My dad began taking me on exploratory adventures on the fair weather weekends for the last few years of high school. This was probably his way of spending some quality time with his last son before the graduation and departure for the great beyond. Who knew I would end up buying his house and live within shouting distance (beware saying farewell). This was also probably to build a little more confidence and coordination since I was never the daredevil-adventurer that my older sibling were. My mom was fond of the statement: “Gered wouldn’t even be in the middle of the desert in the first place. He was probably the one who sent his siblings.”
Thus, my dad and I would trek off into the desert to hike, run, four-wheel drive, and get our legs torn up by manzanita thickets. I really enjoyed it. No really. I would return to school with my battle scars and badges of honor with stories to tell about how having your car nearly tipped over sideways was exhilarating.
On one particular adventure, my dad wanted to take me down Casner Cabin Draw, a side drainage for the West Fork of Oak Creek. We loaded up with my camel back, dad’s pack full of things to be prepared and our amazing hiking dog, River.
The beginning of the draw started benignly enough as a valley between two pin-covered hills. It meandered a little, and we got excited when we found some bedrock poking up in the streambed and a few miniature pools of water.
The canyon gradually deepened and narrowed until we were hopping off of small downpours and skirting around the occasional boulder.
Then the canyon upped the game by adding in some pools of water that we had to climb around (yes, the dog too).
Then we jumped from average rock-hopping to downclimbing pour-offs that ranged from 10 to twenty feet (yes, the dog too).
Then came the swim.
We weren’t able to get around one of the pools, so we would have to swim. I didn’t think this would be a particularly bad time; though, Buckskin Gulch and near-hypothermia did flit through my mind. I was ready…
Except, I wasn’t. I had something in my pack like my mom’s digital camera that I didn’t want to get wet, so after scrambling down to the pool, I attempted to walk across with my pack over my head. Then the water was too deep, and bitterly cold. I attempted to swim with the pack in one hand over my head, promptly discovered how hard this is when your chest is collapsing from the cold and your legs fail to be as epically strong as you wish they were.
My head dunked under water and I panicked in the way that only a child can panic while trying desperately not to let their parent’s know they are panicking.
I dragged my bedraggled self out of the pool with a half wet pack (fortunately not the camera) and shivered like a champion until my dad made a much more graceful swim across the pool (he had brought plastic bags for the stuff in his pack).
(Yes, the dog swam too).
We continued on for a ways, but my heart was thoroughly adventured-out, and I spent quite a lot of time worrying about what would come next and shivering. What came next killed it.
A fifteen-foot vertical drop into a pool so black you couldn’t see the bottom.
I came up to it and silently went into full panic mode. I stared, and stared, and stared hoping the force of my will would create a path around, a set of steps, or a jacuzzi out of the cesspool.
My dad came up and looked over. He looked at me, and pulled out a map. We looked at it hoping for some sign that this might be the last obstacle in our trek, but we could not tell. He gave me the choice.
Keep going into the icy clutches of the pool.
Go back to the icy clutches of the pool. Only it didn’t require a leap of faith. But it did have a few climbs that we were frankly amazed that River had managed to make it down, and were entirely unsure that he would make it up.
I looked, and looked, and looked.
Finally, I proposed option number three:
Immediately before the drop off we were sitting on, there was a side “canyon” (and by canyon I mean nearly vertical couloir) that had contour lines the entire way up out of the canyon that were less closely spaced than those of the pour offs that we had already come down. This would be easier going and avoid any clutches of icy pools. Great! Perfect solution!
The thing about contour lines is they are always further spaced and “flatter” on a map than your perception of a cliff as you scale it. I suppose my dad went along with the decision because he saw how miserable I was, or maybe he was doing the whole: you go ahead and make that mistake so you can learn from it.
The cliff, and it was just a depression in the cliff was more easily scaled by climbing on logs and using them as monkey bars as you pulled yourself up the rock face. It wasn’t as vertical as a few of the pour offs, but it sure wasn’t an easy grade.
It was also three times as tall as I thought. Canyons are dangerous that way in that you never realize how easy and how far you have gone going down.
About a third the way up, the couloir gave way to plain-old terraced cliffs and we were forced to contour back and fourth seeking a somewhat non-vertical slope to continue upwards. At one point in this section, I found a log conveniently wedged in the ground above some bushes and leaning up to the next level.
I hopped on the log and began climbing. Something hurt. Something hurt again.
I looked down to find a hornet on my leg doing its best to slay the mighty giant.
Then there were three.
In perhaps the most fortuitous moment of self-preservation in my life, I actually turned my head and looked at where I was going and a safe landing spot before giving into the overwhelming urge to escape by leaping backwards.