trails that we will be on in the High Sierra : there, the hiking will mostly be on well graded trails if rather steep and long at times : in the canyons it’s a really different story. Some of the hiking is on bare rock….the slickrock and bench features, some in sand in the dry ‘draw’s’ , often in and out of creeks in the canyon bottoms and quite often in short scrambles…mini rock-climbs up and down short walls. It can get all a bit technical and the route finding extremely difficult . A rope isn’t a bad thing to have , in fact is essential, for some routes : now, i’m and ex climber but i think we will mostly be avoiding those routes.
Difficult route finding is something that i’m going to have to learn and i think we’ll need to tear out sections of the guidebooks to take with us….i also need a whole heap of larger scale maps.
The geography is definitely going to affect my kit choices and environmental decisions, in the High Sierra mountains a lot of the time we could probably drink the water straight from the streams ;in the canyons we’ll have to filter or , and/or boil it all unless it’s coming straight out of the rock. We also need a much higher water capacity in the canyons although equally we don’t need the bear-proof food barrel. I get the impression that the canyons are very harsh on the kit so while it works to hike the High Sierra trails with gossamer thin fabrics, we may need a more rugged approach in the canyons. The current thing that the geography and ground geology has changed is our shelter : iv’e just ordered a new tent and that’s a freestanding one….i don’t think iv’e ever had one like that…and i already think that we ought to have a separate footprint as well just to protect the floor from the sand, grit and rock.
Blog entry July 2020.
So…It’s late July 2020, the country has just gone into an even deeper state of Covid paranoia with even stranger decisions which make no sense whatsoever and every old Karen thinks they are now a masks and PPE expert. Meanwhile i continue to crank out the miles in training, slowly get used to carrying load again and start to re-learn half remembered trail skills. Today, as i write, we get to meet up with an old friend and i should get an idea of exactly where i am at with my body composition numbers.