The Engadi Boot, Part IA Panther Tale
Success isn't always guaranteed. And it should never be guaranteed when climbing with Julian. And never when climbing with Julian on International Devil Day (i.e., 6/6/06). Yes, you need to be wary of climbing on the Julian Calendar.
Julian Simon and I wanted to score a first ascent of a peak...on 6/6/06 so we could name it with some reference to the devil. It however became apparent that "Engadi" was much more appropriate for the name of this peak. So Engadi it is. If you know your Bible story about David fleeing from Saul, then you'll know of this Engadi (Ein Gedi). This is the summit in question: "Engadi Peak" (Pk 5913, 433P).
There are two options from the east to get this peak, neither of which is very appealing, which is probably why it remains unclimbed (assumption). One option would involve roughly 7,000 ft of gain with high amplitude ups and downs. The other would be a mere 4,600 gain (all told) but would have to make use of an abandoned trail. Note the word "abandoned."
Option 2 has two sub-options: approach the abandoned trail from the north (from its junction with a heavily used mountain trail where there is a sign that declares "this trail has been abandoned") or from the south (from FR 6404 aka Sears Creek Road, which ends at Ware Walk, elevation ~2,000 ft). Since we drove the latter to see how far you could drive it and the objective Panther Creek didn't seem too far away and since we had bikes and the rest of the decommissioned road looked bikable and since the drive back around to the east side (main) road would consume time, and since the mosquitoes were consuming us, we decided to do give the latter sub-option a go pronto.
We rode bikes for about 15 minutes on a pleasant patted down track that wiggled its way up the unusually wide former road. (It was a strange looking road. The road swath was wider than the usual in the mostly deciduous woods, as if to say it was once intended to be the main road up the valley.) Two streams cut across the road. For one we threw logs in for something to step on so we wouldn't get our boots wet. Then, a third water crossing proved too big to ford on the pedals. It was a 100-ft-wide beaver pond (or possibly a river backwater) about knee deep at its worst. We stashed bikes there and took off our boots and socks so we wouldn't get them wet. After that it was mostly easy walking except for another shallow backwater that required two logs to be thrown in so we wouldn't get our boots wet. The end of the road came. On its left was a bonafide beaver pond that we avoided so we wouldn't get our boots wet. A short thicket gave way to more logging road kind of terrain that finally ended...at the beaver pond. To get across we actually used the edge of the beaver dam. Hmmm, I've never done that before. Pretty deep on the backed-up side! But we managed not to get our boots wet.
After about an hour from the car (the last twenty minutes or so spent walking in fairly open woods), we arrived at Panther Creek and immediately set about searching for a log to cross. There was one just downstream so we had a look. It was "doable," we surmised, but was quite "iffy." This was because a big rock halfway across was acting as an insecure fulcrum for the log and the other (far) end was cantilevered. The whole log could have easily turned or seesawed right off the rock. Furthermore, the free end would require a spooky jump to another tilted log remnant. And, last of all, falling into the water was NOT an option, and not just because we might get our boots wet. So, after I chevalled the log out to the big rock to have a look I pirouetted and came back. We would have to search upstream.
The problem with upstream was it immediately became a canyon. And of course we found ourselves scaling the south wall. But we did see another log propped nicely over the water where the canyon made a crook. From way up high the log looked real thin. And the water rampaging underneath it looked (and sounded) evil. But we went down a steep gully/embankment to get a closer look (with me getting pricked in the process, of course, by the only Devil's Club we'd encounter anywhere that day). The log was actually quite sturdy and just high enough of off the frothy turquoise and white malevolence to keep us from getting our boots wet. After the crossing we humped up the less-steep north side of the canyon to immediately find the abandoned trail at approximately 2,400 ft.
The trail wasn't too bad...at first. There were the expected windfalls. The first mile went quite fast and gained some good elevation to boot. Furthermore, the trail was dry so we weren't getting our boots wet. We took a break under a big cedar tree (this tree will appear in the story later) and could see the ridge line southwest of our summit destination but could not see the actual summit we were there for. We carried on....
...Oh my Lord of Darkness, you have GOT to be kidding me!...
There are abandoned trails and there are brushy trails and there are even some overgrown trails but THIS trail...THIS trail was all of those and none of those. It was a completely different animal, like a giant green striped panther. In the next half-mile or so (roughly the part above the 3,000-ft contour) the Panther Creek Trail is a path even a mean mouse would find laborious to negotiate. This "trail" now takes the cake as the worst I've ever hiked (and I use "hiked" loosely here). Of that half-mile, I'd say 1,000 yards or so of it was almost un-doable. BW5+, for sure. The main problem was the alder. It hung low over the trail like a canopy getting tugged into Hell by the Patron Devil of Bushwhacker Fools. Like Sergio three days prior coming down from Whitehorse Mountain, we were swimming through big alder some of the time. Other times we were actually just off the downhill side trying to skirt the big alder. This wasn't always workable or efficient. Sometimes we weren't swimming as much as we were climbing over the alder. And still other times (and it seemed like way too often) we were actually crawling under it. And by crawling I'm not talking about on one's hands and knees. I'm talking about slithering on our stomachs...for tens of feet at a time. Many times we thought it might actually be easier to leave the trail altogether. BW5 to either side has GOT TO be better than BW5+ on the trail!
Eventually the trail returned to woods, cleared up, and began a descent to Ibex Creek. The trail shortly arrived at the Ibex canyon where an old sign nailed to a tree greeted us at the corner. We wondered what the sign once read. I guessed it said "Ibex Creek." We would have a different opinion a little later.
We descended efficiently to the creek because the trail goes down there in two or three steep switchbacks, reaching the raging water 3 hours after leaving the car. We were relieved to see a trail continuing up the other (west) side of the creek. Sure enough, though the USGS map shows the trail ending at Ibex Creek, it actually continues far up Panther Creek, as intimated by my Benchmark gazetteer. And where there's a trail continuance there's a bridge or a ford. No bridge (not surprising). But would the ford be possible? Sure it was...barely. We knew we couldn't fall during the ford else we'd wind up dead at the bottom of a long cataract. So we decided to belay across. I took off my boots so they wouldn't get wet and had Julian belay me across. I had him keep me quite tight because the evil turquoise and white froth was trying to yank me asunder. I got across and prepared to belay Julian. We had looped his 30m rope around an overturned stump's roots upstream so I could belay him with a tug still coming from upstream (no use belaying him from downstream). We'd then pull the rope when finished.
So before I crossed I was going to tie my boots to my pack like I usually do for such a ford. But Julian stopped me and said, "I'll just throw them across to you." Good enough for me, I said, as the ford's width was only about 20 feet. So I left my boots there for him. After I crossed I tied my personal anchor to a small pine so I could belay Julian from it. It was now time for him to toss me my boots. He had thought (and declared later) that it would be better for him to throw them across to me. That way, if I fell in during the ford, at least my boots wouldn't get wet. So, like I said, it was a mere 20-ft toss. I prepared for his toss. Some devil on my left shoulder spoke in my ear saying it would be an easy catch. The angel on the right shoulder warned me that it was a foolish plan. But I listened to neither. I was concentrating on the catch. "Here it comes," Julian mouthed through the din of the roaring creek...
In slow motion the boot arced through the air. Immediately Julian and I knew there was a problem. He had thrown short...and I was anchored to the tree so was at the end of my lunging tether. The boot slid through my fingertips on descent, bounced once off the inclined bank in front of me, and plunged straight into the froth. It sank right away, slid unseen down a submerged slab, and was never seen again. Yep, that boot was definitely all wet. And so were our plans to make that first ascent that day.
We now had a bigger problem: how to get back to the car with only one boot for my two feet? Between the two of us we have maybe 16 years of higher education, so were we smart enough to solve the quandary? Fortunately, Mountainsmith came to the rescue. Julian's old Mountainsmith pack had a foam pad and a plastic mesh insert in it for back support. This we fashioned into a boot with the help of the Swiss Army, first aid tape, and duct tape. But would it last long enough to get me back to the car, not to mention through that formidable giant green panther?
And what did we now think the old sign on the tree once read? We now think it said, "No idiots beyond this point."
The boot was actually pretty comfortable and my pace was not hampered. At times I even got ahead of Julian who was no doubt suffering--suffering his childhood memories of not getting picked for pick-up softball games, suffering the extra weight of my gear in his pack, suffering the lack of back support in his pack, suffering the loss of his REI trekking pole after it was eaten by the green panther (now he couldn't take them back for a refund since the other one had broke), suffering the lack of thick socks to keep blisters at bay (because I was now wearing both his woolen socks on my left foot), and suffering the thought of being out $125 (yes, Julian, I purchased new dry boots today for $250). We tried to fix the shredding tape on the boot but ran out. Eventaully, the plastic mesh insert kept coming off so was useless. It was down to just foam between me and all that poking ground debris.
On approach to the big cedar tree where we had taken a break a few hours earlier we heard a strange noise and the rustle of a very large animal. The strange noise was loud and not unlike the sound of a jug of water being violently shaken. The animal sounded like it had scampered into the tight boughs of the cedar. What was it? We could hear it move slightly but couldn't see it. Julian thought it might be a bear but I've never heard a bear make a weird jug-shaking noise. Julian wanted to get the heck out of there. I was curious so wanted to loiter a minute. But then I remembered I only had one boot (the other boot was all wet and probably halfway to the White River by then) and I would therefore not be faster than Julian should it really be a bear. So I caught up with Julian and we carried on.
We re-crossed Panther Creek and hoofed it back through the woods to the decommissioned logging road. Soon we were back at the ponds. We walked right on through the water. Julian asked me if I would please try and keep his socks dry. Ha ha! We got back to the bikes. My left foot hurt as the pedal poked through the foam. But in the end it only took 3.5 hours to get back. Not bad considering I only had one boot to work on.
To add insult to this abject failure of a day, Julian forgot to stash the six-pack of Scapegoat Ale outside of my warm car. So we had no beer to (willingly) consume. And, here come the mosquitoes to consume us.
To add humor to the insult, two women drove up while I'm in my underwear. Figures.
~~Paul Klenke, 6/7/06
For Part II (9/16/06), click here.