Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fiery Furnace Hike - Arches National Park

Roger here...  First a disclaimer.  I am not sure that words and pictures can convey how much fun this hike actually was.  If you ever plan to visit Arches National Park, and are reasonably fit, you have to do it.  It is a ranger-led hike that requires reservations, so plan ahead.

A couple of years ago I read Howard and Linda Payne's blog about this hike.  At that time, I knew that it was something that I wanted to do.  As soon as we arrived at Arches, I went on line to reserve a spot.  We were in the area for two weeks, so I did not foresee a problem.  I was wrong.  All the reservable spots were booked for the next three weeks.  Very disappointing.  When Dianne and I were at the National Park Visitors' Center on our second day in Moab, I decided to check to see if there were any cancellations.  I was thrilled to find out that due to the popularity of the hike, they had added additional walk-in hikes on the weekends.  Dianne was concerned about walking on ledges and opted to stay home with the dogs, but I eagerly bought a $5 ticket for yesterday's 10:00 a.m. hike.

The hiking distance was only two miles; however, the time required was three hours.  The hike would not be ending until 1:00 p.m. so I mentally prepared for a warm adventure.  Adhering to my usual compulsion for arriving on time, I arrived a half-hour early with plenty of water, my stylish shady hiking hat, and five gallons of slathered sunscreen.  Surprisingly, several hikers arrived before me.  I quickly made friends with a young couple from Golden, Colorado.  I snapped a picture of the Fiery Furnace from the viewing area while we all waited for our guide, Ranger Mike. 

The Fiery Furnace area is a series of tall fins, arches and pathways.  The entire area is a maze with endless options for walking, crawling and climbing.  It would be very easy to get lost without a guide.  We had a good one.  Ranger Mike made sure that we had the correct shoes, the right amount of water, and a positive attitude before heading into the maze.  He instructed us to always follow him in single file.  He assured us that he would demonstrate the techniques for conquering the obstacles along the way, and that he would be there to assist.  He relieved our concerns about the heat by informing us that much of the hike would be in the shade of the tall formations and by assuring us that there would be frequent stops for rest and water.  Off we went.

After scrambling down a rocky area, we walked for a while on the ever-present red sand.  (I am not sure that my hiking shoes will ever return to their original color.)  We soon found ourselves entering a narrow (not as narrow as things would be later) space between two towering fins.

Picture-taking was a little tricky.  Finding something to photograph was simple, but getting the camera out while walking in a group, and ensuring that I was not going to trip on a rock was sometimes a challenge.  Because the shots were often taken while walking, they are a little blurrier than I would like.  It is what it is.

We spent a lot of time looking straight up.  The formations were ever-present.  There were many areas where vertical columns dominated the view.

Clambering up slickrock, and a fair amount of climbing over boulders (often with footholds chiseled into the rock) was the order of the day.

Ranger Mike led us under an arch (Walkthrough Arch) and into an amazing space that was surrounded by towering walls on three sides with the arch serving as the only entrance/exit.  (Or so it appeared.)

After a quick discussion of how the arches form and the qualifications of being an arch, Ranger Mike asked us to point out the three arches in the alcove where we were standing.  Two of them were obvious.  The third was not.  A ten-year-old girl eventually pointed upward and said, "Is that it there?"  It was.   You can see it just above the ledge on the left side of the above photo.  

Guess what?  Instead of walking back under Walkthrough Arch, we all got to climb up a ledge, remove our backpacks, get on our knees, and squeeze through the miniscule arch.  What fun!  The photo to the right shows us lined up on the ledge.  The opening photo for this post shows people at both ends of the process.

After squeezing through the arch, we continued to walk along ledges (not too high) and scramble up slickrock and boulders.  All the while, sneaking upward looks at the scenery and simultaneously watching our footing.

Soon Ranger Mike congratulated us for completing the first half of the hike and informed us that the second, more difficult leg was just ahead.  We would be leaping over crevasses (not too deep), crab-walking, walking with our hands, leaning over crevasses, etc.

Here we are leaping over a crevasse.  In the photo below, we are walking along a ledge.  (Notice the downward pointing faces of people who are carefully watching their step.)

In the photo below, we carefully walked down the slickrock to chiseled footholds in the rock.  We then fell forward over a crevasse while placing our hands on the opposite side.  In order to get through the narrow slot, we walked with our hands, while seeking footholds with our feet, all the while leaning over the crevasse.  It sounds a lot more difficult than it was.  The crevasse was not very deep, but there was no place to get a foothold on the bottom as the rock faces formed a "v".  It felt great to discover that a scary-looking maneuver was really pretty simple.  Peer pressure also helped.  The photo above and to the right shows Ranger Rick demonstrating the proper technique for exiting the slide by sitting on a ledge, and putting all four appendages (feet and hands on the same side).  

We made a couple interesting stops between our acrobatic feats.  Ranger Rick told us that the circular depression on the left teems with life after a rain.  Eggs of fairy shrimp hatch in the water and go through an entire life cycle in a two-week period.  Toads also live here when there is water.  Evidently, there is usually water in this tank, but it has been dry during the long drought that is plaguing this part of the country.

We stopped under a striking double arch for some rest and a gulp of water.

We walked past the Kissing Turtles Arch.

After a few more leaps and additional hand-walking, we all sat down in a shaded area.

Ranger Mike asked us to find an arch from where we were sitting.  Look up!  Look up and see Surprise Arch.  Wow.

Before hiking out of the Fiery Furnace, while sitting under Surprise Arch, Ranger Mike took a few minutes to talk about how he became a National Park Ranger.  He told us about his passion for our National Parks and his particular love for Arches National Park.  Ranger Mike is about the age of our two daughters.  I thought about them as I listened to his story.  

You get to know people pretty well in a short period of time when you do something like this.  After goodbyes from my new friends from Colorado and another couple from Austin, TX.,  I headed back to the car for the trip back to the motor home, which turned out to be an adventure in itself --- another story.

The next post will cover a hike with the dogs and a night cruise on the Colorado River.

Dianne here:  The pet photo of the day is Charlie the cat laying on a piece of tracing paper from my Sudoku endeavors.  Laying on crinkly sacks or paper is one of his favorite things to do!

1 comment:

Pam and Wayne said...

I bet that 10 year girl was thrilled with spying that arch! Sounds like a great hike. We were in Arches almost 3 years ago now and couldn't go on the hike because it was full. I will definitely be planning ahead next time. Great description of the hike, thanks!