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Steve Sherman
1-Apr-2016, 17:38
The Story Behind Every Photograph

Angel Arch early September 1998, Old Portriga Rapid paper makes for some wonderful mid tone contrast in this otherwise High Key image !

Obviously I returned from Angel Arch safely but not without a Story...Iíll apologize now for the length of this monthís Story Behind Every Photograph, Word Count tells me 1697 words, read on if your so inclined.

Three good friends, all Large Format photographers from Connecticut planned a trip to the Canyonlands NP with the express purpose of hiking the Salt Creek to photograph Angel Arch. Park Rangers explained the beginning of the excursion would be down the Salt Creek via 4WD vehicle to a locked gate, which we were given a code to open the gate, that code would expire in three days, which was the limit of our permit.

We rented a Ford Explorer in Grand Junction CO. and made our way over to the Moab area to take in supplies and necessities for the 26.7 mile hike round trip from the Park Service locked gate to the Angel Arch viewing area. As my good friend Glenn Curtis, several years my senior said upon our return, ďI just turned 50, what the Hell was I thinking ď !

The three characters, Tim Jones (climbabout) level headed and seasoned outdoorsman, has summited Mt. Rainer several times and Alaskaís 20,000+ ft. Mt. McKinley once. Glenn Curtis, retired FLA police officer and along for the adventure more than the at all cost photograph of Angel Arch. Yours truly, more stubborn and put your head down stop complaining and letís make things happen type, not a good mantra when dealing the backcountry and the toll the elements can exact on the unprepared and unknowing.

The plan put in place long before we were on the ground in Utah was an early morning start to the 13 mile hike and arrive at Angel Arch in time to photograph at the end of the day light, retreat a few miles and setup camp. Up early the next morning and back to the Arch for an early light shot and then make our way out to the car by dusk. With an extra day on the permit all seemed perfect and the most logical efficient course of action.

After a morning shoot around the Moab area we set about to get the necessary supplies for the trek. Tim insisted we each carry a gallon of water during the hike ( 7 lbs. ) We purchased 7 or 8 gallons of water, a cooler full of ice and beer for our return and a host of energy snacks and freeze dried edibles we could consume along the way. Only a tent, sleeping bags and ground pads would accompany us, no means to cook anything. Each of us would economize on camera gear by sharing lens and other equipment to cut down on the weight of our packs, I believe we were still in excess of 40 lbs. apiece not counting 5-6 lb. tripods each.

The trouble started when all the supplies were in place by 10am. It has been said about me that I try to cramp too much into one trip, sure enough I talked the other two guys into getting to the trail head after an early lunch and make our way down Salt Creek a day ahead of time and have more photography opportunities later in the week. Itís a one-hour drive from the main highway just to get into Canyonlands NP and probably another 1.5 hours traversing the Salt Creek with the 4WD, an adventure by itself. We got to the trailhead by 2:30 pm. While we organized gear Tim insisted we each consume 1 gallon of water before setting out on the trail, better to carry the water inside the body then have to carry in a pack or water bottle he explained.

We set out about 3:30 pm in cool dry temperatures. I was out ahead of the pack for almost the entire 8-mile hike and remember feeling full of energy and plenty hydrated. We stopped every so often for water and a snack. We ended up setting up camp on high ground about 7:30 pm and figured we covered about 8 miles. That left us with another 5 miles to the Arch in the morning.

A plan was put in place for the next morning; Glenn would stay behind and pack up the tent and supplies. Tim and I would hike towards Angel Arch for 2 hours and at that point regardless of where we were turn around to get back to the campsite 2 hours later. We left at 6:30 am with much lighter packs and 2 liters of water each. Out in front again, I remember Tim saying to me @ 8:25 with the Arch in sight but still at least a Ĺ mile away, ďare we turning around here?Ē I said hell no and we trudged on and got to the Arch a bit before 10am. We both made one composition of Angel Arch packed up and hurried back to Glenn as he was expecting us by 10:30 am. We got back a bit before noon and Glenn was patiently waiting and had everything packed ready to go. Glenn told us that he had struck up a conversation with some passing hikers who wondered if we would have sufficient water for the remaining 8 mile hike to the car in the heat of the day. Fortunately the young hikers gave Glenn an iodine pill to guard against the Giardia virus commonly found in standing backcountry water on the chance our water supply ran out.

As I recall, Glenn and I had less than a half-gallon of water while Tim had over a half gallon. It was decided we would manage our own water supply and make the best of the circumstances. We divided up the common gear and headed out expecting a three-hour hike to the car. Hiking in the middle of the day in an open canyon wash with no protection from the sun and soaring heat would be much more difficult than the previous day, especially given Tim and I had already hiked 10 miles that morning. We would hike about 40 minutes, stop for a break and some water, while we didnít say much it was clear Glenn and I would run out of water. After a few more stops and tiny sips of water I found my mouth becoming very dry and uncomfortable. I could no longer make saliva, a bit alarming at the time and I had a low-grade headache that would grow worst as the hot afternoon wore on.

At about the halfway point Glennís water and mine were all but gone. Tim continued to ration his supply and had more than we did. We came upon some standing water and realized this maybe our only hope of water. Glenn filled a 1.5-liter clear water bottle from the pool of standing water, the water was the color of strong tea, given the red rock that is was sitting in. A lot of sediment had made its way into the bottle due to disturbing the pool of water. Glenn put in the one iodine pill we had, youíre instructed to wait 30 minutes for the pill to negate the potential virus, we waited about 10 minutes before Glenn took what I still remember as being too much water in one gulp, that 1.5 liters was to last the two of us the remainder of the hike. I remember taking some of the dirty gritty water, not nearly enough to quench my thirst or remove what was becoming the most uncomfortable feeling I could remember, bet needed to ration what remained.

Along about this point in the hike the canyon wash opened up and around every corner you could see the trail for at least a ľ of a mile ahead, with no car in sight the anxiety of not knowing how much longer the hike would last and the growing discomfort of dehydration played games with your mind.

The hike probably took another 1.5 hours from the standing water juncture, nevertheless the car did finally appear in the distance, still out in front I stopped and couldnít wait to tell my friends we had made it ! I remember getting to the car and paying no attention to the ice-cold beer and heading directly to one of the unopened gallons of warm water, I drank Ĺ of the gallon before pausing for air. As an aside, Tim had barely a mouthful left in his original gallon but he did ration correctly where I did not.

A final note to our adventure, once packed up we headed towards the gate which was about a Ĺ mile up creek, arriving at the gate to find the gate closed and locked with two college aged girls on the wrong side of the gate in their 4WD Jeep. They were clearly distraught over getting locked inside with no means to get out had we not come along with the code to unlock the gate. We explained how the Park Service regulated the area and stopped and had a beer with them before unlocking the gate and returning to civilization. I remember one of the girls suggesting we get another drink when we were all back in Moab later that evening. We declined as our adventure had left us exhausted not to mention we were old enough to be their Dadís and we better act like it !

If youíve gotten to this point in the story, thanks for taking some of your time to hear my tale. One last thing, there is the rule of 3ís of survival in the wilderness before a person may die, 3 Minutes without Air, 3 Hours without Shelter ( extreme heat or cold ) 3 Days without Water ( if sheltered ) and 3 Weeks without Food ( if one has water ). Clearly we were not in danger of dying of thirst, yet it remains the most uncomfortable feeling I have ever endured in my life hands down !

Michael E
1-Apr-2016, 18:42
Clearly we were not in danger of dying of thirst

I'm not so sure about that. Dehydration is about more than just thirst (I'm in no way an expert). Do you remember the French couple who died in White Sands NM last summer? (http://www.abqjournal.com/625040/news/sheriff-french-pair-who-died-in-us-desert-likely-saved-son.html?utm_source=abqjournal.com&utm_medium=related+posts+-+default&utm_campaign=related+posts) My 12 year old son and I were travelling in the southwest at the time and hiked (part of) that trail a week later. We always carried lots of water in the car and an ample supply in our backpacks when hiking. One gallon for two days of hiking in Canyonlands NP sounds inadequate. Well, you seem to agree... I'm glad you made it back!

I like your image. Those red rocks and blue sky do not translate easily into b/w, but your high key approach works well.

David Lobato
1-Apr-2016, 19:54
In April 1989 I 4-wheeled with friends all the way back to the arch. The road was open much farther back in those days. We went to commemorate the recent death of Ed Abbey. I did not carry my 4x5 equipment on that trip. In Spring Salt Creek has plenty of water, I have no experience there in the Fall. We did hike to All American Man petroglyph, which I highly recommend.

Steve, nice photo. My guess is you drove as far as Peekaboo? I plan to some day do the ~11 mile round trip hike from the main campground.

For me more than one gallon of water per day is needed. i'd recommend a water filter for Salt Creek in Spring, especially a user cleanable model. Also consider caching water off the trail for your trip out. Last time I was in the Needles District I used a green filter on the 8x10 after the recommendations on this forum. It worked well and separates the red rock tones, the other landscape tones, and the sky.