Tale of the Toe

Posted On
Jun 17, 2012
Southern Utah
By Señor Rojo –


It all began in the parking lot outside Rice Eccles Stadium.  Señor Rojo was preparing for our tailgate party prior to the University of Utah football game that afternoon.  Propane stoves were set up, tables and chairs placed and the coolers well stocked with adult beverages.  The only thing left to do was set up the stereo and speakers.  That's when it happened.  A speaker slid off the platform and landed square on Rojo's left big toe.  Caramba!  More than ouch!  More like aaaargh!


In two days Rojo was to leave for southern Utah for eight days for a photo shoot and story.  Canyoneering, hiking, sea kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and rock climbing were scheduled.  Not the kind of activities to be attempted by one with a very sore toe!  Rojo needs to check in with his publisher to see if she can offer an alternative plan.  The cold hearted publisher's (CHP) response?  "You don't rappel and paddle with your big toe, do you?  We've got an award winning photographer joining you and a reservation with guide Jonathan Zambella to go canyoneering on Monday.  Get on the road and get the story!"   How did Rojo know that would be CHP's response?


So that afternoon, Rojo summons his tailgating friend Rick, former river guide and EMT, for help.  Rick brings his electric needle instrument over.  "This won't hurt a bit, but we need to relieve the pressure under your toenail. We'd best go outside so we don't mess up your carpet."  Rick applies the hot needle and pierces Rojo's toenail.  Huge dark crimson Old Faithful gushes forth!


Canyoneering in Utah is big.  And growing.  Outfitters that guide near Zion National Park, Moab, the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, the San Rafael Swell and other venues are constantly seeking out and finding new slot canyons and drops never before entered, much less named.  Hundreds are known, many more are yet to be discovered.  The vast Glen Canyon National Recreation Area hides perhaps the most.


Guides have been leading canyoneering and hiking adventures for several years into the western part of Glen Canyon off Hole-in-the-Rock Road.  The remote Egypt canyons, Coyote Gulch and other routes near the Escalante River leading to Lake Powell are well known to the professionals and their clients.  Although not as populated as Grand Central Station, if you go, expect to see others.  But there's a different way to search out Glen Canyon's many other hidden troves.


By boat.


Jonathan Zambella is an experienced canyoneering guide and, like others dedicated to vertical sports, he is constantly looking for new routes.  Today, joined by photographer Carl Oelerich and three other guests we board his pontoon boat, The Canyon Queen, on Lake Powell within Glen Canyon for two days of exploring, rappelling and slot canyon hiking.  But can Seńor Rojo do this?  Rick's procedure is working its magic.  Rojo's toe has stopped throbbing but still very sore.  Mucho doloroso!


On the water, Jonathan tells us that he has hiked and named several dozen slots and drops in Glen Canyon in the last two years.  Many, he feels, have never previously been explored.  Soon, he drops us off on a sandy beach where we will begin our hike up.  Jonathan maneuvers the boat into a cove a half mile away where we will later exit the route, anchors, unloads a kayak and paddles back to us.  We pack our harnesses, hydration packs, rappelling gear and snacks.  Rojo gingerly pulls on his hiking boots and we start out up, up the steep slickrock.  Rojo thinks, "I can do this."  We reach the crest of the hill and start down.  Oh, oh!  This is not good!  Muy malo!  When Rojo steps downhill, his left toe jambs painfully into the front of his boot so he can only stride forward with his right foot.  Now, Rojo is a one leg hiker.  Jonathan nods, understands and slows the pace.


Eventually, we arrive at the first drop.  From a dizzying height above we peer over the edge to the landing below.  Pothole, filled with rainwater, of course.  But we're prepared with wetsuits and neoprene booties.  We look around wondering just what and where our rappel and belay rope anchor point is located.  Bolts here are taboo, there's no trees, no large rocks to secure ropes.  Just sand, lots of sand.


From his pack, Jonathan pulls out a heavy canvas tarp with grommets to attach ropes, lays it down and commands, "start shoveling!"  This is our anchor and when we're down and pull the ropes, the sand scatters.  Leave no trace!


Several fabulous drops, downclimbs and scrambling follow.  We come to the final drop and Jonathan determines that the pothole below is a "keeper."  Deep, cold, slick muddy walls. Very difficult, if not impossible to exit without some assistance.  Jonathan surveys the situation and comes up with the solution.  We will heave a pack with a line attached over the pothole and one of our fellow hikers will be lowered to clear the other side and act as a "meat belay."  Carl is chosen to make the throw and, after several attempts, lands the pack and rope in the desired location.  The "meat" descends and places Rojo on belay for his descent.  Disaster!  Rojo fails to clear the edge and slides into the abyss!  Caramba!  The next twenty minutes seems like hours.  Rojo silently curses CHP.  Finally, with much direction from Jonathan above and the belayer below, Rojo grasps the line and with a final burst of his remaining energy exits the dreaded pothole.  The swim back to the Mothership in Lake Powell's warm water is a catharsis.


Now Rojo's toe resembles a medium sized purple potato.  It appears infected.  No way can he go a second day and hold up the others.  He returns Kanab and asks the local pharmacist to take a look.  "If you can contact your doctor over the phone, I'll fill a prescription for an antibiotic and that should help."  Fortunately, Rojo's doc and good friend Jennifer, answers her phone and gives the order.  Rojo limps back to his motel room to rest and recover to fight another day.  That day comes soon.


The phone rings.  It's CHP.  "How's it going?  Bet the canyoneering was exciting, right?"  She'll never know how exciting.  "OK, I want you to get a permit to hike to the Wave on Thursday.  My husband Michael and I will be down on Wednesday for the hike and photo shoot."


Oh boy. One of the highlights of the nearby Coyote Buttes in the Paria Wilderness is the rock formation known as The Wave, a swirling sandstone formation.  There are two chances to get a permit to hike to the fabulous Wave, slim and none. Only twenty hikers a day out of the hundreds that apply are allowed to visit, ten of which are issued online permits months in advance and the remaining ten the day before the hike, all by lottery. Visiting Europeans covet a permit.  To add to the difficulty, if the first person winning the permit has, say, six in their party, all six can go, leaving but four slots remaining.  If the next has four and they all go, that's it! Terminarse, adios amigos, try again tomorrow.


Rojo dutifully arises and drives the 40 miles to the BLM Paria Ranger Station for the lottery.  His is the only car in the parking lot, a half hour before they open the doors.  Soon more arrive and Rojo chats with a friendly German man on holiday with his wife and two friends.  He won a permit years ago but couldn't fine the Wave.  At 8:30 on the dot the door swings open.  About 20 people file in, fill out the permit request form and wait for the drawing at 9:00.  More cars arrive. Rojo counts 46 now in the lot!  A steady stream of hopeful hikers fills the room.  Anxious chatter – in German, Italian, French and some Rojo can't identify.  Soon, the BLM lady closes the application process and explains the procedure.  The first lucky winner has four in his party, leaving six slots remaining.  The next winner has two, so now four are left.  Odds diminish, disappointment sets in.  And then, amazingly, Rojo's number is drawn for the three of us!    Only one slot remains, but the next winner, our friend the burly German, has four in his party.  The BLM lady states that the remaining daily quota stands at but one and asks him if he wishes to forfeit the permit.  "Nein. I go!"  He emphatically says.  Accepting the permit, to the jeers of the crowd he throws the other three, including his frau, under the bus!


CHP will be ecstatic.  In her double roll, she is Outdoor Utah's photo editor and has always wanted to shoot the Wave.  She and Michael arrive and we celebrate our good fortune with dinner and wine at Kanab's finest, The Rocking V.


The next day we hike Wire Pass near Buckskin Gulch through the colorful spires and columns of Coyote Buttes North to the amazing Wave. There are no marked or designated trails in this wilderness.  Many permit holders have been unable to find the Wave, as our German friend once discovered.  Those fortunate enough to find it are richly rewarded!


Wind, water and time have joined forces to create this wonder of nature.  The Wave is an awe inspiring rock formation of intersecting U-shaped troughs that have been eroded into the Navajo Sandstone of Jurassic Age.  A colorful, swirling mass of stone, this intricate yet delicate display of complex geologic formation is unmatched anywhere on earth. Fortunately, the hour long hike is not strenuous and Rojo's toe is on the mend.


Doc Jennifer, her friend Frank and Rojo's esposa, Seńora Karina, arrive that evening.  Jennifer immediately inspects the toe and, after a few tsk, tsk's says it's OK, good to go.  The next morning, we head once again for Glen Canyon to meet up with Dave Panu, owner of Hidden Canyon Kayak in Page, entry town to Lake Powell.  Dave's craft is loaded with kayaks and ready on the dock. Hidden Canyon's vivacious and energetic business manager Emmy joins us. She's glad to be out of the office and out on the water for a few days.  Michael loads their paddle boards atop and we all climb in.  The fall day is clear, crisp and warming as we arrive at our base camp, a sandy beach in a cove up one of the hundred's of side arm tentacles that make up the massive reservoir.


We set up camp and embark for an afternoon paddle.  Michael and CHP are accomplished stand-up paddleboarders and glide gracefully across the water.  Rojo and Karina are experienced kayak paddlers.  Jennifer has kayaked, but Frank is a neophyte so their kayak sometimes goes in circles, much to the delight of all.  Frank's a trouper and takes the ribbing good-naturedly. Back at camp, Dave and Emmy prepare a scrumptious dinner accompanied by some fine wine.  We sleep under a gazillion stars.


The next morning we set out again.  Lake Powell is the amazing creation of Glen Canyon Dam blocking the Colorado River.  The landscape is almost surreal.  In the main channel huge, multi decked houseboats cruise in both directions.  But these behemoths can't go where we can.  We paddle up an arm to a side arm to yet another side arm, vertical hundred-foot walls closing ever so closer together, narrowing the passageway.  We come to the end of the arm, beach the watercraft and hike.  Although we repeat the process in other channels several times that day, each has its unique features to fascinate and explore.  One last night in Glen Canyon ends our enjoyable adventure with Hidden Canyon Kayak.


Amangri, peaceful mountain, is a short drive away.  This luxury property on 600 remote acres in a protected valley is tastefully constructed to blend in with its environment - the mammoth rocks, deep canyons and towering plateaus that surround the resort.  Nothing has been spared to please the visitor.  The General Manager, Bret Borshell and several of his staff, greet the four of us, grubby, filthy campers just mere minutes off the water.  Hospitality personified!  We are escorted to our two complimentary suites, a far cry from the beach we called home the previous two days.  Showers and clean clothes.  An hour of Yoga for the seńoras.  A swim for the caballeros in the resort's centerpiece pool built around a towering rock. Later, gourmet dinner and fine, really fine wine on the heated patio overlooking the softly lighted pool. A sleeping bag is fine, but on this night nothing beats the luxury of a comfy bed, down pillow and cozy comforter!


Amangiri is about luxury, yes, but also outdoor recreation.  They have contracted an independent company, Adventure Partners, for exclusive guide services for their guests.  Today we join one of their guides, our longtime friend Jeremy, to climb one of Amangiri's signature routes - the Cave Peak Via Ferrata.  A via ferrata, Italian for "iron road", is a series of fixed cables and ladder rungs used by hikers to climb steep mountain routes. The Cave Peak Via Ferrata, Amangiri's most difficult, is a combination scramble and technical climb using vertical steel rungs attached to the rock which follows a major crevasse through the Entrada and Dakota sandstone wall. With the steep vertical route of ascent, spectacular position and its high point clearly visible from the Amangiri Pavilion, the panoramic view from the Cave Peak Via Ferrata summit is unmatched. We stay awhile to enjoy the surrounding dramatic landscape and eventually descend to say our goodbyes to Jeremy, Bret and the wonderful Amangiri staff.


Finally and regretfully, we end our eight day expedition and head for home.  Señor Rojo's toe has survived.


Editor's Note:
She's not really a cold hearted publisher. On the contrary she's a WHP, a friend and compatriot.  And Rojo would go to the far reaches of the earth (well, maybe the far reaches of Utah) to cover a story for her to publish.


Kane County Tourism  -  KaneUtah.com


Canyoneering, Glen Canyon, SUP, Lake Powell, The Wave, Sea Kayaking, Via Ferrata