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The Grand Bench is a Grand Mess | F.U.Rain Day #8

The warm, pleasant weather continued through the night - a welcome respite for us all - so as morning rolled around and I woke just before sunrise, I was excited to look out the tent window and see the sky starting to light up over Lake Powell.

As sometimes happens, I'd planned ahead - hoping really for this situation - and I had my camera in the tent with me. So, having woken at exactly the right time, I spent the next several minutes enjoying the pinkish-orangish-purplish light as it illuminated the surroundings. And then, as quickly as it started, it was over. I'd had only a single perspective and a few minutes, but it was perfect.

Content - and frankly, happy with myself for having the camera in the first place - I proceeded to fall back asleep for another 45-minutes. Morning sleep is definitely some of the best! Eventually though, the light started to pick up outside and snapped one more photo from the warm of my bed.

I then ventured out of the tent to start the day. Clouds had moved in overnight, adding drama to an already amazing view and I wandered out to the end of the point, enjoying the peace and quiet (our neighbors were still asleep - or at least quiet as well).

By the time I got back, the Mike @Digiratus and Monte @Blackdawg were up and about, equally thrilled with the morning we were having - never underestimate the joy of a dry tent! As I arrived back in camp, we had a quick pow-wow and decided that this would be a great morning to do a big breakfast - a relatively short bit of trail in front of us for the day, and this amazing view to soak in that much longer.

Monte got started on bacon and eggs, and Mike fired up his stove for hash browns.

Meanwhile, I got to work replacing my AC idler pulley - the bearing on it having started to go a few days earlier, and my hope that it would "fix itself as I continued to drive through muddy washes" turning out to be more fantasy than reality. Having done this just a year earlier, I had a spare in my kit and the swap (to this new, higher-quality replacement) was a straight-forward procedure; re-tightening the belt the hardest part.

Still, I made sure to be efficient about the whole thing since it doesn't take long to cook bacon and eggs, and there was no way I was going to miss this breakfast when it was ready! And let me tell you, breakfast was amazing - thoroughly enjoyed by all three of us!

Stomach's full, we embarked on our morning ritual of packing away camp - a much easier task when everything isn't wet and muddy - and then rolled out just before 11:00am, making our way north and then east to the next finger/viewpoint - a pattern we'd established in the Grand Canyon and were now repeating here at Lake Powell.

Unlike the day before where we'd been in a rush to be the first to camp, it was nice to make the drive at a more leisurely pace this morning, stopping to check out the various overlooks as we passed them. Lots of these overlooks had fire rings as well - really, any of them would have been amazing places to stop for the evening.

Eventually we made our way back to the main road along the north edge of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and turned east - into the same dramatic moonscape that had awed us the day before.

As we traveled east, it was a battle between the sun and clouds - the sun trying to break through time and again, but more and more clouds being blown across the sky. More thunderstorms were in the forecast, and it wasn't looking good. But for now, the roads were reasonable and the washes were mostly dry, so we made - and had a - good time.

It was just after noon when we headed south again, on the trail to Grand Bench. This was a trail that Monte had talked to Brett @Squeaky Penguin about, and Brett had said something along the line of, "Have fun on the technical section at the beginning!"

Having not really run into much technical this trip, we were unsure exactly what that meant - but excited to find out. And, if I'm honest, we were all just a little dubious as to what could possibly lie ahead as Monte started down the steep trail that would lead us through the canyon and main wash separating us from the Grand Bench.

As he crawled down, everything seemed just fine - at first. "This would be interesting if it were wet." Monte called out over the CB, but of course we all knew that. It wasn't until a "Hmmmmmmmm" broke the silence that we realized that maybe there was something for us to take a closer look at.

I popped out of my truck and jogged down to see what Monte had run into. Turns out that water had rendered the road down to the main wash a sort of secondary wash - 2-3-foot deep ruts lining nearly all of the road. There was a space - only just wide enough for a first gen Tacoma, and only after crossing one of the ruts in a bit of an off-camber situation - where we might be able to make it. With me spotting, Monte went first.

Having watched Monte's path, I was next in line. A good idea of where to go, I waited for Monte to get in spotting position before crawling down myself and then running back up to catch Mike make his way down.

Now at the bottom, it was time for a quick conversation. On the one hand, we all laughed - we now knew what Brett had meant about technical. On the other, we commented out loud that we were glad it was dry - that would have been no fun to do in the we looked up at the sky, rain clouds threatening overhead. But more on that later.

Oh, and on the third hand - as we climbed back into the trucks to continue on our way - we had no idea that what we'd experienced was the easy part of the canyon! As such we continued on through the (dry) wash, and started up the other side.

Going up turned out to be more difficult than going down. The soft dirt and loose rocks that formed the base of the road made traction tough - especially for Monte who had no lockers. Try as he might, he was unable to get the traction he needed - several attempts at carefully picked lines and spotting ultimately ending in defeat when one or more tires would start spinning and digging into the soft ground. Eventually, we decided that the safest bet would be to have Mike and I head up first with our lockers and winches - so Monte backed down to a platform so we could squeeze by.

With that, Mike started up first, following a line spotted by Monte - stay high and right, even as the rear end falls down to the right.

With some wheel spinning and a single reset, Mike made it up. While he headed further up trail to find a spot to turn around so he could winch Monte if necessary, I ran back down to my truck and headed up the same route. Skinny pedal, nimble steering, a rear locker, and Monte spotting, my truck was through without incident - and that meant we'd be fine, my truck able to anchor Mike's if his winch wasn't enough alone.

As Monte headed back to his truck, I climbed the cliff at the top of the hill.

Monte gave it the gas.

...and then - with no help from either Mike or I - and with a big grin and a wave - he made it under his own power!

We were all obviously happy about that, and of course we each had our own explanations. Monte of course let us know that "I don't need no stinking lockers." to which Mike and I reminded him that we'd graded and compacted the road for him before his last attempt. I guess we'll never really know who's right - both statements are technically true.

Though, the road was definitely compacted by two trucks before Monte made it, and he wasn't able to make it without lockers when it wasn't. Just saying. 

But I digress. We'd spent a good amount of time on this canyon crossing and we had a way to go before we reached the Grand Bench. Our discussion now - given the clearly impending rain and weather warnings on the ham radio - was about whether we wanted to camp at Grand Bench or try to make it out and back through this section of trail before the ground was saturated.

Ultimately, we decided that either way we were going to Grand Bench, and that we better get on it. So we did.

Having completed the toughest section of trail, we hoped it'd be easy-going the rest of the way; however the the trail was rough and the going was slow one as we bumped and wound our way towards the end of the point, racing against the rain. But, with 8 miles to the Grand Bench, the rain started, quickly soaking the ground around us.

We pressed on, eventually transitioning from rocky ledge to a smoother, sandy-muddy trail that would carry us the final few miles to our destination. At this point, we were passing in-and-out of storm cells, hoping that the real downpour would hold off until we could make our way all the way back - a saturated canyon the last thing we wanted to tackle, most likely in the dark.

And then, we got our first glimpse of the lake since we'd left Alstrom Point. This was Friendship Cove - spectacular really, and a place we'd have enjoyed more if it weren't for the threatening weather. As it was, we did our best to capture it, and then got moving again as quickly as we could.

It was 4:15pm when we finally arrived at Grand Bench. Unlike Alstrom Point, we were 100% sure that we weren't going to run into anyone else way out here - the initial canyon impassable for all but the most prepared explorers. Another hint that we'd be alone was the fact that there were zero fire rings the entire length of the trail - essentially, if you decided to run to Grand Bench, you were going to camp at Grand Bench!

As we pulled up, it was raining - so we hung out in the trucks for 15 minutes until the storm cell passed. Eventually it did, and we got out to explore. I've got to admit, it was dramatic - similar to Alstrom but different. And definitely more rugged and remote.

Like Alstrom, there were several "levels" to the rocky outcropping that extended into the lake. Always curious, Monte and I traversed down one to the other, hoping the last layer would take us far out into Lake Powell.

Alas, the last layer we could access still kept us a couple hundred feet above the lake - tantalizingly close to a beautiful finger extending into the water - the closest we'd been so far. And the closer we got, the cooler the colors - the deep blue color of the deep lake water turning green near shore, a stark contrast to the patterned, orange rock on which we stood.

Making our way back up to the trucks, it was time for a serious conversation about our plan for the rest of the day. Ultimately, we listed three possibilities:

  1. Stay here, camping at Grand Bench - weathering the storm on the horizon and hoping it would pass during the night.
  2. Head back and get ourselves through the canyon - likely in late dusk or dark, hopefully before too much rain fell, saturating the ground.
  3. Head back to a spot just above the canyon and evaluate the situation at that point. If it looked like the trail was impassable, we could camp there until conditions changed.

In the end, and given the time, we opted for option 1 - camp at Grand Bench. And so it was that we circled our trucks to create a bit of a wind break and Mike set about deploying his tent and awning before it started to rain again.

Monte and I on the other hand opted to leave our tents stowed - the hope being that any downpours would occur before bedtime and be weathered by the rubber tarps covering our closed tents, allowing us to keep them (nearly) dry through the night.

With Mike's awning out, we gathered under it - the weather calm for the moment, and had some good time surfing the internet from our remote location on Lake Powell. We even had a bit of fun on TacomaWorld, each posting a photo of our "view" - really just a photo of another member on the trip.

Yes, we are complete goofballs.

It wasn't long before the storm behind us on the lake was above us - the wind having picked up and the rain starting to fall. The awning no longer able to keep us dry from the driving rain, we retreated to the trucks - Monte and I glad we'd waited on our tents - the wind whipping relentlessly at Mike's, rain blowing up and under the rain fly.

It was torrential, and kept us in our trucks - communicating via CB radio - for much of the evening. By 7:00pm, the wind and rain still strong, thunder and lightning had been added to the mix - the interval between them less than four seconds.

"F*ck you rain." said Monte - rightly - over the radio.

Finally, at 9:30pm, the storm let up enough for us to venture out and assess the situation. Everything not in the trucks was wet. Mike's entire camp, all of our chairs, and the firewood - all soaked. And, on the horizon, more weather. It was clear that we weren't having a camp fire this evening, and even cooking dinner was going to be a hurried affair. With a pack of fully-cooked hotdogs in the fridge, Monte offered to feed us all - and so it was that we each ate a couple dogs for dinner, a couple more priceless quotes escaping Monte's mouth as he handed us the warmed meat:

Days like these are the best days.-Monte (joking)

These days make you appreciate the good days.-Monte

And then, unable to delay any longer, and with more rain imminent, we finally deployed our tents and immediately climbed inside. As we did, the imminent rain was upon us - as was the wind.

We were dry. And warm. But I for one wondered if we'd made a mistake - one that would mean we weren't leaving any time soon, if water made our retreat impossible. To know for sure, we'd have to survive the night.



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