Vermilion Cliffs Sand Hills Loop, Bad As You Wanna Be

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Vermilion Cliffs Sand Hills Loop, Bad As You Wanna Be

The land on this “hike” is under the jurisdiction of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Do not deface or collect here. I see that “Tom” was in the Eastern Sand Hills Crack on New Year’s Day, 1932. He left his mark. It was not a National Park then. LEAVE NO TRACE. In the beginning I left “hike” in parentheses. Michael Kelsey calls this area a walking area. It’s a freelance route-finding scramble here from start to finish. It’s sick, brutal, gnarly, annoying (and rewarding). I love it. You can do it? You will know soon.

Okay Dokee, Michael Kelsey is the only one writing about this hike, so go ahead and buy his book so you know which mile marker on Hwy. 89A on the Arizona Strip to turn off at. Now throw the book in the trunk and read this.

Kelsey is almost 70 and apparently still runs at a pace of seven kilometers per hour on vertical slopes. Congratulations Michael, I see you are just as dangerous as ever. I bought your new 5th. Edition of “Hiking and Exploring the Paria River” and the photos are in color! But you are still dangerous. While the kids don’t have inner tubes on these, they will need a respirator. So not only is this walk as bad as you want, but MK is also as bad as you want. Again, the good thing about this guy is that he goes where no one else goes (and sometimes can take you to the trail – but not on this hike).

Oh, I want to say that I am almost 60 years old and this is the second time I have done the Eastern to Northern Cracks Loop. I am in extremely excellent condition. It takes me twice as long to do things as Kelsey.

Most 30-year-olds can’t keep up with me.

The hike: 6 hours, and we walked almost non-stop-ten minutes before lunch. The route # you turn north from 89A is #1396. The parking lot at Jacob’s Pool is 2 kilometers north on this dirt road. The Jeep made it within 1/8 mile of Jacob’s where the last ravine was washed out. Get out of your car! Looking due north at the Vermilion Cliffs. No, not northwest by a wide sand slide. There is a narrower sandy soil towards the north. That’s right, it can’t be climbed. That’s slang for “you can’t climb”. Well, just east of this thin sand slide is a sand HILL. It is to climb. You are aiming for the extreme east side of this sandhill. You can’t reorient until you’re on it. We will do the loop counter-clockwise. You will see why. It is brutality, but the easiest. Michael is full of blah blah, but never mind Rachel Lee’s old stone house. There are about 50 old ruins and they have no plaques on them. So from Jacob’s walk the old road east along the hedge. He is right that it gets washed out when it turns north. You are looking for the most important spring as he says. Cattails! That’s what you’re looking for! There is only one place with many cattails! Now he is talking about a “rising walkways”. What in the world does that mean? Comes out of your chest like the “Alien”? I used to have an album called “Emerge the Litter”. Does it have anything to do with the group “The Litter”? No, it is not as he says. About 6 people a year do this hike and they are all “hard core”. Probably none of the 6 will show up right here when you’re here. We don’t need smelly badges. From the cattails head straight to the northeast. The hike here is brutal and doesn’t get any easier. Go home if you can’t hack the sand and the ball bearings already. Start early in the AM and you can tell northeast by the sun. Finally, about an hour from where you parked (at Jacob) you will reach the sand hill. Remember that you want the extreme eastern side of it. There is a gap here and there on the sand hill and maybe an alley somewhere. At 1 1/4 o’clock the trail crosses where you should be at a wash near a huge black boulder on the right. Now in a few minutes the track disappears. Look, this is a freelance hard-core expedition. The right way may be the washing “stair steps”, but we chose to go up if we would have to go up.

If you want to follow me, take the clay-looking alluvial fan directly to the left. Do you want to go home now? The “Eastern Crack” is now clearly to your northeast and bearing that way as well. Straight up for me. You are on the right track when you see the lizard petroglyph climbing on the wall to your left. This was at 1 hour 50 minutes. Michael counts 6-7 petroglyph panels. There are more than that. The second panel (also on the left 2 o’clock) is 6 beautiful Bighorns. At 2 1/4 hours you will see what looks like a dam (there is also a bunch of dead Juniper trees) if you continue straight up. You can do this. I’m 60. This dam looking thing is what Kelsey calls a “constructed cattle trail”. Climb the wall and hold onto the rail for about 5 feet where it ends. Now straight up again to the top (many more big pets.). 2 1/2 hours to the top. Of course, Kelsey goes up and back to his car so quickly. What BS to most mortals! Either way, leave a huge alley on the edge when you (there’s that word again) come out of the barn, in case you get lost and need to backtrack to get down.

What comes next? Bear west along the edge. What is referred to as easy and flat edge hiking in “Hiking and Exploring the Paria River” is anything but. I’m not Jack Kennedy, but I’m sure I know easy rim walking. This rim walk is through loose sand, over and under rock formations, through obscure routes, blah blah. Anyway, reach an unused two-track (Bingo, MK is right on this landmark) in 1 to 1 1/2 hours from Eastern Crack. It took us 1 1/4 with our 10 minute lunch. At the two-lane road, look over the edge to the west. That’s where you will come down. Let me explain something. The hike would have been easier about 1/4 mile inland from the rim, but we wanted to stay oriented to our Jeep and Jacob’s because we learned NOT TO TRUST MICHAEL KELSEY. If you have not reached the two-track in 1 1/2 hours go back to your big cairn and down Eastern Crack.

Follow the track away from the edge (north) for 5 or 10 minutes. If it bears directly north of the edge, you bear directly south. It is a bit disorienting when the chute is reached down. The standard three-legged trapezoidal petroglyph tells you that you are in the right place. Now I will give credit to the AUTHOR. He correctly marks the Northern Crack rock art, which will keep you from thinking you’re lost. The way down the Northern Crack took us 1 1/2 hours!!! You will get “cliffed” 3 or 4 times, but you will get around this one. The Ancient Ones did, I did, and you will. The safety is to the left every time. You will make it because you don’t want the Northern Crack back, I guess. I’ve never said “boring” as often as I did when I went down this chute, but you’ll understand that counter-clockwise was the right choice for this hike. Loose, dangerous and demanding. Don’t lose concentration here, tired or not. Focus on the job.

Finally we land at the bottom. Each walker had a liter of water at the start. It has to go. Now the first break in the whole walk comes after 5 1/2 hours. Walk south into the relaxed flat wash. When you reach a fence line, leave the laundry on the left. Go through a hole in the fence and walk across land to your car. 1/2 hour after reaching the wash at the bottom of Northern Crack you drink ice water by your car.

MK did this loop in less than 4 hours. Give me a break. I have been a hiking fanatic for 20 years. Guy is crazy… and writes hiking books. Maybe I’m surprised at how he sweeps me off my feet. I will toss a coin. No, he’s crazy.

Oh, never try a hike that Kelsey says took him 7 hours. You have been warned. DON’T BLAME HIM, HE’S JUST “THAT AUUTHORR”.

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