Monday, August 13, 2018

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls: Hiking Sulphur Creek

Sulphur Creek is more or less an off-the-beaten path trail. It's never been maintained by the National Parks Service, though it's clearly inside Capitol Reef, and in the past there hasn't even been a map or anything to guide hikers. However, it has been gaining popularity over the past few years and now they have dedicated pull-outs for parking cars at either end of the trail (and although its still an unmaintained trail (on account of...it's a river) you can now get a map from the visitor center).

We didn't know any of that, however, because Andrew and I hadn't been to Capitol Reef since 2012 (just a few weeks before Benjamin was born) and Karen hadn't been to Capitol Reef since 2013 (when Dorothy passed away on Brimhall Double Bridge Trail (though Reid went just a few weeks ago with a scout troop)), so we just started doing what we'd normally done and had Karen drop us off at the Castle Rock trail head. But there's a new pull-out/parking area about a third of a mile before this now (just so you know).

While I nursed the baby, Grandpa took the other kids across the road to the dry creek bed (come to think of it, that's probably why they have the new pull-out area—so that you don't have to drag all your kids across the road to get to the proper trailhead). By the time I caught up with them Benjamin had found a rock that reminded him of a guitar and he was rocking out (in every way possible).



Andrew committed to taking Alexander through the canyon on his back. We'd thrown around the idea of taking both Alexander on this hike, with Alexander on my back and Zoë on Andrew's (because there was no way she was going to hike for 5.5 miles on her own) and even went so far as to borrow a backpack from our friends (the one we used to hike Calf Creek with). But then we thought better of it (and Grandpa talked some sense into us) and we decided we'd just take Alexander, this time in our backpack so we wouldn't accidentally dye our friend's backpack Martian red (since that's what typically happens to fabrics that go through Sulphur Creek).


It's a much gentler hike—all downhill since you're hiking downstream, and quite shady because you're at the bottom of a canyon. That said, it's rather long (especially for the little ones (Benjamin was completely worn out by the end)), involves a few "scrambles" and, depending on the depth of the water (and the height of the hiker), some swimming. So basically there's something for everyone (it's one of my favourite hikes).

Here are a few pictures of Benjamin, Miriam, and Rachel climbing around on some rocks:





Before you get to Sulphur Creek itself you have to hike through a dry creek bed of sorts (I'm sure it has a name), which also involves a few "scrambles" down some "dry-terfalls" (a little portmanteau* we made up for "dry waterfalls," which I suppose are technically just cliffs, but whatever; we'll make up words if we want to).

Alexander had a fabulous time watching the kids from his perch in the hiking backpack.



He also had a couple of backpack naps:


Benjamin was absolutely having the time of his life. He climbed on nearly every rock he saw and kept begging me to take more pictures of him.




"Take more and more and more pictures of me!" he ordered. "And then when we get home I can put them all on my Kindle so that I can look at them over and over and go, 'Awwww, I loved that hike!'"

And he literally made this face while telling me about how fondly he was planning on looking back on this hike:



But that was all before things got difficult (don't worry—he's a perfectly normal kid and did a whole lot of whining as well).

Here we are just before stumbling upon Sulphur Creek:


We just had to get past this little obstacle:


And then we were at least ankle-deep in murky water from there on out:


Water depth is prone to vary (sometimes unexpectedly):


Benjamin had a blast running through the water, splashing up a storm, and bouncing around, all while boisterously laughing (no wonder he wore himself out):


I believe Benjamin is running in these pictures because he'd just realized that Grandpa was leading the hike. "Why is Grandpa leading the hike?" Benjamin asked. "He's old! There should be a kid up there!" And then he took off running to get ahead.


Here's a few pictures of the kids exploring some overhangs and other cool rock formations:



 

And here's the group coming up on what we call "The Love Tree," where we took our first official break:


If you look, you'll see that the tree spells love (or, as Rachel pointed out, live (it's kind of missing its middle vowel):


The main trunk is split into an L shape, there's a little V dip in the middle of the big branch, and then it ends in a big E.
L-O-V-E
We took Alexander out of the backpack so that he could dip his little toes in Sulphur Creek:


After a little snack, we began heading backdown river, toward "the narrows" and three waterfalls, each about twelve feet tall (along with a few smaller waterfalls sprinkled along the way). So the hike got a little tougher but still definitely enjoyable.




Here's Andrew walking along the side of waterfall #1:


He took Alexander off his back in order to pass him down to Grandpa:


Here's Benjamin hanging out below the ridge:


And Grandpa with Alexander:


And here are Rachel, Miriam, Benjamin, Daddy, and Grandpa checking out the waterfall:



So, that was the first real obstacle out of the way. Easy peasy!



Waterfall #2 isn't too far from the first waterfall and the walk there is quite pleasant.




We scrambled down that obstacle without any real problem. Here's Grandpa and the girls enjoying the falls:



Hiking to waterfall #3 is where things began to be really tricky. What's fun about this hike is that it changes each time the river floods. We had to pick our way over logs that had been carried downstream by flash floods...


...and then rounded a corner to find we had no option but to wade through waist-deep water (or, in Benjamin's case, swim across to Grandpa):


We had to navigate a few little waterfalls, which Grandpa kept naming 2.-something, which frustrated the girls because there were only supposed to be three waterfalls. It was around waterfall 2.5 that we ran into real issues. It's not a particularly tall waterfall, but it came about to my shoulders standing away from the pool (which was a bit deeper than it appears in the picture). Grandpa helped all the kids slide off of it into the pool below, and then advised Andrew to walk around the falls so he could climb down another way. One of our kids (I can't remember who) had refused to slide and had just walked down this way. It looked easy enough.

Andrew, however, put one foot on the rock, slipped, and went completely head over heels. Hiking around with 30 lbs. on your back tends to throw off your balance a bit (the combined weight of Alexander, the backpack frame, and the water Andrew was carrying was around 30 lbs., at my best estimate). He just...tipped...right...over...and landed upside-down in the water, with the waterfall pouring on top of him and my baby!

I stood at the top of the falls screaming, "Oh. My. Gosh. Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!" at an indescribably high pitch. Rachel can do a fantastic rendition of my screams if you ask her to (she thinks it was hilarious). In my defense, I had just watched my husband and baby fall off a cliff...of sorts...and they were both facedown in the water below me.

It's not a terribly waterfall, it's true, but it was plenty high when you factor in Andrew's height and the fact that they went over head first.

We were in the kids' room yesterday, trying to mount a bookshelf to the wall, and Rachel was playing with Alexander on the top bunk and that kept making me nervous. I stood next to the bunk bed and decided that it was about the same height as the waterfall. If it was rational of me to be nervous about my baby crawling around on the top bunk (that's rational, right?) then surely it was also rational of me to scream hysterically when my baby (and husband) fell off a cliff the same height, right?

Anyway, Grandpa, fortunately, was at the bottom of the falls waiting for his worst-case-scenario to play out (he was team "leave all the babies with Grandma") and now here it was! He rushed over to where Andrew was floundering in the water and yanked him onto his feet.

Alexander, who was completely drenched, started screaming bloody murder, which was really music to my ears because while I was screaming I was also trying to make my brain remember infant CPR.

With shaking hands I fumbled to unbuckle Alexander from the backpack, and then I cuddled him and kissed him until we both stopped crying. I felt a little bit guilty for not being more concerned about Andrew, but he verbally assured me that he was fine and a quick once-over didn't reveal any pressing injuries. Somehow he'd managed to avoid bashing his head open on any of the rocks below (though his entire left side is pretty banged up: his ankle is swollen and he has a softball-sized bruise on his rear end (so just like Benjamin he can go to school and tell all his friends how he hit his butt bottom falling off a cliff (surely Andrew will also refrain from using such crude potty words with his friends))).

Alexander was perfectly protected by the hiking backpack. All his limbs and even his head were inside the metal frame. He did get a little bonk on his forehead, but we think that was from hitting the backpack, not from hitting any rocks. And he miraculously managed to hold his breath while he was underwater.

It really was the best outcome for such a scary situation. We consider ourselves rather blessed.

Alexander and Mommy in front of the waterfall he and Daddy fell down
Grandpa suggested that I just carry Alexander for a while since he (Alexander, not Grandpa) was feeling rather cranky about the whole ordeal and would scream whenever anyone else got near him. I was alright with that because as much as he needed his momma right then, his momma needed him!


So Andrew went to pick up the empty backpack and discovered that one of the straps (the left strap) had been ripped right off somehow. We don't know if it happened organically during the fall or whether it broke when Grandpa hoisted my boys out of the water, or if having however many gallons of water pouring on top of Alexander exceeded the recommended carrying capacity of the backpack. At any rate, our trusty hiking backpack was now defunct, which meant Alexander had to be carried out the rest of the way (which wasn't really a burden considering I'd just been worrying about having to carry his lifeless body out of the canyon (hello, anxiety)).


I couldn't stop thinking about my friend Margaret, who watched her husband slip off an 80-foot cliff in Zion National park in September 2013. He survived, but his rescue was perilous and his recovery arduous. But how did Margaret even handle it?! Because I was going berserk over a 5-foot cliff.

And how did Brother Gillespie handle Dorothy's death on the trail?

Man, those few weeks of late-August, early-September 2013 were pretty rough, what with Dorothy dying, my dad getting in a vehicular collision, Uncle Trevor's mountain biking accident, and Clark falling off that cliff. We had a lot of people to worry about all at once.**


Anyway, our little incident was, thankfully, in no way as serious as anything that happened in 2013 and we all managed to exit the canyon with smiles on our faces.

Here are Rachel and Benjamin sliding down waterfall #3:


You can see Grandpa standing by to catch them and Zoë and Grandma are standing at the edge of the pool, having hiked in to meet us there from the visitor's center (about 0.7 miles). 

We decided that having me slide down the waterfall while holding Alexander would be the safest and most efficient way to get down this final obstacle, so, with a little trepidation, I did:




Grandpa caught him and I plunged into the pool below and everything was fine:


He screamed and screamed for Grandpa but happily went to Grandma:


Andrew took Zoë out to the waterfall so that she could have a turn sliding down it as well, but then he dropped her and she went right under the murky water. I caught the whole thing on film (maybe I'll put it up one day). Poor Andrew started frantically feeling around under the water until he caught her and yanked her up. Like Alexander, Zoë was not impressed with her introduction to waterfalls...


Honestly, I'm not sure Andrew should be allowed near waterfalls with his babies anymore because when Benjamin was about a year old (so also the year 2013 (not a great year, guys)) we hiked out to a waterfall on Beech Mountain and Andrew, with Benjamin on his shoulders, slipped and fell! He's just no good with babies and waterfalls (though he's good at many other things).

Here are Miriam and Rachel splashing around by waterfall #3:


Andrew carried poor, wet Zoë to the visitor center, well ahead of everyone else. Rachel was my hiking buddy and we went at our own middle-speed pace. I'd had Miriam and Benjamin with me as well but they started lagging behind (they were quite exhausted and Benjamin had gone from loving every minute of the hike and bouncing all over the trail to walking like a zombie and saying, "Why'd we even have to come on this dumb hike?") and since I was carrying Alexander I kind of wanted to just get to the end of the hike. So Benjamin and Miriam took up the rear with Grandma and Grandpa.

Here's a picture Rachel took of Castle Rock while we were walking:


And then here's a picture I made her take of me because not only was I carrying Alexander out of the canyon, I was nursing him. He was ravenous (and still pretty upset about being dunked in the river) and so insistent that I couldn't say no. But I also didn't want to stop to feed him for a half hour so we just nursed and walked.


By the time we caught up with Andrew and Zoë I was pretty sure my arms were going to fall off, so I handed Alexander off about as quickly as I could. Here's Daddy with sleeping Alexander (and Rachel, who is awake):


Here's beautiful Zoë, who did not want me to take her picture so would not look at the camera:


And here's the rest of our crew:


Even with our little misadventures on the trail we had a great time and I would definitely do this hike again (though maybe next time I will leave all the babies behind).

* We've been watching Brooklyn 99 lately and so  I'm just going to leave this here...
Captain Olivia Crawford: So, it would seem that we have become frenemies. Do you know what that means?
Captain Holt: Are you trying to imply that I'm too old to understand a portmanteau? I am not, but I am too dignified to use one. Friend-enemy.

** My friend Emily stopped by with a chicken casserole, which was so terribly sweet of her. I need to do more things like that—seeing a need and bravely filling it without being asked. 

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