“You were so good with words
And at keeping things vague”
– Joan Baez
It’s all yours.
It just is where it is
It might stay where it is
If you’re good with words
And at keeping things vague
Note: Some of the names have not changed in this post. They’re just names I or family and friends have given these places to protect the particlulars like so many of us do when we find precious things in our adventures.
I left for Wooly Frog on Monday, July 2 2018. On Tuesday I hiked over to the Three Tiers and the Stand-Alones – Stand-Alones first. I noticed a stick on the roof of the north ruin. Particularly Peculiar stick. I think it had been split while it was green and a length of twisted string had been inserted into the split. Then it had been heated to crimp the string in the split. One side of the stick had been planed flat. I looked around and found more that had been split and planed. But I only found one with the string. In the roof structure, these flattened sticks lay just beneath the outermost layer of mud. I think they were some kind of ree bar affair that held the topmost mud into the underlying roof structure. Pretty cool.
So then I’m looking at roof structure even closer, and that’s pretty close since the Stand-Alones are such good examples. I go to the next ruin. Sticking out from a corner of a rock on the roof is what I think is the sole of a sandal. So I lift up the rock and this woven thing is big. I lift up another rock and this thing is breast-plate sized. It’s been there every time I have and I’ve never seen it. I took photos and replaced the rocks.
The Three Tiers. I found nothing new this time except the ever-present surprise at the sheer defensive nature of them – especially down on the third tier. Most diabolical is the Bin of Death right before the T Door. One or two guys could hide in the Bin of Death and close the door, which leaned into the cliff at about 45 degrees. As unwelcome guests approached, these guys could push through the bin door and send the party crashers 80 feet off the cliff.
I think T Doors are associated with the Shaman. There’s a Kiva just on the other side of the T Door and I think this was a guy who could help you find the answers and the group wanted to protect him at all costs. Maybe he was Shaman for both the Three-Tiers people and the Wooly Froggers.
Back to camp. Hot and beat. I spent Wednesday recouping and lounging at the waterpockets in upper Wooly Frog.
I thought we’d descended Wooly Frog from those waterpockets all the way to the bottom one time. My goal was to do that and walk the canyon floor to where I’d seen a lone ruin, a couple of tiers up. So down through all those humongous boulders in Wooly Frog. They are the worst, most formidable boulders filling a canyon that I’ve ever seen or done. If we’d ever done that, I’d have remembered it.
Route-finding through the boulders
It was hard. Passages were narrow, lots of backtracking to find the way to the next level. And it just went on and on. When I got through I considered that the prudent canyoneer would climb up the Wooly Frog taluses and go back to camp to re-plan the day. But these taluses and boulders were really unstable. Lots of moving stuff and I was getting banged up. I still had 3 liters of water so I decided to stay with Plan A.
Near the mouth of Three-Tiers I found a nice ruin complex two tiers up from the bottom. I spent quite a while there. Someone had laid out the best pottery pieces around. I continued down canyon looking for the lone ruin. Couldn’t find it. Hot day. Water going down. I rested in the bottom of the canyon until my route out was shady. I wouldn’t have to back-track – just go straight up Three-Tiers with about a two-mile hike to camp after that.
But I am old. And slow. And the victim of ten orthopedic surgeries – knees, shoulders, arm, and back. And I’m forgetful. Once again, I’d forgotten about all that.
Keeping Cool Under Fire
The Three-Tier taluses aren’t steep at first. By the time they got steep I was out of water. It was getting darker but I could stay in the canyon one night, enjoy the cool, and finish out in the morning. I got up to just under the third tier and found a pretty comfortable place. I texted Lori and to my astonishment it went through. But I didn’t tell her I was staying in the canyon that night, even though she knows I carry stuff to do that. I had food but my mouth was so dry I couldn’t swallow. But the beauty of the night diverted my attention from thirst. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, stars and the Milky Way would entertain me tonight – and no moonlight interference.
Right after I texted Lori, I dropped my phone down in among the rocks. Got out my headlamp to look for it but I’d forgotten to replace batteries. I got out a lighter and flicked it around. No joy. I grabbed a handful of weeds for a torch. This was unwise. Not to grab them per se but to light them. It was windy. I lit them and some broke off, sailing into the bushes behind me. Fire! Fire as if the bushes were soaked in gasoline. Fire! Into the trees farther up in no time – bigger than anything I could ever hope to stop, and the tall flames moving astonishingly faster than anything I could have believed….!
I’d stopped where I did out of thirst and exhaustion but none of that mattered now. I had to make sure that fire didn’t top out of the canyon or it would burn all the way to Grand Junction. I had little going for me: a long-sleeve shirt and a sleeveless shirt, dirt, rocks, and my own second-hand physique. As remote as it was, I figured there was little chance anyone else would see this unless it topped out. I wasn’t really sure if that was good or bad. Best was that the bushes and trees in the canyon were sparse. And the third tier cliffs were a natural firebreak.
The trees to the left were up against the cliff and there was no fuel above them. The trees to the right led to a massive fuel source that I simply could not let catch. If it did it would very likely jump to the second tier and from there, very possibly up and out into the Juniper forest on the plateau. I’d have lit one of the biggest fires the State had ever seen. What would I have I done to people and property…?
Glowing cinders were flying everywhere. Luck was all I had that they wouldn’t set anything else on fire. I assimilated all this in seconds and concluded: This was serious. This was really, really serious.
I had a “V” shaped fire above me. It looked like the cliffs would contain everything but the right side. I ran that way, up the talus into the smoke and heat and just started grabbing fuel – branches and bushes – yanking them farther down into the canyon. But the only place I could take them was into a massive tangle of dry foliage among some really big trees. I was adding to that pile and I guarded it as if it were diamonds. It must not light. I kept running up into the smoke and heat, grabbing anything that would burn, and dragging it out of the fire’s path. Cinders were flying everywhere. They’d land on me, on my head and into my shoes. I had no time to brush off any but the biggest.
Everything that could burn inside the “V” was ablaze. Big flames – a war zone I had to continually climb and descend. A huge burning log fell horizontally onto the talus. Below it, another log was laying more vertically, burning toward the big fuel pile like a fuse. I couldn’t lift the horizontal log. I had to stabilize it so when it started breaking apart, the pieces wouldn’t roll down and light all that stuff below. And I had to ‘cut the fuse’ on that vertical log so it wouldn’t light it either. These were my two big problems – except when the wind would change. Then I’d have to run back down to stop flames from going farther down the canyon into fuel that would burn back up behind me. I ignored everything else – one thing mattered: I would not let this fire top out of the canyon or I would die trying. l just fought the fire, and fought the fire, and fought the fire.
This went on for about two and a half hours, I suppose. I kept thinking I’d brought devastation to the vast plateau above, maybe even killed people; who knew how far it would go? I worked until I just could not work anymore. It seemed that even air stuck inside my mouth and wouldn’t go down. I was smoked out and cindered, scraped, bruised, and burned – asleep on my feet. I went down to where the action had started, hoping I’d done enough to stabilize things for a while. I fell immediately asleep.
It seemed just a short time when it started to get light. Or had the fire gotten bigger? I looked up to the flames. Everything that was burning was still inside the containment I’d created. Nothing more had caught fire. So I thought that it hadn’t been a long night. It had passed pretty quickly. Then the moon came up…. Right.
I went up to the trouble spots and improved my containments, then went back down to sleep some more. Soon, real sunlight was brightening the east horizon. It was still pretty dark but I got up and did all I could to rock up and smother flames and hotspots, making good progress. I knew I had to get on the move toward camp and water before the day got very hot. I was so many times more exhausted than I’d been when I dropped that phone. Some of my gear was burned or melted but I found the phone and it was unscathed. Then I climbed the rest of the way up and out of the canyon.
On top, I fell into a slow, constant pace. My head was aching badly. I chewed up a couple of aspirin but they just ground to powder. So I thought I’d try a barrel cactus. I cut out two good slices and chewed it and the aspirin into a bitter glob. I got some down but most of it adhered to the top of my tongue like Velcro. It was gagging me. I was staggering like a sick cow in the heat of the desert and this stuff was burning my mouth ‘cause aspirin’s an acid and I was dry heaving and it was all even more than enough to gag a maggot. I‘d really seen better days. I can barely write about it without gagging and I couldn’t tell Lori about it at home without dry-heaving.
I had to hike by the head of a long alcove. Sometimes there’s water in some of the waterpockets there. This day there was none readily in sight. But I looked under a giant boulder and saw a pool. I climbed on down to it. It wasn’t water. It was leaves shimmering at me – mocking me. I walked to the next pocket possibility. Nothing.
My plan here was to just cool off, not drink. If I lowered my temperature I could get the last half mile to camp. I walked back up by the leaves and a little farther up. Bingo-Rama! There was an undercut with a lot of dripping water, creating an oasis about 20 feet long. I climbed up. It was about 18 inches from dripping water to the cool, wet, green plants in the shade. This was potable water, filtered by its trip through the Navajo Sandstone. I put the remnants of my two shirts and my ripped up short pants in a good spot to soak. Then I lay on my back under a drip above my mouth and let the other drips fall on my body. It was nice and cool under there and I spent a couple of hours re-hydrating, dozing, and cooling down. It was heavenly. I had a bottle filling and I’d suck water out of the cleanest parts of my clothes. A-OK now.
I finally crawled out, re-created – like a new guy in a video game. No smoke emanated from where I’d been. I got into camp quickly, watered down, and drank drank drank.
It was Friday now. I had to decide if I’d contained the fire enough that it would burn itself out or if I had to go back and work some more. I decided I’d done all I could do. The vertical fuse was boxed in and buried. The horizontal log was still hot but I’d shored it up well enough to keep any of it from rolling down into that hellish pile of trees and brush.
It’s Sunday now and I’m home. No sign of smoke to the Southeast today and nothing on utahfireinfobox.com. Got the rest of Velcro concoction off my tongue and out of my mouth. Sore. I had a dentist appointment the next day where I was good with words and at keeping things vague. They gave me about a gallon and a half of mouth moisturizing stuff.