Stevens Canyon 2009 – Day 3

Synopsis: Hike remaining distance to base camp, near the foot of the Baker Trail. April 18, 2009.

This day, we would leave the lower canyon and ascend to the top of the Wingate layer, where we would make a lengthy traverse through the middle canyon, then return to the canyon bed and continue a bit further to near the Baker Trail, where we would set up base camp for the next several days.

The ascent was somewhat harder than I expected, and it was pretty rough as the first task of the day.


Charles ascending the prow to the top of the Wingate.

Photo by Erin Tatge.
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On top of the Wingate, an eerie landscape that would be with us for the rest of the trip.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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In three places, the Wingate bench disappeared, requiring a traverse along the lip of a huge abyss. From afar, these places (particularly the first one) looked truly terrifying, but passage was merely scary and objective risk was quite reasonable.

It was worse than the Burr Point route to the Dirty Devil, though.


Reid, Sibyl, Joel, Katie, and Ben on the first and scariest of the three scary traverses.

Photo by Charles Yeamans.
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Trail along the scary traverse (at right).

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Pinnacles in middle Stevens Canyon.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Hiking along the Wingate.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Blocking fall marking the end of our traverse.

Photo by Erin Tatge.
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Once we returned to the canyon bed above a blocking fall (one of perhaps many similar falls which forced the traverse), we stopped for lunch.

I consider this fall to be the beginning of upper Stevens Canyon.


Pumping water above the fall.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Sculpted rock at the lip of the fall.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Rock formations awaiting us further upstream.

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Lunch time!

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After lunch, we continued upstream. It was hot and dry, and we were all tired from 2+ days of hiking with heavy packs. The goal was to continue until the first good campsite with water access.


Wingate cliffs along the streambed.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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I climbed up and over a meander, while the others continued in the streambed.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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It was slow going, and we spread out (probably a bit too much).

Soon we rounded a bend and a trickle of water appeared in the bed, but the canyon narrowed. No campsite candidates.

A few hundred yards beyond (but it seemed longer) there was a rather wretched sandy bench with boulders and brush that could serve, but it was not good. Andy and I, who were in the lead, could see a shady alcove a few hundred more yards further, and we decided to continue to there and wait for the others.

Fortunately, it turned out to be a great campsite! Good water access, not too exposed to floods, access to shade throughout the day, and (as we would discover later) plenty of frogs.

Joel and I went upstream another 20 minutes without packs to see if there was anything better (as the guidebook advertised good campsites in the spring area beyond the Baker Trail), but we found nothing but heavy brush. The party was very relieved to hear the news that we were stopping.

We hung out and relaxed the rest of the day, which was very welcome.

Joel swam in his underwear at Sibyl’s request that he not go nude, but he made up for it by tucking his shirt into his underwear later.

Charles adds: With Reid and Andy well ahead of me, I took to hanging around the back, because by that time I could tell that Katie and Ben wanted to move slower than most of the party. Given the strenuous nature of the previous two days and our likely proximity to camp, letting them feel comfortable taking it easier seemed important to their overall enjoyment of the trip. I’ve known Reid to be very good at pacing trips with a variety of natural speeds in the party, and that letting people go at about 90% of their maximum pace makes them much less crabby than if they get pushed to 100%.

My idea was to stay ahead of them, but make visual contact at every big turn in the canyon. At one, about 1/2 mile from our eventual camp site, they didn’t show for about 10 minutes, so I went back to look. They were stopped at the exact point where I had last seen them, treating a minor but necessary-to-treat injury: a nosebleed. Because of the time taken to treat this, the three of us ended up a good hour behind the bulk of the party.

Fortunately, it didn’t create a dangerous situation, because the injury was very minor and the injured party had the necessary first-aid supplies right there. It did make me think that if the injury had been more serious (say a sprained ankle) and I hadn’t been back there, it would have led to one inexperienced trip member having to leave another inexperienced trip member alone and injured and face an unknown distance and time hiking alone to summon help. In contrast, if there is an experienced person within a sightline, help can be summoned with much less uncertainty and a lot more speed.

I think it would be a good idea to mention to people in my position (generally experienced but not necessarily knowledgeable about nor responsible for the specific route), that the “hanging back and watching to make sure everyone is progressing” duty will fall to them periodically and it is necessary that someone other than the trip leader be paying attention to this at all times. I don’t think it is necessary to tell everyone something like “Joel/Charles is the sweeper and everyone has to stay in front of him” becuase that leads to overly-regimental trip dynamics, which most of us don’t enjoy.

I think it is a good idea to avoid a situation where inexperienced people might be forced to rescue other inexperienced people. A good way to do this is to tell everyone up front what level of experience each trip member has rather than letting everyone figure it out mid-trip.


View downstream from camp. You’ll see a lot more of this tower.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Sibyl has had a rough day.

Photo by Erin Tatge.
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Hanging out by our Jacuzzi.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Photo by Ben Miller.
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Andy Exley adds: At various points this day and the day before, claims were made about how someone had found an area with a jacuzzi on one of their bathroom trips, and encouraged others to go look. The claim was repeated other times by other hikers. Much to our surprise, we were able to find a campsite with a jacuzzi! Not surprisingly, the water was very cold. But that suited us just fine.

Katie adds: By Day 3, Charles had been promising us a Jacuzzi and women to fan us and bring us grapes for several days. This is the bribe he would use to keep us moving down the trail if we were slow or made a comment about the heat or being sore. We’d been scorning him and making fun of his supposed backpacking knowledge as so far we’d seen no Jacuzzis.

Imagine our surprise when we turned the corner into our (eventual) campsite to find a string of potholes, one of which was immediately designated the Jacuzzi. While it definitely was lacking in heat and jets, it was very deep, cool, and relaxing. Therefore we concluded that Charles wasn’t completely lying, although the women and grapes never materialized. That was probably for the best, as we wouldn’t have shared our chili and enchiladas with them anyways.


Water on rocks.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Supper was Reid’s Famous Enchiladas for the Your Mom group (we earned it) and Cincinnati Chili 6-Way for Sasquatch.


Charles devouring Cincinnati Chili 6-Way.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Our tower at sunset.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Hanging out in camp.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Camp had lots of frogs, so it was a good camp.

Photo by Reid Priedhorsky.
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Supposedly I woke people up with snoring, but I don’t think it was me.

Please continue reading on Day 4.

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