The Line of the Week
BJ drew me a map the old fashioned way, in the sand. We had just arrived deep in a canyon off the Escalante River with six llamas and set up camp. It was a great opportunity for me to check out an area I knew nothing about. BJ was tired and I had all day. The canyon we were in was lush. Birds were singing, fish were swimming and the spring was flowing. The map was one of those things you look at and wonder, “What are my chances of pulling this off?” There was one circle on the left of the map that he said was a large monument. To the right looked like a perfect set of butt cheeks with a gap in the middle. “Climb the old Mochi Steps (steps fashioned by the Anasazi Indians to climb steep areas of rock), gain the ridge and you will see this monument I speak of. From there, walk to the far end of the butt cheeks, go 90 degrees to the right and look for the only sand dune in the area. That is the only way you can make into the main canyon of the Escalante which will eventually take you back to our canyon. It may be difficult to find the dune, but you got it”, BJ said.
A last second decision made me leave my camera behind. I was unsure about the flow of the Escalante. It had been rising lately and my camera was brand new. I started walking. I made my way with ease up the spring canyon, to the Mochi steps and over. As I gained the ridge, the sun began to blaze. I started to think to myself, “I better not screw this up”. In front of me was a maze of endless, quizzical desert. There were rock outcroppings, sage brush and sand as far as I could see. A mistake out here could lead to major problems. With every step, I surveyed the land around me making sure to gather landmarks in case I needed to retreat. There was no water anywhere in the area. My mind began to wander into feelings of adventure, awe and trepidation
I followed the landmarks of the map as best I could but I never found those “butt cheeks”. I walked to the far end and made a 90 degree right turn. That’s when I saw a deflated balloon with a string attached. It was clearly one of those balloons that a kid somewhere lost. This is where it ended up, in the middle of nowhere.
I gathered my last landmarks as I left the zone on the map. I followed some large paw prints through the sand. “Maybe this critter knew the way”, I thought. I began to imagine what it must have felt like to have wandered into this region back in the day. I came to the edge and could see the Escalante River below. I decided to head to the left. Within ten minutes I saw her, a huge, steep, sand dune. I had a great feeling of accomplishment. I ate lunch and felt that I would straight line it back to camp.
There was a five foot ledge I had to jump before I ran a few hundred feet down the dune to a steep bank of the Escalante. I noticed a lot of overgrowth along the river. As I made my way down the river I realized that this would be the most difficult section. Not only was I bush whacking through thick clumps of brush but there were prickers from Russian Olive, poison ivy and a recent caterpillar metamorphosis. The caterpillars lined the trees in the thousands and would fall off into my shirt and between my toes. I was hiking in shorts and sandals.
To avoid some thicker areas I decided to cross the river. My first step into the river set me waist deep. The Escalante was running much higher and faster then a couple days prior. The snow must have begun to melt. I was shocked when my second step was above my waist.
I was in and out of the river for the next 4 miles or so. Each crossing got a bit more hairy. One such crossing left me with a rotten feeling inside. The river was wider, the flow was faster and I put it off as long as I could. I grabbed a stick to test the flow. I started pondering what that poor kid from “Into the Wild” must have been thinking when he realized that his crossing was impossible. This wasn’t going to kill me, but I was alone and unsure. I took a step, waist deep and continued into the middle of the stream. The current was tugging at me. My shirt began to get wet. The current tugged even harder when I lost my footing close to the opposite shore. I was shoulder deep and flailing when I reached out and grabbed a branch and pulled myself out of the river. I was soaked. The fall would have destroyed my camera.
Flustered and tired I made my way back toward our canyon. I found the final landmark, a turret that would lead to it’s own form of trepidation and returned to camp with my tales of travel, river crossings and a nice batch of poison ivy.
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The Line of the Week is a weekly photo piece by Ryan Salm featuring some of Tahoe’s finest athletes doing whatever we deem rad. We will be using the term “Line” loosely to describe anything resembling chutes, big airs, pointers or any general madness. All images are the property and copyright of Ryan Salm Photography. All images are only to be used in conjunction with the Line of the Week. Any other usage must be cleared in writing by Ryan Salm.