Hugh Gorge(87)-Standley Chasm(105.4)
Campsite Elevation: 2,427ft/740m
There are some days in thru-hiking that stand out among the others and are forever more clear in memory. Today was one of those days. I ended up hiking an hour further at the end of the day yesterday to better set up tomorrow and I’m so glad I did. After looking ahead, I noticed that my anticipated camping spot for today was on a very exposed ridge that is only recommended if weather is ideal. It’s been quite windy and cloudy the last few days, so I checked the forecast using the inReach. This year, the inReach adopted a new feature that has a very convenient weather button that sends you the forecast for the cost of one message. It said that there was a 40% chance of rain for this afternoon, so I saw that as 100% chance and got up early to hopefully hike the exposed ridge and get down before the rain hit. I didn’t need my alarm because the wind picked up around 4:30am and blew through the gorge. I tried to sleep longer and laid there for another hour before packing up by moonlight (it’s still really bright!). By the time I left at 6:30am, daylight had come and I headed out of Hugh Gorge and up Rocky Saddle. It was great gradual hiking up to the saddle with steeper switchbacks towards the top. Great views looking back on where I came from.
Once on top, I walked the first of two extended ridge lines today. It was aptly called Razorback Ridge, and was pretty grand! A panorama photo gives the best perspective, but it was tough to get one that didn’t blur due to the sun. Here is one anyway to give the full effect. It was really windy and that got the adrenaline pumping while hiking along the edge.
After dropping down off the ridge, the “trail” entered the rock and boulder filled Spencer Gorge. This is the part of the day I expected to take awhile, but I think all my off trail rock hopping on the high routes came in handy as I comfortably and swiftly got through the jumble. It had periods of a path on and off, and the latter end (for me hiking westbound) was more gravel and easier negotiate. Of course, while in these gorges, the frequent signage I’m now accustomed to was more spaced out. It gave an extra sense of adventure to not have as much signage as reassurance. I found it funny though that the signage gets more spread out when there isn’t an obvious trail to follow and it kept making me doubt myself.
I got a good stretch of nice smooth trail both to and from the Birthday Waterhole Shelter. This pretty much marked my halfway mark for the day and it was only 10am, but I was still focused on beating that rain. While at the shelter, I used one of the toilets out here for the first time and I was really impressed with the system they have out here! I don’t know if all wilderness areas have such a nice system, but I wondered why we don’t have this in the US! It was really clean, a bunch of toilet paper, cleaning materials, a handle to actually flush, and there was only a slight odor. There was a solar panel on top and something that spun in the wind as well that I wonder what their purpose are. There are solar panels above the water tanks as well and I wonder if they somehow read how much water is in the tanks or something.
I have to say that out here, everything is quite new and shiny. I’m impressed that there isn’t graffiti on anything and it’s nice to know that, at least people on this trail, don’t feel the need to put their name on something simply because they were there.
From the shelter, I went up what felt like the steepest extended climb of the trail to Brinkley Bluff, which went up 1,600ft/500m in 2.5mi/4km. I went with the shorts and took plenty of water. I was glad I did because it was a workout and I was dripping sweat. I can only imagine how tough it would be in real heat and no wind. I was so thankful for the wind to keep it cooler. I made it to the top to see yet another one of those 3G signs. Cracks me up!
The wind was blowing and clouds were moving quick, but they looked harmless. I saw darker ones in the distance that seemed that they were going to miss the ridge, so I decided to risk it and post the last two days journal entries and load my emails. There were aggressive and speedy ants crawling about and if I sat down, I lost service, so I frustratingly had to stand for the almost hour I was up there and move about so the ants didn’t crawl up my legs. I kept an eye on the clouds and when they looked more intimidating, I decided to book it down. This is where I would have ideally camped if weather had allowed it. There were tons of spots and some were well protected, but I surely wouldn’t want to camp up there in rain.
The weather here can be really intimidating. It can get strong quickly and there doesn’t seem to be a good way to gauge if and when it’s coming. The wind just picks up suddenly and all of a sudden dark ominous clouds appear. I felt ok all day since my forecast had just predicted rain and not thunderstorms, but now it was looking more like it might develop into storms all of a sudden and I didn’t like that. I hustled across the ridge line, which again, was grand! This one just kept going! I was going at a good clip when I suddenly came right up on a big lazy lizard the size of my foot. It scared the crap out of me as I stepped right next to it!
I continued to hustle as the wind blew in more clouds but all ahead of me were white with blue skies. For some reason, my gut told me to look behind me even though the wind was coming towards me. When I turned around, I saw that the whole sky behind me was dark and looming! Where did that come from!? I was really hustling to get off that ridge now and was kicking myself for staying up there as long as I did. I knew better. Dang 3G sign! It was totally worth it though:)
Just as I thought I was headed down and that I’d made it off the ridge, I turned the corner to see one more up! Fortunately, it didn’t go all the way up the ridge and it dipped at the saddle, but just as I was headed up there, it started to rain.
Thankfully, the rain was just sprinkles, but with the wind those sprinkles felt like a lot more. Still, it wasn’t enough to need a rain jacket. I finally got off the ridge and felt safe as I cruised down into a nice long valley for the next 2.5mi/4km. As I got lower, the rain seemed to be evaporating before it could hit me and I only felt a drop every once in awhile. Then the thunder and lightning started…
There wasn’t supposed to be thunder and lightning! I was safe low in the valley, but each time the lightning would strike, the thunder got more intense. I was more entertained than frightened and thought about recording it because the rumbles were so good. Then I hit another gorge and more rocks. I made it through the boulder part, and in the final 2mi/3km the steady rain came down and the rain jacket went on. So glad I brought the heavier rain jacket and definitely missed my umbrella! Of course it rains the day after I lost it. It was so warm out that the rain actually felt good and I accepted defeat and walked less rushed to Standley Chasm.
I got there at 3:45pm. Standley Chasm is a tourist spot with a cool chasm that the light hits midday. I’ll see it tomorrow. There is a nice large covered eating area, flushing toilets, a washing machine, showers, and they let people camp on the grounds. It cost $12 I think, but I had the free pass Peter gave me that he wasn’t going to get to use. THANK YOU Peter!
There were seven other hikers there and everyone was so nice. Australians are so kind, disarming, and enjoyable to interact with. The rain just kept dumping on and off, so the staff told all the hikers they could sleep on the floor of the eating area or in the “shed” which was a neighboring enclosed eating area. I sat by the fire to dry things out and decided to pitch my tent between rain spells. All hikers were hiking the opposite direction as me except one woman I had seen in the logbooks named Susan. She was in another area and tented early, but it will be nice to walk with her a bit tomorrow probably. There were four younger hikers hiking together that made damper, which is Australian bread normally baked in ashes. They were putting it in the fireplace and I tasted some without the warning that it had chili in it. Not sure if that’s usual, but check me out eating the native food!
I spent more of my time with father son duo, Emrys and Benji. They were carrying quite the variety of food and it was fun to talk gear and food with them. They even gave me something new to try for dinners that I really liked! Not sure if I’ll find it in stores, but it was organic ramen that was basically spaghetti with organic tomato paste like marinara sauce. It was great and they gave me more for tomorrow. I ditched both a Knorr side and ramen. Benji is quite the mature kid and was most excited to have his chai tea with a tea strainer, powdered milk, and even maple syrup he added. I’ve never seen a 12yr old kid indulge in tea like an adult would at the end of the day. It was quite the process. I just had to get a photo of it! His mom is a chef and it shows. They even gave me savory yeast flakes to put on my pasta tomorrow night to test out. They use it like cheese and it’s supposed to be really good for you. Check me out with savory yeast flakes! Fancy! Emrys is a barrister, which I’ve never heard of, and in front of a small group acknowledged it as a barista. Quite wrong! To be fair, his wife is a chef…A barrister is an attorney out here and up until two months ago, they were required to wear wigs in court. I can totally imagine Emrys in one of those wigs!
I got a shower for the first time in 6 days. For some reason, mine was lukewarm but it was a shower, so I was happy. It absolutely poured for a bit around dinner time and it was impressive. I setup at dark near Susan just outside the area everyone else is sleeping and it rained lightly again around 7pm. Man, it’s a lot of rain. Things should be really clear the rest of the trip. What a memorable day!