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Vermilion Cliffs Sand Hills Loop, Bad As You Wanna Be
The land on this “hike” is under the jurisdiction of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Do not misrepresent or collect here. I see “Tom” was on the Eastern Sand Hills Crack on New Year’s Day 1932. He made his mark. It was not a National Forest then. LEAVE NO TRACE. At first I left the “tax” in parentheses. Michael Kelsey calls this area a walking area. This is an independent pathfinding effort from start to finish here. It’s sick, brutal, gross, ugly (and rewarding). I love it. You can do it? You will find out soon enough.
Okee Dokee, Michael Kelsey is the only one writing about this hike so go ahead and buy his book so you know what mile on Hwy. 89A in Arizona Lane to turn off at. Now throw the book in the trunk and read this.
Kelsey is almost 70 and apparently still walks seven miles an hour on vertical inclines. Congratulations Michael, I see you are as dangerous as ever. I bought your new 5th. Edition of “Hiking and Exploring the Paria River” and the pictures are in color! But you’re still dangerous. While kids won’t need inner tubes on this one, they will need a respirator. So not only is this hike as bad as you want it to be, but MK is also as bad as you want it to be. Again, the good thing about this guy is that he goes where no one else goes (and sometimes he can lead you on the trail – but not on this hike).
Oh, I mean I’m almost 60 years old and this is my second time doing the Eastern to Northern Cracks Loop. I am in extremely excellent condition. It takes me twice as long to do things as Kelsey.
Most 30 year olds can’t keep up with me.
The hike: 6 hours, and we walked almost without stopping – ten minutes for lunch. The # route you turn north on 89A is #1396. The parking lot at Jacob’s Pool is 2 miles north on this sandy road. The Jeep came within 1/8 mile of Jacob’s where the last gully washed out. Get out of your car! Look north to the Vermilion Rocks. No, not northwest on a big sand slide. There is a narrower sand slide to the north. That’s right, it’s not a climber. This is slang for “you can’t climb”. Now, just east of this fine sand slide is a sand hill. It is climbing. Aim for the extreme eastern side of this sand hill. You won’t be able to orient yourself again until you’re in it. We will make the loop counter-clockwise. You will see why. It is brutality but the easiest. Michael is full of blah blah but never mind Rachel Lee’s old stone house. There are about 50 old ruins and they have no placards on them. So from Jacob’s walk the old road east along the fence. He is right about it being washed away as it turns north. You are looking for the mainspring as it says. Cattails! This is what you are looking for! There is only one place with many cattails! Now he’s talking about a “pop-up footpath.” What does this mean; Is it popping out of your chest like ‘Alien’? I used to have an album called “Emerge the Litter”. Does it have anything to do with ‘The Litter’ team? No, it’s not what he says. About 6 people a year do this hike and they are all “hardcore”. Most likely none of the 6 will appear here right when you are here. We don’t need no stinkin’ badges. From the cattails head northeast. The hiking is brutal here and it doesn’t get any easier. Go home if you can’t hack sand and bearings already. Start early in the morning and you can make out the northeast from the sun. Eventually, about an hour from where you parked (at Jacob’s) you will reach the sand hill. Remember you want the extreme east side of it. There is a broken path here and there on the sand hill and maybe a cradle somewhere. At 1 1/4 hours the trail you should be on crosses a wash on a huge black boulder on the right. Now in a few minutes the trail disappears. Look, this is an independent hardcore mission. The proper way might be to go up the wash “steps” but we chose to go up as we had to go up.
If you want to follow me, take the alluvial fan facing clay straight to the left. Do you want to go home now? The “East Rift” is now visible to your northeast and also bears this way. Straight for me. You’re on the right track if you see the lizard petroglyph climbing the wall to your left. This was in 1 hour 50 minutes. Michael counts 6-7 petroglyph panels. There’s more to it than that. The second panel (also on the left 2 o’clock) is 6 nice Bighorns. At 2 1/4 hours you will see what looks like a dam (there is also a carnage of dead Juniper trees) as you continue straight up. You can do this. I’m 60. This dam-like thing is what Kelsey calls a “constructed cattle trail.” Climb the wall and leave it on the path for about 5 feet where it ends. Now straight back to the top (many more great pets.). 2 1/2 hours to the top. Of course Kelsey goes up and back to his car so quickly. What BS to most mortals! Anyway, leave a huge blind on the lip when you exit (there’s that word again) the crack, in case you get lost and have to go back down.
What’s next? Bear west along the rim. What is referred to as easy and flat walking in the Paria River Hike and Explore is anything but. I’m no Jack Kennedy, but I sure know how to walk the edge with ease. This walk is through loose sand, up and down rock formations, through dark tracks, blah blah. Anyway, reach an unused passage (Bingo, MK is right at this landmark) in 1 to 1 1/2 hours from the Eastern Crack. It took us 1 1/4 with the 10 minute lunch. In the two-track look over the edge to the west. That’s where you’ll get off. Let me explain something. Walking would be easier about 1/4 mile inland from the rim, but we wanted to stay oriented to our Jeep and Jacob’s because we learned DON’T TRUST MICHAEL KELSEY. If you haven’t made it to the biroad in 1 1/2 hours, go back to your giant wave and go down the Eastern Crack.
Follow the track away from the rim (north) for 5 or 10 minutes. When it bears directly north away from the rim, bear directly south. It’s a little disorienting as the duct reaches down. The typical three-legged trapezoid petroglyph tells you that you are in the right place. Now I will begrudgingly give credit to the AUTHOR. It properly marks the art of North Crack rock, which will keep you from thinking you’re lost. The drive to the north crack took us 1 1/2 hours!!! He’ll “knock” you down 3 or 4 times but you’ll get over them. The Ancients did it, I did it and you will do it. Safety is always on the left. You’ll make it because you don’t want to go back to the northern crack I’m thinking. I’ve never said “bad” as often as I did when I went down this rut, but you’ll know that counterclockwise was the right choice for this hike. Relaxed, dangerous and demanding. Don’t lose focus here, tired or not. Focus on work.
Finally we land on the bottom. Each hiker had a gallon of water at the start. He should go. Now comes the first break in the entire hike after 5 1/2 hours. Walk south to the relaxing flat wash. When you reach a fence line, exit the wash to the left. Go through a hole in the fence and walk cross-country in your vehicle. 1/2 hour after reaching the wash at the bottom of the Northern Crack, drink ice water in your vehicle.
MK did this loop in less than 4 hours. Give it a break. I have been a hiking fanatic for 20 years. The guy is crazy…and he writes hiking books. Maybe I’m surprised by the way it gets me off my feet. I’ll flip a coin. No, he’s crazy.
Oh, never attempt a hike that Kelsey says took him 7 hours. You have been warned. DON’T MISS HIM, HE’S JUST “THE AUTHOR”.
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