The adults were a bit worse off come morning. The endless sun and heat yesterday had made it hard to keep hydrated, especially on the boat. Note that when I say heat, I mean above 70F. Little Bear seemed in fine shape, the only evidence of a big day last a wake up that was a little later than usual.
Breaking camp, with all our gear and an active infant, was never a quick process. With one on kid duty at all times, we alternate cooking, eating, and packing. With tweaks to our system we should be able to improve, but on this trip any waking to leaving time under 2 hours was more than satisfactory.
The hiking up Slickhorn continued to be outstanding, in every respect. Fairly steady walking on rock benches and vegetated side channels alternated with constricted sections that required complex climbs up and around huge boulder piles. These were strenuous, and the sun was utterly lacking in mercy. LB had surprised us with how well he took to being a passenger on the boat, but since the low snow melted off back home we had done plenty of hike practice, and knew that being backpacked was one of his very favorite things. Cooing and squeaking was a regularly accompaniment to my walking all trip, except for his occasional naps, and especially as the day got long and the sky got hot I found myself wanting breaks at least as often as he did.
The Poco sunshade proved vital, both for a kid who refused to wear brimmed hat or sunglasses, and as a tool for keeping the willow and oak off his face.
In the early afternoon dark clouds and thunder loomed a few miles ahead, and we used this as an excuse to do what our tired hiker selves had never done before; pitch the tent for an extended lunch. We got a couple dozen drops, but the shade and ability to let LB roam hand and sand free were worth it. His traction on bare silnylon was amusing poor, but that never tempered his enthusiasm for trying to reach and then climb the walls.
We stopped for nearly 90 minutes, and it was glorious.
Past Government rapid I had predicted that we’d face a decision point the next day, as pushing on to the trailhead would be within the realm of possibility, though camping without water or doing the bike shuttle in the dark were both distasteful. Fatigue made the choice easy, and when late in the afternoon and just past the last side canyon we found a rare cactus-free patch of sand, stopping was an easy choice. Thankfully I investigated the area further, and found an outstanding site screened by pinons, and backed by the largest most rambling Utah Juniper I can recall seeing. The day, for all the effort and sweat, could hardly have gone better, and the certainty of a clean finish tomorrow combined with the good-mojo campsite and made for a very content family.
I had read about an intact kiva in the area, but neglected to bring written directions. Normally going no-beta makes trips more engaging, and while we didn’t find the kiva either that night or the next day, we did find a granary, hidden up under an overhang, and some semi-intact rooms and walls.
The puebloan settlers in Cedar Mesa were, many scholars suspect, fleeing war in the Mesa Verde and Four Corners region. It’s certainly a good place to hide. The tops are covered in a robust pinon-juniper forest; aside from the occasional sage field it’s rare to be able to see further than 30 meters in any direction. From a distance the canyons, even the big ones like Slickhorn, blend into the horizontal tableau and are invisible. And as we saw on this trip, the 6000+ foot elevation of the headwaters gathered winter snow and released it as spring water. We saw sheep and turkey along the river, and as we climbed up the uppermost sources of water on the last day, plenty of deer tracks. It seems possible to make a living in Slickhorn, but it’s an accommodating places insofar as neighbors would be far away and well hidden.
And just like that, we were done. The last morning’s hike lasted longer than anticipated, with some rugged boulder hopping and one tricky slab downclimb that demanded passing packs and kid in a precise sequence, but the navigational difficulties solved themselves quickly, and almost sooner than I wanted (had it not been for that oh so heavy pack) it was time for me to do a long ride into a headwind to retrieve the car.
I’ve learned, from hard experience, to pay attention to the terrain when setting a bike shuttle, as false flats and short hills which disappear under an engine are often hard going for pedaling. I caught the interminable pavement rollers up on the mesa, but missed the false flat on the final dirt section. Not accounting for this had me bonk badly, enough that I almost convinced myself I had missed the turn, as the (1.5 mile) two track could surely not take so damn long. Nothing is to be taken for granted, I was reminded, and was therefore properly thankful that the car still had four tires full of air.
In hindsight all our fears about this trip were both perfectly reasonable and entirely unfounded. It was physically demanding, but once underway the details were easily dealt with. Most significantly, Little Bear really likes backpacking, and while not devoid of challenge, parenting him on the trip was simpler than any other time during the past nine months. Our packs were heavy, but we managed just fine, and discarding packrafting gear would create 12 pounds of room to play with. Prior to this trip the main question was whether we could pull it off in a manner which would make us want to go again. Now the question is what can’t we do? And the more I think about it, the answer is “not much.”