“Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
-- Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein
Adventures involve the unknown. There must be the element of uncertain. You must wonder, “Can I do this? Is this possible? Will I get lost? Will I suffer beyond what I expect?”
Many of the big adventures I’ve done have been motivated by my friends. Don’t get me wrong, I do my share of dreaming up crazy goals, but this one was conceived of by my good friend Mark Oveson. His vision was to hike through all three areas (Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze) in one unsupported 75-mile jaunt. That’s a sizeable backpacking trip, maybe taking a week or so, right? Two days, for Mark. To cover this much ground in such a short time period, you need to go light and doing so in the desert requires some creativity and some suffering. Oh, and this involves crossing the Green and Colorado rivers sans bridges.
The schedule of the adventure centered around the river crossings. People have died trying to cross these rivers, cramping up or becoming numb and then drowning. This was the key factor in choosing to go in September. We wanted the river flow to be as low as possible and the river temperature to be as high as possible. We didn’t hit things ideally in either respect. We couldn’t go in the summer as it would be too hot. We couldn’t go too late in the year as we feared freezing at night.
Our plan was use bring very light sleeping pads and put them to double duty as a river-crossing raft. We tested this theory in a local pond and it worked great. We hoped that would carry over to the big, cold, fast moving rivers in Canyonlands...
After the river crossings, the next biggest factor to surviving was water. This is desert and water sources are few, far between, and even then just a trickle. Mark scouted out the tiny springs that would sustain us. Our one and only campsite was located at one of these springs. Speaking of camping, one might wonder why we just didn’t hike continuously until we were done. Two reasons. First, we had to be at the river crossings at the hottest point in each day so that we wouldn’t freeze. Second, hiking 72 miles in one go is hard. I need my beauty sleep.
In the end, we made it. Some navigation issues and overall fatigue had us cut the trip short by twenty miles. We did 32 miles the first day over 12 hours, crossing the Green River. I was whipped, my knees were complaining, loudly, and had to stop. The next day we did 20 miles, crossing the Colorado River. Both crossings went just as planned. The night passed comfortably with our Mylex emergency bivy bags and our down jackets. We found water in springs and even potholes. We had a great time pushing the limits of what we thought we could do and it was adventure because we didn’t know if we could...