Boulder Mail Trail: Walking History
I start my grand trek, my epic adventure, my journey of a lifetime, my long way home stroll in 11 days. The insanity of emotions is whirling around me as frantic energy blows up my just breathe techniques. As the number countdown I placed on my Instagram stories falls to lower and lower numbers, I can not shake the feeling that I am not ready.
Am I strong enough? Am I brave enough? Do I have any idea how to not get eaten by a bear?
I ponder these very rational scenarios of big cat playing puppet with my body and how I will end up making a new home in the forest naked and afraid deep into the night. The onslaught panic of COVID-19 weighing so heavily on the should I do this journey as well. I toss and turn as I cuddle my slightly feral adventure dog and tall one hubby in our short school bus as the sounds of our two kids snoring play music with the stars.
What do you do when you are in crunch time to your NOBO PCT thru-hike? You do what any reasonable person does; you do a short yet intense thru-hike in the wonderfully beautiful Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. Why not prove to yourself that you are a thru-hiker by finding a intense one to jump feet first into? When you have no home base to quarantine to and you are weary of not being welcomed into towns; a tent far from everyone begins to sound like the only option. I found myself convincing the tall one to switch our original bus life nomad plan to do such a thing. We were outside Bryce National Park with snow piles lining our campsite. We were going to head northeast but storms were making our original canyons at risk for flash floods. I scrolled the weather map as I felt my PCT anxiety start to rise.
Want to? I asked.
He smiled; always one to entertain my itchy wild ways. The next day I hoisted my pack onto my back as my family unloaded at the trailhead. I eyed the storm clouds threatening to soak us and smiled wearily at the tall one. 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon my nomad and messy family consisting of the tall one, 6-year-old monkey, 11-year-old buckets, crazy dingo and I started our thru-hike on the Boulder Mail Trail.
From Boulder to Escalante
The Boulder Mail Trail is one of the Escalante and Colorado Plateau classics. Established in 1902 as a mail passage that pack horses would journey to reach the very isolated community of Boulder Town, Utah, from the booming city of Escalante. By 1910, a patchwork telephone line, which still hangs among the trees today, provided Boulder with communication to the outside world via the Escalante switchboard. As most of these historical beautiful things fall to; the completion of roadway US 12 in 1940 warranted little use of the Boulder Mail Trail after that.
What modern movement left behind I embrace. This thru-hike is a delightful and breathtaking trail that passes through Sand Creek, Death Hollow and Mamie Creek. The meat and potatoes statistics of this thru-hike is it is a 15-mile point to point journey that crosses rivers weaving in and out of the canyon floor at least 15 times. I would say more if you are completing the thru-hike in wetter seasons such as spring or fall. If starting this hike at Boulder you start high but quickly descend and climb out of three vastly diverse canyons with 3,000-foot elevation gain and loss with each canyon entry and exit. But the views—views are simply Utah in all its glory. I will even go as far as to say that when you glance across slick sandstone to see snow-sprinkled mountains in the distant that those visions alone make the mouth-breathing, tough walk out of those canyon walls a tad bit easier. Just a tad, though.
I happily skipped along the red clay dirt road leading up to the Boulder Airport. A quirky one runway track with a blue well worn plane marking it even exists. Once we reach the official trailhead I quickly fill out a self-issued permit as I shove the pink copy into the hip pocket of my backpack. The first couple miles went by fast and swift as we made slight descents from the cactus and clay path onto white and yellow sandstone. Every once in a while our little band of marchers would pause as I located the next cairn marking the path. It was such a frivolous and free feeling to have no worries beyond looking for small rock piles. With the chaos of panic surrounding us; to be outside strolling simply along as the clouds danced dramatically above us – was a gift.
The bottom of Sand Hollow met us with overgrown plants with tiny buds of leaves promising spring. I gently moved branches out of the paths way attempting to not whack my daughter who was hiking behind me on my heels. The stream’s level here was low here as we easily hopped across moss and stones to start our weave up the rocks out of the canyon. I looked back at my troop as slightly tired eyes glared back.
First canyon down, I smiled; now we climb.
The descent into Death Hollow, in particular, is a fear of heights tester with this once in a lifetime walks. I have seen many national parks, I have climbed many snowcapped mountains, I have sand trudged along cactus deserts and I have hung my hammock among many trees; oh my. But this exposed descent into the narrow, eerily dark Death Hallow Canyon holds a special place in my adventures. I cautiously led us down switchbacks as the edge felt delicately close. Our sweet adventure puppy with a profound fear of heights barked anxiously at us in confusion as to why any of us believed this was a good idea. We marched along as I encouraged her with gentle pats of assurance. The ground below my feet lighting up in vibrant colors of purple, yellow and red. I walked on the rainbow as a few wayward drops hit my brow.
Blow on by rain, I whispered.
Once we reached the canyon bottom carved out by a clear flowing river; I quickly surveyed for poison ivy. This area, according to trail reports, is notorious for this itchy beast. Thankfully the tail end of winter left more dead branches then vines. A sandy beach nook by the river became our home for the night as the tall one and I got to work setting up tents and rolling out sleeping bags. Soon laughter of children climbing trees and puppies running freely filled the empty canyon walls. I finally felt the peace of nature which gently calls us to immerse our weary souls in.
The sky broke free with blue skies and sunshine joining our feast of corn on the cob and coconut rice. And as marshmallow goo lined the smiles of my family I rested.
Day one down.
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