With a tight window of opportunity I ran south to Grand Staircase in hopes of getting lost in sandstone. I had a couple of ‘running’ routes in mind but somehow settled on a Deer Creek to Boulder Creek loop with a classic cross-county trek to close the loop and avoid a shuttle.
After a false start I jogged south from the Deer Creek trailhead a short blank area in my personal mental map. Sometime in my distant past I had backpacked down Boulder Creek (my planned return route) but memories fade and I wasn’t hopeful of the mind map that occasionally delivers safe passage. Deer Creek was an easy jog for the first couple of miles with use trails on the west banks and rims. The material remains of the long past Fremont people speckled the trail, the dunes, and the small plateaus. But once the Creek pinched against Durffey Mesa and headed due south I was dumped into the river and nearly all signs of previous passage disappeared. The Grand Staircase trade routes are riddled with use trails and is was a pleasure to disappear down a canyon with no recent footfalls or easy path.
But, to be honest, this meant bushwacking. I walked the creek until my legs went numb in the snowmelt water, then pushed through thickets, then back to the water. I made consistent but slow progress, tracking my efforts on my xeroxed map. Somewhere near the confluence with Boulder Creek I passed the only two humans of my trip – two women wandering upstream startled by a solo wanderer heading downstream. I made my way down to the old Boulder Creek gauging station and tried to reconstruct my memories of resting there with old friends Alex and Slade.
From there I headed back upstream and made a few miles progress before camping beneath a hulking west-facing sandstone wall. I spent the evening watching the shadows climb the wall and then eventually disappear as I listened to an old piano jazz podcast on repeat.
Day two was more of the same – only with raw legs from the previous day’s perpetual bushwacking. Shorts were a bad idea. I tracked my progress up-canyon well but near the top I somehow missed the side canyon that most people use for entry and exit from Boulder Creek. It was a key landmark that I needed to initiate my inter-canyon trek across Durffey Mesa. With the canyon missed other landmarks began to fade into the map and I decided to climb a nearby 1500 foot ridge to the west to ground-truth my map using higher topography. Once atop the ridge the missed side canyon was clear and my planned route across Durffey Mesa was set. I descended back to Boulder Creek and made the final sandstone climb up and over the Mesa. I stopped briefly to snack on sardines and cheese – a favorite, which didn’t sit well on the later final two mile run along the Burr Trail to reach the Deer Creek trailhead and the end of my loop. 25 hours in Grand Staircase.