So down on the Subway it is, not quite at midnight but early morning all the same. The plan is to drive the car to the trail end (about an hours drive), have brekkie – hopefully it’ll be light by the time we get there, and prep lunch and snacks. Then fingers crossed for a hitch/lift up the road to the trailhead (start), it’s about another 7 miles away. If the hike takes 6 hours we’ll be good, but if its nearer 12 hours we’ll be a bit tight on supplies, especially water… but Huw read that we can get water as long as we have some puri-tabs to add to it.
When we arrive at the car park there are two people there at their cars and evidence of a few other people who have been and gone. The guys here are Lynn and Sam (we think). He has done the route before, she has done the walk-in/bottom-up route before but not this one. They seem nice enough and in the end Lynn offers us a lift up to the start, sorted! Just as we are organizing the car, a couple of wagons arrive seemingly just to see if there’s anyone in the car park needing a lift – The guy is “Tom Jones”, not THE Tom Jones, welsh singer, knicker catcher, but a local famous canyoneer Tom Jones, who’s written a few books on the subject. Apparently he often drops by to see if anyone wants a lift to the start.
Very nice of him and his partner but there’s no one else, so they leave with empty cars. At the top, Lynn makes it obvious she’d rather we didn’t wait on them, so we say our thank-yous and set off with our instructions. The trail is only marked for a couple of miles and then you really are just left with following the paper instructions, such as “After a few minutes, the trail enters a rocky area with scattered bushes, and heads down and left into a shallow drainage. Follow the drainage, then walk a ridge to its end, and a good view of Russell Gulch below”. Which is fine except you need to know what a gulch is, and that their definition of a ridge is different to ours… oh and you have no idea how far or how long they are talking about … so it is an interesting couple of hours. This part foxed us a little as did the last bit: “Fifty feet from the bottom of the gully, Russell Gulch intersects Left Fork. Turn right and follow the dry canyon ten minutes to …. ” When we got to the bottom of the gully (a suggested snack spot by a shady pool) there is no way out, having read the last bit Bernice is convinced we have to go back up – climb up 50 ft – to find the path, but having investigated this it seems to mean 50 ft along the bottom i.e. paddle through the pool to a little archway about 50 ft away!!! Obvious!
As we are trying to work this through and come down on the “its time to get wet” inevitability and are putting our wet suits on, having eaten our 2nd breakfast, we hear voices. Only the 2nd set since we set off. We assume it’s Lynn and Sam, we’d saw them from a distance about 40 minutes ago so it was feasible they’d caught us up with all the messing about we’d been doing down here… But it isn’t. It is a couple called Jere and Barbara – self-confessed members of the over 70’s club! Neither have done the route before, but it soon becomes apparent that they do do a lot of canyoning when we reach the first obstacle/abseil (called rappel here). Their rope isn’t quite long enough, but luckily ours is (cheers Conny). As we are all investigating the logistics of the drop and are getting ready to lower ourselves off, a big group arrives. They have an even shorter rope and by the sound of it are planning to down climb, except the girls in the group are not so keen on that idea when they have a look … not the best plan as the water, in the end, is only thigh deep if that. Quickly realising it could turn epic and not wanting to get sucked in, we move on.
We are soon really glad we have the wet suits and boots on as after a few soakings Barbara is shivering. They’re a really lovely couple, from a town near Yellowstone and although they’ve known about this hike for a while they’ve never had it on their itinerary before. We end up doing the whole route together and the company and banter makes the day all that more enjoyable. What surprises us is how short the abseils actually are, there are about four in total. But it is a whole load of fun, with some necessary swims thrown in for good measure, albeit a little chilly.
The further down we go the more we catch a wee glimpse of the sun, which helps to stave off the cold, and see more and more amazing geological landscapes. At the merge of the trail from the bottom-up and ours, we find ourselves in the much photographed cavern and interrupt photographers at work. By this point we are getting a bit low on water but happy in the knowledge we can just purify the stream water in a bit. A nice sunny break to take our wet suits off, have lunch and dry off a bit, allows us to soak in (no pun intended) the lovely surroundings we find ourselves in.
From here it’s a pretty long hack out and although we figure we have loads of time – our only constraint is to get the hire gear back to the shop before 7pm – what with taking photo’s, wading through the stream as we continually crossover it, and manoeuvring over bolder fields, it takes a while… plus it’s really hot now we’re not in the shade of the steep canyon walls. In the end we push on and arrange to meet Jere and Barbara back in town for food later. We barely make it to the shop for the 7pm cut-off time but there’s no problem as they’re still cleaning returned gear.
We are really tired and it’s all we can do to shower and get ourselves back out to the restaurant to meet the troops. We’re late, but as it turns out the guys were just back and are really tired too, so much so that they call a rain check till tomorrow. Suits us, so we head back to the campsite via the supermarket (to buy supplies for brekkie) and a Mexican place where we grab a snack for dinner instead.