Sunday Morning I woke up feeling like I had been run over by a truck, the truck then backed up over me, and instead of finishing the job, dragged me for a few blocks before leaving me for dead. I’ve said many times in my life, “Every inch of my body hurts”, but this is the first time it was really true. The parts of my body that didn’t hurt from 11 hours of hiking hurt from stressing. And on top of it all, I had that creepy feeling in my head like I was coming down with a cold. But it was our last day in Arches so we got out of bed and headed straight for Delicate Arch.
The hike up to Delicate Arch is 1.5 miles of nothing but uphill rock. After 2days of hiking and many challenges along the way, Delicate Arch is probably the most strenuous as far as the uphill part goes. A good part of it is spent on one gigantic steep rock. We started the hike and I could see the rock up ahead and all of the tiny people moving up it. It’s quite a sight from afar and I really questioned whether or not I was going to make it. But I wasn’t going to wimp out of the last hike of our trip. The weather had been nice to us all weekend, it was pretty cool and I wore a hoodie through all of the hiking. But on Sunday the sun was out and it had warmed up a bit. And with the steep climb, it had warmed up a lot!
Our guide from the Furnace, Casey, had told us that she finds the hike to Delicate Arch to be the most boring hike ever, but once you get to the top it’s well worth it. It was indeed quite uneventful. We made a lot of stops so I could catch my breath and guzzle water. Then about 5 minutes before we came around the corner to view the arch, quite suddenly we were on the highest ledge of all. The remainder of the trail was on a narrow ledge curving around the side of the mountainous rock. Before we continued on the trail, Bruce climbed up to a small arch in the rock to our right, through which he could see Delicate Arch. So he assured me that we were almost there. (Double YIKES!) I got as close to the wall as I possibly could, walked very slowly holding onto the rock wall with my right hand. My left hand I had up by my face, using it as a blinder so I couldn’t see the edge. I’m sure I looked crazy but it was either that or faint and fall to my death.
I crept my way around the corner of the towering rock and there it was in all its glory! It really is quite a sight to behold. I’ve seen Delicate Arch in pictures and of course on license plates, but never realized how huge it is. It stands about 60 feet high. People (crazy people) were standing, running, and even dancing around underneath the arch to get pictures. I was perfectly happy standing and looking from afar. From the point where I was standing we could see the arch from across a sort of deep bowl shape in the rock. The bowl is maybe 50 yards across and on a steep slope all the way around. In order to get over to stand underneath the arch you have to walk around the C-shaped rim of this bowl. But on the other side of the arch is the drop-off that I didn’t want to catch a glimpse of. So when Bruce asked me to go with him I said, “No chance, you go ahead, I’ll take your picture from right here!” So he went without me and I stayed back with all of the other scaredy cats. But Bruce soon returned to tell me it was perfectly safe with plenty of room to walk and he really wanted me to go with him. Yikes again! So I went for it. He held my hand and showed me where to walk where it wasn’t such a steep slant. But going all the way under the arch looked a little too scary. The walkway really narrows the closer you get. But some guys offered to take our picture if I dared. So I took a few deep breaths and did it. My advice to anyone who has the height issues or newly found vertigo issues that I have: Don’t look up at the arch while you’re standing! Bad idea! Sit down first and then look up.
After we took a few pictures I got outta there. The thought occurred to me, what if this thing falls? It IS, after all, called Delicate Arch! But Bruce discovered that you could actually climb down the other side of the arch and he wanted to go take some pictures so I planted my rear end safely on the rim of the rock bowl and waited for him. Now that I was sitting there gazing at Delicate Arch for the first time, it really is sad, I thought, that one day it will fall, as will all of the arches. But I suppose new ones will form, just as these ones did.
On the downhill hike to the back to the car, Bruce told me how proud he was of me for doing all that I had done that weekend. And I was feeling really proud of myself! We had done everything we said we would do. And everything that I said, “Heck NO! I’m not doing that!” – I did anyway.
I suppose I wrote this blog for a couple of reasons. Bruce wanted me to do it, I think because he thinks that if I write about my good experiences I won’t get down on myself as much as I do, and I’ll be less likely to give up on this whole journey of liking myself better. I also did it to encourage anyone who maybe has some of the same fears that I have, some of the same issues that I have. If there’s something you’ve been wanting to do but think that you can’t, just think of that scared chubby girl, who made it through 13 hours of hiking in 3 days, over ridiculous heights, slippery, steep rock, and lived to tell about it. Sure, she cried a few times, wanted to turn back a few times, but in the end, drove out of Arches National Park looking forward to her next adventure and feeling like she could really do anything.
I couldn’t be happier to be married to someone who lives to encourage me and see me happy. He is really the only reason I did any of this, and the reason I look forward to more adventures. But if he thinks that bungee jumping or sky diving is ever gonna happen, he’s got another think coming. The end.
After 5 hours of hiking I limped my way back to the car. As cruelty would have it, I have a bad ankle, bad knee, and bad hip all on the same side. I have an ankle that I have sprained at least 2 dozen times since I was very young. About 7 years ago I sprained it 3 times within 3 months so my doctor decided to cast it to give it a chance to heal. I’ve managed not to injure it since then, until recently I rolled it in my cardio class. My hip is wrecked from 4 pregnancies. And my knee has only recently given me trouble since I’ve attempted the whole RUNNING NONSENSE! Hence, the limping...
I expected to wake up crying on Saturday morning, but surprisingly, I felt great and ready for more hiking. However, I was really hoping I could convince Bruce that Fiery Furnace was not a good idea, given the experiences of the previous day. Although I was feeling accomplished for having gotten through it, I really don’t think I would attempt the loop part of Devils Garden again. All of the sights worth seeing were on the main trail. Nothing on the primitive trail really made it worth the risk, except the satisfaction of saying we did the 7 mile loop. I know I talked before about how patient and understanding Bruce is about my inhibitions, and even though he was like a kid in a candy store being there in a forest of giant rocks, he was trying not to pressure me. But I’ll be honest and say that on Saturday he was laying it on pretty thick. While I was futzing around the hotel room getting ready, he was looking up videos of the fiery furnace online. He found one that was specifically on the Arches website that was conducted by a ranger. She talks about all of the tricky maneuvers and challenges throughout the hike, and the shots of steep slopes and heights made me extremely nervous. There’s one part of the video that he paused and kept backing up and playing over so it said, “Although the hike is not considered dangerous in any way…is not considered dangerous in any way…is not considered dangerous in any way…” - at which point I said “OH STOP IT!” He clearly did not want me to wimp out on doing this hike. But he was trying to be all cute and teasing-like about it. So I agreed to go back to the visitors’ center and try and find our guide that we had talked to on Friday, in hopes that she would give me some words of comfort. Our reservations were for 2:00 that afternoon but we went first thing that morning and found her, Casey was her name, and I pummeled her with questions. I told her of my crying meltdowns in the Devils Garden and asked her if Fiery Furnace would be better? Worse? The same? She said the heights on Fiery Furnace were worse and there were parts where people freeze up. She showed me several pictures, there was one part in particular where you come around the corner and you are on the narrow trail of a rock with a very steep slope down into a pit, the bottom of which is not visible. This wasn’t looking too good for Bruce. Even the part you were required to walk seemed a steep slope. I asked her if anyone had ever fallen and died on this hike. She said no one has ever died but there have been a lot of broken ankles. Again, not good news. But she assured me that the trail was perfectly safe and if I really wanted to do it then I could stick right close to her and she would help me the whole way. I thanked her for her, um, useful, but not comforting information and told her perhaps I would see her that afternoon. Then we got in the car and I told Bruce I would think about it.
We decided to spend the morning hiking what is called the “Windows Section”, where there are several different arches in one area. We spent about 2 hours in that section, there are a lot of fun places to climb around, and I though our boys would really enjoy it, especially Double Arch. While we were in the Windows section I found myself finding areas of smooth rock that were sloped, and practicing walking along them, seeing if I could do it without slipping, or twisting my ankle for that matter. I would nervously ask Bruce, “Do you think that rock she showed us is about this steep?” He, of course was desperately trying to assure me and comfort me so that I didn’t back out of the one thing the he wanted to do so badly while we were there. When we had our fill of exploring the Windows section, I got in the car, let out a deep sigh, and said, “ALRIGHT! I’ll do it!” But at that point it was really just to make him happy. I was truly terrified.
We showed up early to the Fiery Furnace trailhead and ate our lunch of Clif Bars and trail mix before started the hike. There were 26 people that showed up besides Casey, our guide. That’s the limit of people they’ll let on one tour. Before we started she let everyone know that if anyone was nervous or uncomfortable we could stick up front with her and that there were usually 4 or 5 people who fall into that category. But that day it was just me. I tailed her the whole way.
Once we got started I decided that between Casey and Bruce, I was in good hands, so I wasn’t going to let my nerves ruin the fun for me. The further we got through the Furnace, the better I was feeling. There were challenges, for sure, but nothing too terrifying. There were cracks we had to step across, some with a bit of depth below them. There were a lot of places where we would be going between two very tall rock walls, they would narrow so much at the bottom that we would have to put our hands and feet on both sides of the crack and shimmy our way through. There was a similar spot where you have to maneuver yourself so your butt is on one side and your feet on the rock opposite and you scoot your way across until you can stand again and climb out. There were definitely some skinny spots to squeeze through where I thought, Hmmm, 30 lbs ago I might have gotten stuck back there live out my worst fear. (See Arches Blog Part 1) There are rock stairways going up and down. As I followed, Casey showed me exactly where to put my feet and hands to keep myself steady. It turned out, after all of the time I spent making myself physically sick with worry, that the parts with the greatest heights had the safest, widest trails, and the parts with the narrowest trials had a fall only about the height of a person. I was having a blast so far. I had gone from fat girl to rock climber and it felt fantastic! Then we came around a corner and Casey stopped to face me. She was on my left and a great rock wall was on my right. I could tell by the way she was standing that she was trying to block my view. She pointed down at the trail that had been worn in the rock by people walking and said, “Just walk right along this path and stop over there.” I tried looking around her and said, “Is this the part that I was nervous about?” She kindly ignored my question and said again, “Just follow this path and stand right over there.” I could see the steep slope and what seemed like a bottomless pit behind her and I asked. “IS IT?” “Yes,” she smiled, “But just stand right over there and you’ll be fine.” So I walked along the path, hugging the rock on my right, Bruce close behind me, until I got into a corner where I knew I couldn’t fall. Everyone else came around the corner and gathered around. This ended up being on of the stopping points where Casey would tell us about something cool and interesting. Couldn’t we just keep moving and then she could tell us? I mean really, this was no place to stand around. I was a little comforted by the fact that there were several people standing between me and the point where the rock really slopes down into the pit. But at the same time I wanted to let the crazy person inside me scream “Come away from the edge people! What is the matter with you?” But I refrained. As we hiked out of that spot I looked very carefully and realized that there was really no point where you could see the bottom of that pit, and I prayed that I wouldn’t be the first person to slip, fall and die on this hike.
We spent 3 hours in the Furnace and as we came over one of the last staircases of rock I asked, “When do we drop the ring into the fires of Mordor?”
Fiery Furnace turned out to be the best hike ever! It was challenging but not impossible. It was scary but I didn’t cry or get vertigo. It was hard work, but I wasn’t limping when we finished. A lot of people tell me that they hate hiking. But for me, there is really something fantastically fulfilling about climbing a mountain, or in this case, climbing through a tavern of enormous rocks. There are sights in the Furnace that I don’t imagine you would see anywhere else.
I admitted to Bruce that I only agreed to do it so as not to greatly disappoint him. But I was so glad I did it, and would gladly go again. He also had a blast and was extremely grateful that the screaming little girl who resides inside me didn’t take over the brave rock climber that was now growing in me.
We thanked Casey over and over for doing such a great job and for taking such good care of me. Then we decided to keep hiking, as there was still more that we wanted to see that day. So we drove to Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch and spend about an hour playing around in there. And by the time we came out of that hike, I really was limping, more like hobbling, to the car. So we called it a day. And a fabulous day at that! Trying not to think about the pain and exhaustion after hiking 6 hours that day, I was feeling so lucky to live here in Utah where there are such beautiful things to see, such adventures to be had, and my best friend right beside me to have them with me. And tomorrow’s adventure, the most famous of the Arches - Delicate arch! Coming soon…
I know this might be a little after-the-fact, but that’s pretty much how I work. Bruce and I recently had the opportunity to have a short getaway without the boys to Moab, Utah, which is about a 4 hour drive from where we live. After what turned out to be one of the most adventurous trips ever, I made a… well, somewhat of a joke about blogging about it. I don’t do a whole lot of blogging, it’s hard for me to find the time to sit at the computer and type for hours on end, and I tend to ramble a bit. But Bruce wants me to do it so here it goes.
In order for you to understand what this trip meant for me, I guess you’d have to understand some of my issues. Issue #1: Ever since I was little I have had an extraordinary fear of heights, and it’s only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. I could go on forever on this subject, but to shorten the matter, I have been known to have panic attacks on airplanes, scream bloody murder when driving on mountain ledge roads, and well, I think you get the picture. I’m sure to some people I am a complete spazz, and I very well may be, but falling to my death would surely be the worst way to die, and every time I’m on a high ledge, I see it clearly happening.
Issue #2: People who know me well know that ever since I have had kids and gained weight, I have some pretty bad body issues, issues that make me cry on a pretty regular basis. In the past few months I have really put all of my efforts into getting into shape, spending hours every week taking several different workout classes and eating healthier. And although it’s not coming off at any drastic rate, and has at times been very frustrating, it is coming off and I’m feeling much healthier and much stronger. Without my experiences over the past few months, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do all of the things that I did on this trip. However, the reason I’m going on about my body issues is so you’ll understand my biggest fear going into this little getaway. Having never been to Moab nor Arches, I had no idea of the heights we would run into, I figured we’d be climbing around on dirt and rock, no biggie. No, my biggest fear was that we would come across some narrow rock passageway that my big BUTT would be too wide to fit through. This thought really brought me a lot of distress. I could clearly picture myself on a 3 hour, guided hike with 25 other people, everyone getting through the skinny rock hallway except for me and my rear end, at which point I collapse into an utterly ridiculous emotional meltdown in the dirt, and I’m left there, abandoned in the desert, alone, where later, a rescue helicopter will have to come and find me. Yes folks, these are the things that haunt me when planning what should be a simple weekend getaway.
As big of a crybaby as you now see me, I should also mention that I married a rock climbing, cliff-diving, defying-the-law-of-gravity daredevil who grew up doing such things, and I gave birth to 4 little Bruce clones who take after him in every way. And although Bruce would never force me into adventures that I want no part of, I also don’t want to be that mom who stays home and quilts while the boys are out adventuring. So I have, over the years learned to suck up some of my fears and have had some great experiences because of it.
So… Bruce and I decided a while back that we REALLY wanted to go check out Arches National Park, one of the beautiful places in Utah we have never seen. We would love to take the boys since they would be in there element there, but first we would go ourselves. We looked at maps online to see all of the different places to see and hike and we planned everything we wanted to do over the course of 3 days. The one hike you have to pay and make reservations for is the Fiery Furnace. You can go on it without a reservation if you get a hiking permit. But it’s easy to get lost in there and difficult to find all of the cool sights if you’ve never done it, so we bought tickets for that hike. It’s a total of 2 miles and takes 3 hours. We were mistaken in thinking we had reservations for Friday afternoon so we drove directly to the visitors center when we got there. Turns out our tickets were for Saturday but this was my chance to question the ranger about all of the things that were haunting me.
Day 1: Devils Garden The first question I had for our ranger, who as it turns out would be our guide for the Saturday Fiery Furnace hike, was of course this: “At any point in hiking through Arches National Park, am I going to be too fat to fit between 2 rocks?” The narrowest passages were in the Fiery Furnace but she assured me that I would indeed NOT be abandoned in the desert due to my super sized back side. Very tall, very big men go on this hike all the time. WHEW! One issue put to rest. The next question was about my fear of heights and the answer was NOT comforting in the least. But she suggested that we go do the Devils Garden Hike and if I was comfortable with that hike then I would be fine on Fiery Furnace. So, we did…
Devils Garden is a 7 mile loop if you choose to do the whole thing. If you don’t want to take the loop trail, which is marked, “Primitive Trail, Difficult Hiking”, then you can hike up as far as Dark Angel and then turn around and go back, making it a total of 6 miles. It’s a really beautiful hike with so much to see. But it’s also the point where my height issues made me freeze up like never before, and I learned the importance of the term “Don’t look down”. The trail is very easy up to a certain point, there was even a man braving it in a wheelchair. The higher up on the trail you get the harder hike it becomes, at one point Bruce decided to hop up onto a great big giant rock just to the left of the trail, so I followed, and sure enough, on the other side of the rock was a dead drop off. I decided to keep my wits about me and keep following him along the rock, he went up a little higher then me, then I decided to take a good look at what was below me and that’s when it hit me. I guess some people call it vertigo, when your vision zooms in, or out, or both, and you feel like you’re going to faint. Fainting really isn’t the best plan when you’re standing on a high ledge. So I stood perfectly still and said very quietly to Bruce “I need to sit down! I need to sit down!” He promptly hopped down from his ledge and helped me sit, and this is what I’ll call meltdown #1. It consisted of crying, putting head in hands, “I can’t do this hike, I can’t do tomorrows hike, let’s just do something easier”, and so on. Bruce assured me that we would do whatever I wanted, at which point I stood up, with a little help, and went on. Arches has a lot of places where the trail goes along a “fin” which is a tall, long, narrow rock, and you’re required to walk along the top of it. While there is seemingly plenty of room to walk without falling, the height on either side can make the fins seem 8 inches wide. There were times on Devils Garden when Bruce would go ahead of me to check out how high, how scary it was before coming back to get me. He would assure me, “It’s this wide the whole way, I promise you’ll be fine.” So I would keep going. There really are some amazing things to see along this hike, besides the listed landmarks such as Landscape Arch, Double O Arch, the different rock formations and the distance that you can see from some of the places was so great. After Double O Arch you can either keep going up to Dark Angel, or hit the loop trail. This took a while of talking back and forth trying to decide if we were going to do it. First of all it had been raining and snowing off and on and I could see a new batch of clouds rolling in. The primitive trail said “Not recommended when rock is snowy or wet,” which made the decision perfectly clear to me. We would turn around and go back. But we ran into a young couple who were also chatting back and forth about whether it was a good idea or not and they decided to go for it. Bruce clearly wanted to but wasn’t going to force me. I decided we would try it and if we came to a spot where we needed to turn around, we would. We passed another couple who had come up the back way and said there were people who were stopping and turning around because it was too hard. GREAT! What on earth was I doing??? But I kept going. The trail wasn’t too horrible, a couple of spots where you have to slide down on your butt, things like that. And then after quite a ways we come to a spot where there were about 15 people stopped and looking at each other as if saying “We have to do WHAT???” I couldn’t even see what was ahead but I could tell by the look on Bruce’s face that this was my turn around point. There was a Brittish couple there who appeared to be quite the experienced hikers and they had gotten past this difficult point. There was a steep drop about 20 feet high, rock below and another drop below that, and the only passage was a VERY narrow trail, I wouldn’t even call it a trail really, which you had to turn around backwards to get past, with barely enough room for the toes of your shoes under the edge of a rock and barely any spots on the rock to grip with your fingers. This Brittish couple made it across, Bruce of course made it, so I tried and started to slip, so I backed out and wasn’t going to try again. And all of these other people, who appeared to be about 20 years old, and skinny little things were trying, slipping, trying, and slipping. The leader of these kids decided it wasn’t worth the risk and he was going to turn around with whom ever wanted to go with him. So Bruce and I decided we would turn around as well, even though the hike back would be quite a distance. But then this overzealous Brittish woman climbs back up and says to me, “No, no! You can’t go back that way, it’s much too far. Come on, I’ll help you! You’ll be fine!” And her husband got on one side of the rock, she got on the other side. Bruce, I think was in a spot below me where if I fell he would at least keep me from smashing my head on a rock. After a few tears and lots of deep breaths, I finally went for it. It seemed to take forever and I kept hearing things like, “Put your hand here, put your foot there, stand up tall, don’t lean on the rock.” I think I probably said “Don’t let go of me, I don’t wanna die” a few times. And then I was across. And so we kept hiking and I was dreading what was ahead. A few people who had come up the back way had said that there was one more difficult pass. And when we got there, this is where I learned what the term “scampering up a rock” meant. At this point we could either jump into a pool of freezing water to get past, or climb up a gigantic rock and slide down the other side to get past the water. Admittedly, the swim was rather tempting at this point since the rock was so steep, so high, not to mention wet and slippery. But hiking back with wet jeans didn’t sound fun either. For those of you who have never “scampered” up a rock before, it requires, backing up, getting a running start, and then climbing up to the top as fast as you can before you slip down. This is where you need those little claws that come out of your fingers when you turn into Spiderman. Oh, you don’t have those? Well then good luck. You’ll probably slip back down like I did. So then you try again. I finally got up so high that I knew if I slipped at that point it was gonna hurt. But I went a little farther, in order to be far enough up that I could slide down and miss the water. And then was the long slide down wearing away the stitching on the back side of my jeans. But I was on the ground again. *Long heavy sigh*. And my Brittish friend says to me, “See there? You did something you didn’t think you could do today!” What is it about a high pitched Brittish accent that makes things seem so much easier?
But I had done it. The hardest and scariest thing I had done in my life, and I was still alive, and so proud of myself. A few months ago I really don’t think I would have been strong enough to keep myself from falling, or strong enough to “scamper” up a rock. Who scampers up rocks anyway? Scampering is for squirrels! But I was strong enough and I did it. After 5 hours we came out of Devils Garden, feeling exhausted, accomplished, and dreading what Fiery Furnace would bring, not sure if I was going to attempt it or not. Day 2: Coming soon!...