October 7, 2018.
The wind and rain continued steadily all night, though we were fortunate to not have any more lightning and thunder, given our exposed position. With earplugs I slept soundly - rocked now and then by the wind on the tent - until 7:30am, when I'd normally be out of the tent enjoying the sun peeking over the horizon.
Not today though - today the rain was coming down hard and I was thinking to myself, "We're going to have an interesting trip out of here..." But that would come later, and for the time being, I read my book and waited - hoping for a break in the weather.
Turns out, so were Mike @Digiratus and Monte @Blackdawg - so, when the rain let up at 8:30am, we all simultaneously climbed down out of the tents - onto the most saturated surface we'd experienced so far. I'd expected this the night before, and had entered the tent on the passenger side - leaving the rain fly on the driver side down to shield the rain just a bit more.
As we looked us, it was clear that the break in the rain was going to last a little while, but that there was no hope that the weather was clearing. So, Mike got started on coffee, I ate a bowl of Cheerios, and Monte had the breakfast of champions - Hostess Donettes.
The evening before, I'd noticed a rock cairn built on the edge of the cliff, on a plateau perhaps 75 feet below our camp - so breakfast wrapped up, I set out to explore. The cairn turned out to be much larger in person - nearly 4-feet tall, and naturally the view of the lake from it's perch was amazing.
But we could see the weather was coming, so Monte (who was also out looking around) and I headed back up to stow our tents and gear - wet again - before we'd be caught out in the rain ourselves. Packed up by 10:30am or so, pulled out shortly after - just as the rain started coming down again. Needless to say, it was muddy.
Splashing through puddles, we made our way toward what we knew was the biggest obstacle we'd face that day - the deep canyon and wash that Brett had warned us about - that we'd struggled through when it was dry the day before. As we did, we climbed up and away from the lake - the last 12-hours of rain adding a new dimension to our surroundings.
As we got closer, it became more evident that the rain we'd gotten wasn't just a small cell - it was a true storm. Washes that we'd not even noticed the previous day were running strong, water spilling in - over the ledges - from all directions.
The further we went, the wetter and muddier it got - the mud flicking itself up onto our trucks, mine especially with SCS Stealth6 wheels that stick out an inch further than my original wheels. I wasn't loving it - but looking back now, I had nothing to complain about at this point!
It took us a couple hours to make it through the mud - past larger and larger washes. We stopped at several, trying - I'd say futilely - to capture the rushing water running over the normally-dry landscape. While this definitely wasn't what we'd anticipated, it was something not everyone gets to experience - so special for sure!
Finally, we spotted the main wash through the canyon. Still a half mile or more away, it was clear to us at this point that we were likely to have a problem - the wash, which had been completely dry the day before, was a rushing river, all the washes we'd passed so far feeding into it.
At that point we knew that the smart call was to wait. Wait until the rain stopped; wait until the water drained off the ledges; wait until the smaller washes drained into the larger ones; wait until the water level in the main wash receded.
But it wasn't just the wash we had to contend with - in fact, the wash wasn't even our main concern. You may recall that our trip up and down the canyon the day before was sketchy even when the ground was dry. Today, with the ground saturated, it could be a disaster - if we started slipping down, there'd be no way to stop - a trip over the edge always a risk.
So we made our way - over the last off-camber washout in the road, our trucks flexing awkwardly - to the final landing above the descent into the canyon and got out to further evaluate the situation.
The rain still coming down, I assumed we were here for a while, and popped back into the truck after taking a few photos. Monte walked to the top of the descent and scoped it out, coming back a few minutes later to let us know that he thought, "I think we'll be OK getting down, we should give it a shot and see what the wash is like."
"Seriously?" I said, in - as you may be able to imagine - a voice of disbelief. That got a good chuckle from Monte over the CB, as he explained that the road was wide enough on the way down, and with enough platforms to slow our descent, that he felt the risk on that part of the trail was relatively low.
We all agreed and started down - Monte ultimately right that our descent would be uneventful - until we reached the edge of the main wash.
In fact, it was at this point that the wash and road shared the same path for several hundred feet - several hundred feet of unknown depth and unknown terrain. We had two options - wait an unknown length of time for the rain to stop and water to recede, or tentatively make our way through the wash.
No one ever accused the three of us of being the sharpest tools in the shed, and so it was that Monte inched out into the wash. Tentatively at first, and then purposefully upstream, until he was eventually out of sight. A few minutes later, a call of success over the CB radio.
Mike was next on the trail and followed a similar path, Monte relaying the fact that it was a reasonably easy route with just a single deep hole we had to navigate.
Mike making his way through, I jogged back to my truck and eased into the wash and headed upriver. A foot or so deep, the water was fast moving but no danger to any of our rigs, and within a few minutes we were all stacked up in the road on the other side of the wash. Sort of. Turns out that the road wound it's way along the side of the wash for a quarter mile or so, and then crossed it one final time - a crossing we eased into and powered out of with more confidence than the previous one, given our success so far.
Now on the other side, our spirits were on the up-and-up - a little camera play on the docket for sure.
All that was left was the climb up-and-out of the canyon - around and across the 3-foot deep ruts in the road, now even deeper from the nights rain. With lockers and winches, Mike and I headed up first, once again prepping ourselves in case Monte needed a pull. Everything set, I spotted Monte up the trail - everything navigated without issue - all three trucks now through one of the most serious obstacles we'd face the entire trip.
It'd taken us nearly 4 hours to travel 12 miles, but we'd done it. Whatever was in front of us, we were sure would be a comparative cakewalk. As it turned out - that was an assumption that couldn't have been further from the truth.
Our goal for the day was to make it north through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to Left Hand Collet Canyon - less than 25 miles from our current location - to find camp and explore an old Native American granary there. And so it was that we set out, the colors of the rock around us brilliant despite the gloomy weather.
With less than 25 miles to travel, it didn't worry us that the beginning was slow going. The roads - the same well-graded ones we'd been traveling on for a week - were saturated and muddy. Thick, clay-based, and sticky, this bentonite mud caked onto and into our tires almost immediately, with two effects: first, our traction went all wonky, requiring us to slow to a snail's pace. Second, as we spun our wheels to power through dips or up steep grades, the sticky mud was flung everywhere, coating the sides and tops of trucks in sticky goo. Oh, and in my case, the bed started to fill up as well - now my wheels were really giving me something to complain about.
All thanks to the rain. "F*uck you rain." said Monte over the CB as he slowly crawled up a hill and was stopped by a 700lb boulder that had fallen across our path.
Without moving the boulder we weren't going to make it any further, so all three of us positioned ourselves along an edge and counted to three before heaving. And then, near disaster - as Mike went skittering off the side of the boulder, nearly hitting his head on Monte's front bumper. Luckily for us all (but unluckily for Mike), he "only" bashed his shoulder against the tire - an injury for sure, but one that we'd take any day over a broken skull.
Oh, and now Mike was covered in the sticky goo, too. So as he got himself squared away, Monte and I pushed and pulled the boulder out of the way, a quarter-rotation at a time - eventually moving it far enough out of the way for us to pass.
The going continued to be colorful, but slow - the rain having washed dust off of the rocks around us. Yellows, oranges, reds, blues, and maroons popped all around.
But that same rain turned the dust into mud, making the roads treacherous - washouts and ditches now traps sucking us in rather than easily avoided. We each took our turn slipping into these traps - and accelerating out, none of us inescapably caught!
We continued this way for nearly four hours - a sub-10 mph pace over roads normally carrying us at 30+ mph. We climbed from 3,900 feet to over 6,600 feet during this time, the views still dramatic, but limited by the surrounding clouds.
And so it was that as we neared 6:00pm, and as the rain continued to fall, that we reached the granary at the top of Left Hand Collet Canyon. Smaller than we'd imagined, the cliff-dwelling like structures were initially a bit underwhelming as we explored the area for what we thought was a large rock-lined granary dug into the ground.
In reality however, the rock-dwelling-style granary was pretty cool and our underwhelmedness was likely due to the grueling day we'd had - the shortest by far from a mileage standpoint, but by far the worst when it came to trail conditions and weather. So it was that we explored the nearby area, looking for a place to call it a day. We found one, not far away at the end of a spur road, and it wasn't long before camp was setup, in the rain.
Hoping the rain would subside, we gathered under Mike's awning as the temperature dropped into the mid-30's. Unfortunately for us, it never stopped raining - our second night in a row without a campfire! We didn't let this stop dinner however. Earlier, I'd made a hobo-meal of sausage, potato, red bell pepper, zucchini, and cauliflower - more than I could eat, but not enough for three. But, when Mike offered up some chunks of seasoned steak, and Monte offered his stove to fry it all up, we turned it into a great hot meal for the three of us - cooked in the rain, but eaten in the relative dryness of Mike's awning.
Having waited for the rain, by the time we wrapped up dinner it was getting late, and with the chilly air we all decided to call it a night earlier than normal. As we climbed into our tents, we were all hoping that the next day would be warmer and drier - the rain and mud getting old, fast.
But, for all the cold and wet - there were three things for which I was hopeful - there was no lightning in the forecast, the wind was light, and if the rain continued into the night, it might rinse some of the mud off the truck!
...and with that, I nodded off to sleep.