Island in The Sky, January 2012

Posted by on Jan 31, 2012

I’ve been so engaged with the new Backcountrypost Community that I almost forgot to post this on the blog! I actually posted this in the trip reports forum almost two weeks ago, see it here. And if you haven’t already, get over there and sign up. The community is hopping right along with new trip reports and new members every day. In the near future, the front page of will only featur content from the forum and I’ll be moving my personal blog off to another directory.

On to the trip report…

I went down to the Moab area with some friends over this past weekend. After the nice weather and conditions over my New Years trip to the Vermilion Cliffs, I was jonesing for more desert goodness.

We left Salt Lake pretty late on Friday afternoon and didn’t get onto the highway to Moab until after 9. The plan was to camp outside of Island in the Sky so we could get to Mesa Arch early the next day for sunrise. We stopped along the way at the Tusher Tunnel. We didn’t find any good campsites nearby but we still went and checked out the tunnel. It was the first time for all of us so pretty neat to see it in the dark. As we walked into the tunnel, I heard something above and looked up to see a couple of ravens nesting there about 10 feet above us.

We continued to the other end of the tunnel to keep from disturbing the ravens where we proceeded to take a few photos.

Tim got a way better shot of the light show than I did. I had accidentally left my camera on Small-JPEG! Maybe he’ll post one up.

After spending a bit of time there, we drove up Butler Wash onto the iSky mesa to a spot Summit recommended. It turned out to be a great spot but I imagine it would have been busy any other time of the year. We didn’t get into camp until nearly 11 so it was close to 1 by the time we were in bed. None of us setup a tent that night because we wanted to get out fast in the morning. Fortunately, there was ample slickrock around to sleep on.

That night turned out to be one of the coldest nights I’ve ever camped. The low in Moab was predicted to be around 20 but I swear it was single digits up on the mesa, especially with a light breeze. I was actually a bit cold in my big zero degree synthetic bag for the first time.

Side note: ever want to sleep without a tent but you’re worried about frost accumulating on your face? We figured out a trick to avoid that on this trip. Just take a camping chair and lay it on its front over your head. It makes a nice shelter for the top of your body that will catch any frost that might accumulate. The rest of your sleeping bag might get a bit but at least you won’t have it up top.

We were all up just before 6am and loading up camp. From there it was a short 15 minute drive to the Mesa Arch trailhead. With the frigid cold temps, I thought we might get lucky and have it to ourselves but there were two other cars in the lot when we arrived. The darkness was just barely starting to lighten as we started hiking down the short trail to the arch. Upon arrival we discovered that the arch was already to glow a bit, a good half hour before the sun would come over the horizon!

Here’s a few shots of the light show. Most of these have had little to no editing, the colors really look like that in person!

Sunrise at Mesa Arch

Island in the Sky

Washer Woman Arch

lostlandscapes getting his shot.

There were quite a few photogs out there but everyone got along really well. When the sun was cresting over the horizon we were all side by side with tripod legs intertwined but everyone stayed really friendly.
The Sunrise Circus

After sunrise we went over and hiked to False Kiva. Beautiful views along the trail.

The lighting sucked for taking photos. I had no choice but to do an HDR and it wasn’t turning out well so I went black and white.

After False Kiva we went to go hike Aztec Butte. We were stoked to see an empty parking lot until we saw this sign at the trailhead.

No explanation why the main butte was closed. Fortunately the smaller butte with the little granaries was still open so we hiked to them. I hadn’t been to the smaller butte yet.

Whoops. Meant to upload another shot of the granaries that showed them in their setting. They’re actually good sized and hidden under a huge ledge. I’ll post that later.

A very cool old juniper along the trail with one patch of green left on it.

Next up we planned to go drive down the Shafer Trail and do some exploring between there and where it enters Moab. I had admired the awesome Shafer switchbacks on previous trips but never done it before. So I was really pissed when we started down the road and found out it was closed!

Here’s a shot of the Shafer Trail from a seperate trip:
Shafer Trail

It seemed like the stuff we wanted to in Canyonlands wasn’t panning out so we decided to head over to Arches. I wasn’t sure how busy the campsite would be so we went straight there to get a site so we would have a place to go later that night after staying out to take star photos. The campground was a ghost town and wouldn’t you know it, it was half closed. We wanted a site further down on the loop but the farthest we could go was to site 24 before we hit a gate. We paid out $20 and setup camp and soon found out this would not be the last thing that would be closed. The bathrooms were all locked up! Way to charge $20 and not let me use the facilities, Arches.

We had a bit of time to kill so we hiked the loop out of the campground that passes by Tapestry Arch and Broken Arch. We had the loop all to ourselves.

Tapestry Arch

Tim hiking the loop.

Broken Arch

After the loop hike it was about time to head over to Delicate Arch to shoot sunset and stay for some night photos. The skies were clear, perfect for star trails! We loaded up and started up the trail passing by plenty of people on their way up and down. It seems like that trail is packed no matter what time of the year it is.

About a half mile in, I moved to the side of the trail as we passed by some people and slipped into an erosion in the trail. I rolled my ankle and hit the ground hard. Something popped or ripped and the pain was excruciating. I think I laid in the dirt screaming obscenities for a while before I could even get a grasp of what just happened.

Eventually I got a hold of myself and came to the realization that I had really messed my ankle up. There would be no continuing on to the arch. No sunset and no star trails. Damn. I told my friends to go on and I would make my way back to the truck to which they laughed. After a few minutes they helped me onto a rock where we took off my shoe to find it was already swelling badly.

I couldn’t put any weight on it so we went about hiking back to the trailhead by hanging my arms over their necks and moving one step at a time. That sucked. Not only was it painful and awkward but I had to deal with passing by countless tourists. Have of them tried not to make eye contact and the other half would offer help. I even had a couple offers for a piggy back ride!

We met a doctor along the way who gave me an impromptu examination. With the limited tools at hand, he guessed that I had broken a bone above my ankle in the process and advised me to get an x-ray. On we went, back to camp, pack things up and back to Salt Lake.

I went into the hospital the following morning. The ER doc looked it over and said that it wasn’t a question of [I]if[/I] it was broken but rather what bones. But then the x-rays turned up nothing. So now I’ve been referred to an orthopedic doctor. It’s been 4 days now and my foot is far more swollen than in the photo above. I’m in an air cast, can’t fit it in a shoe and have to do everything on crutches. I guess it’s a good time of the year for it though. Really hoping it’s ready to rock come spring time.

Leave a Reply