In the first part of September, with a crew from Arc’teryx and some industry friends, we embarked on a trip to Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park for a few days of canyoneering and gear testing for our Shield military/tactical line and Arc’teryx’s LEAF line.
The weather forecast called for highs in the 70’s with 50% chance of rain each day. Must be like those afternoon thunderstorms that are common in the mountains are common in the desert of UT too, right? Nope. After flying into Salt Lake City from all parts of the country, we caravanned in a couple of Suburbans for another 3+ hours to arrive at The Rim Rock Patio in Torrey, UT, just outside of Capitol Reef National Park. Standing around the outdoor table enjoying pizza and local beer, magnificent red rock cliffs lining the horizon, we watched the purple skies darken, the wind pick up and the rain begin to lightly fall. The forecast was now 60% chance of rain each day. Our guide, Steve Howe from Red Rock Adventures and Backpacker Magazine, took us to our campsite and outlined plans for the next day. Surely it would dry out in the morning.
Throughout the night, the rain fell steadily, even heavy at times. The next morning, it was still raining. The red clay was now red mud, and with every step, our shoes sank inches into the moist earth. Standing under the Bugout we had brought, just in case it sprinkled one night, we grabbed coffee and homemade bacon, eggs and bread made graciously by Steve’s wife, Jen.
Discussion shifted from the weather to how well we slept. Each of us had chosen a different NEMO Shield tent along with a Rhythm 25 Spoon Shape sleeping bag, Cosmo Air with Pillowtop SE, and Fillo SE pillow. While the rain did not let up throughout the night, we were warm, dry and comfy in our individual quarters. We had brought a mixture of Advanced Linking Combat Shelters with signature reducing GORE fabrics, Switchblade 1P, Losi Combat 2P and 3P SE tents, Tanto SE, Tenshi SE, and Coda SE. In fly colors ranging from Alpha Green to Coyote to MultiCam to Kryptek Highlander, it was really interesting to see how well they blended into the desert environment.
The most updated forecast called for rain, heavy at times, throughout the day. It didn’t look like we would even catch a glimpse of the sun. What was normally a dry creek bed below the plateau our campsite sat upon, was now rushing with orange muddy water. In his 20+ years living in this part of UT, Steve had never seen rains like this.
Since canyoneering was out of the question for the day, we decided to drive east to our backup hiking route planned and check out conditions along the way. We saw big examples of flash flooding on the creeks running along the road and at the trailhead we were supposed to start from. Because the river was already swollen over its banks, we decided that was not a good option in the continuing rain. A ranger at the trailhead said Highway 24 was washed out just east of us.
Steve and Chris Denny, our event coordinator, had an A, B, and C plan based on weather and flash flood potentials for the days we’d be out. We were now on plan F. We decided to make for higher ground and hike the Fryingpan trail and then jump off onto some secret slick rock sections, all in the pouring rain. Our Arc’teryx GORE-Tex jackets and Mattock Dry Socks kept us bone dry.
After a good hike with views of the swollen creeks below, we got a brief break from the rain and took advantage by doing a little rappelling on a practice cliff near The Cockscomb, a sandstone fin around the unincorporated hamlet of Grover.
We returned to camp, put some fresh clothes on and headed up the road to enjoy a local BBQ dinner (under the dry cover of a pavilion), compliments of Gulf Coast native Duane Platt and his wife at Sand Creek RV Park. That night, back at camp, the rain and wind picked up, gusting at times, making us contemplate whether those rock anchors our tents were guyed to were solid (thankfully, they were). More than one of us had a moment of panic, at around 4:30 am when the rain picked up and the sounds from the once dry creek below seemed to increase to a thunder. I got out of my tent and shined my headlamp down; the water was still at a safe distance below, so I crawled back into my warm sleeping bag and went back to sleep.
Steve took pity on us the following morning and arrived to camp late, with a fresh pot of coffee, but no breakfast. “We’re heading to my house for breakfast today,” he said. We all gave a little cheer. After a longer than usual breakfast, we headed back down the road to the Meeks Mesa area. Thankfully, the rain stopped and the sun even showed itself for long enough to take a pleasant hike along an abandoned livestock trail to the top of the mesa. The break didn’t last long though, and the group was able to see first-hand, flash floods developing in most washes on their way back to the trailhead.
We were lucky on our last night, before flying home the next morning, that we booked a hotel room and dinner out. While we didn’t get to do the many canyoneering routes we had traveled so far to rappel into, we all had a great time. Our guides live and play in this area and were able to show us secret gems that provided great day hikes with magnificent views. And like Cam said on one of our NEMO backpacking trips – ‘there is no adventure without adversity’. It’s safe to say we had an adventure and we sure did get some great gear testing in. But I can’t wait to head back to see the canyons in a drier state.
Photo credit Steve Howe/Red Rock Adventures and NEMO Equipment, Inc.