Birch/Dry Canyon Trail
In August, my mom invited me on an overnight hike up the canyon near her house. It’s called Flat Top. “Don’t look at it as you come into town” she says, “you might want to turn around.” Well of course I looked! It definitely was intimidating.
It was only supposed to be 4.5 miles to the top where we would camp and then another 8 or so miles back down…a big loop where Chris’ husband would be to pick us up. Chris, my mom’s hiking friend was bringing her daughter and together the 4 of us felt pretty confident we could do it alright.
That was until we put on our packs. They were roughly 30 lbs of weight on our untrained backs. But we went anyway. Still oddly confident that we’d be fine. We were starting at about 4 pm anyway. Plenty of time to make the trip. We were planning on making it there by 7 ish.
It was such a beautiful hike. Rocky mountains and cliffs, tons of trees and green. My camera was almost as tired as I was.
At about the 2.5 mile mark we stopped for the first time to take our packs off and eat something. At this point I was beginning to wonder if my poor, weak shoulders could make the next 2 miles. They were hurting!! I thought maybe I had made a mistake!At about the time we started the really steep switchback portion of the hike (I say ‘really’ steep because the entirety of the hike was steep) was about the time when Chris and her daughter made quite the lead on me and my mom. But we weren’t too concerned because it was nearing the end of the hike or so we assumed based off the miles, the time and the light. We also seemed to be nearing the top.
Well it got darker. We got more worn out. And Chris and her daughter (I can’t remember her name!! Ah! I’m terrible!) were nowhere to be seen.
“We’ve got to be close”. We kept saying to ourselves. The sun went father down in the sky. My mom trailed off father behind me. I got worried when she didn’t return my ‘marco’ call so I went back. She couldn’t hear me over the wind but was fine. We stuck together from that point on. She was struggling. I was worried. We had no more energy. We were spent. Our poor bodies were not prepared for this type of hike…with the heavy weight on our shoulders. We kept mentioning that without packs this hike would be doable. It was the packs that was killing us.
All the sudden it was dark. Our headlamps and flashlights came on. The trail kept going. And going. And going. “We’ve way passed the 4.5 mile mark” we thought to ourselves. What’s going on?!
On we trudged. One foot in front of the other. My mom’s legs somehow kept working even though she thought for sure they were going to give out. She limped along. My shoulders were burning and numb at the same time. I was scared. Scared of coyotes, scared of tripping and rolling down the mountain. Scared of having gone the wrong way. Scared of being lost. Scared for my mom. Scared that something had happened to Chris and her daughter. Where were they?! I was scared. Also I was mad. Mad that this hike wasn’t really 4.5 miles like we were told. Mad that we hadn’t prepared. Mad that we had been separated from the leader and had no idea how much farther we had to go. Mad.
Then we started seeing their lights. WAAAAAAAYYY in the distance. “Holy Crap” we thought. Or something a little more strong. Are they at the end? IS that how much farther we have to go? More grunting and swearing under our breath. One foot in front of the other. Is that rain?! The light in the distance seems to be getting closer but we can’t really tell. We stopped every once and a while and sat down to alleviate the weight off my shoulders. My mom stopped but never sat down for she was certain if she did she would NOT be able to get back up.
“Is there anywhere here we can pitch the tent?” was said several times in all seriousness. If it hadn’t been so steep everywhere we probably would have.
We were able to tell at some point that the tiny light that must have belonged to Chris was coming towards us. We would see it for a time and then lose it till eventually we heard her and then saw her.
“How bad are you cursing me right now.” were the words she said.
“We’re almost there” she says as she takes my mom’s pack and then proceeds to lead us straight up the mountainside to save time. Who needs a trail when it’s pitch black and steep? HA! Not us apparently!
It seemed as if we hiked another mile after that point though we didn’t. As the hill started to even out we saw the second light that must have belonged to her daughter, already cozied up and set up at camp.
It was 11 pm when we reached the camp spot. Not 7 or 8. ELEVEN PM.
It had been 5.5 miles. I’ll tell you what, one tiny extra mile feels like 10 when it’s switchbacks, you’re tired and have no idea how much farther the end is.
It was freezing and windy and I felt as if I was dreaming as I let my pack fall off my back and onto the ground for the last time (I wasn’t letting myself think about the fact that I had to pick that thing back up in the morning).
We had no idea where we were and couldn’t see a thing as we miraculously set up our tent. Which happened to be on the rockiest and most lumpy spot on the mountain I am sure. I spooned a boulder all night.
Oh the night. Finally able to sit and sleep and relax. We had made it and we hadn’t died! I was so happy! And excited! Surely, if only I could make it to the top I could sleep like a baby. Right?!!!
Ha. So funny Anna.
Let’s back up a bit. As my mom and Brian were packing for this trip (Brian let us borrow their tent) he lovingly pulled the rain fly out because it’s extra weight was something we mostly likely didn’t need. I mean it hasn’t rained in cache valley in several months! Or more!
Oh… but it rained this night.
So there we are with a makeshift tarp (thank you Chris!) over our mesh top tent that only covers maybe 2/3rds of it. The rain is pouring in while we squish together on the one side of the tent that is covered. The only thing that that’s doing for us is keeping the rain from pelting our faces directly. Everything is wet. We try to sleep. We curse. The wind violently blows the tarp against the tent so loudly that now I’m not worried about coyotes at all. One silver lining I guess.
We try to sleep. Maybe we did for a time. My mom had to get up and pee like 18 times. I never peed once. At one time my mom said, “anna look at the stars.” The rain had stopped and cleared out and the stars were the most magnificent thing I’d ever seen. I admired them through my groggy, drunken, half asleep eyes. Then drifted into a fitful sleep again. Another silver lining: a really good sleeping bag. I was never cold even though the outside of the bag and the floor of the tent was wet. Amazing.
This is what I saw when I crawled out of the tent in the morning.
We were in the saddle. And it was beautiful. We had only a short while to enjoy the beauty as we packed up our stuff and got ready to hike down. We had survived the night and were feeling pretty good…at least compared to the day before.
The hike down was even more beautiful than the first day. We ran across some bow hunters in solitude who I am sure were very unhappy to see us.
We walked through a grove of aspen trees that were all crooked and twirly from the deep snowfall it endures each year. It was cool.
Then out of nowhere a river or more correctly a spring appeared out of the mountainside. It was a pretty big spring. And so beautiful. We had to cross it several times.
We noticed (fresh) cowpies on the trail and after a while discovered why. Hello there fatty!!
These animals were huge! But friendly. Just trying to move down the trail same as us.
As much as the beauty was being enjoyed by all it became clear that my body (and my mom’s body) had not recovered from the day before (go figure!). I was hurting. Everywhere.
“How much farther do we have?” I started to ask.
This is where my camera stopped coming out because I had to focus only on putting one foot in front of the other. I began to feel like I knew what my mom was suffering from the night before. I was hitting my wall. And we still had miles ahead.
Again my mom and I fell far behind.
After a while my mom, almost in tears, told me to quick as I could, catch up with Chris and her daughter to ask them to call my dad. There was no way she would make it the last 2 miles. There was no way I would. My dad would need to drive (thankfully) up the road, through 2 cattle gates to pick us up.
I finally caught up to them at the point where we had 1.5 miles or so to go. I was getting worried about my mom behind me somewhere. Fortunately Chris’ husband had run up the trail to meet us and after I told them the situation he ran even further up the trail to meet my mom and carry her pack for her. She told me later that when she saw him it was moments before she was going to sit down and cry..and probably stay there. Thank goodness.
When she made it we told her that we just had to walk a little further to where my dad would be waiting. It was a flat and defined road.
This was THE HARDEST part of the hike for me. I think my mom too but I don’t know because I was so focused on my pain and my inability to use my legs properly. I had to put so much effort into making them work they way I wanted. It was so weird how jelly like they felt and how every movement hurt. I was almost in tears myself.
Then I saw my dad. Our savior. Oh what a joyous sight. We had made it.
We drove to my parents house. I called David and told him that if he wanted to see me he would have to drive up to my parents house because I would be stuck there for a while, unable to drive or do anything.
I plopped onto the grass, took off my shoes and fell asleep. My mom did the same but on her bed. I was told I could have a bed too but man I was so dirty I didn’t want to leave a mark.
After a little powernap and some food I felt a little back to normal. Then my family showed up and we went home.
The next day and a half was comical. I was so sore that I felt physically ill. My adorable husband let me take naps in our HEAVENLY bed for what felt like forever and brought me food when I felt like I couldn’t go down the stairs and even helped me wash my hair. Oh how I love him.
Moral of the story?
Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Hiking sticks are LIFE.
Oh and also, be prepared. Do your homework about hikes and how long they are etc.
ps. it was amazing. And…
I’d do it again.