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…
National Parks Fiery Furnace Video click here