The Salome Jug

April 14, 2006

by Wiley Davis

Planning a route using a topographic map is an innocent and potentially dangerous affair. With a keen eye for contours, and a lust for adventure a topo map becomes more than just a jumbled collection of curvy lines and cryptic symbols, it becomes a blueprint for epic journeys. The planning of routes on a map however, has inherent dangers that are difficult to avoid. The problem has to do with scale and environment. The USGS 7 1/2 minute quads are exceptionally detailed maps, relaying the intricacies of the natural landscape with unrivaled precision. Because of this accuracy, it is easy to forget that despite the large scale, the map is still an incredibly inaccurate version when compared with the real thing, and that 1/50 of an inch can translate to missing a trail by forty feet…enough to have us searching through the brush for hours. The scale issue also increases the possibilities for small errors to become major catastrophes. Just think, every mistake you make while planning your route, is magnified 24,000 times! Environment also tempts disaster. Let's face it, we do most of our trip planning indoors, sipping coffee in our fuzzy slippers. We don't fully realize that the route we're planning will take place in the out of doors, among storms, mountains, biting insects and scratchy brush. It is entirely too easy to overestimate our potential when the present environment is so comfortable and the route environment is minimized by map scale.Had I been shivering under the flailing strips of a torn space blanket, trying in vane to pretend that the rain, the cold, and the exhaustion were all just figments of my imagination, I might not have chosen the route that I did. Back at our warm, cozy apartment however, this trail looked easy, and the space blanket remained something that I had only read about in magazine disaster stories. Because of my strange outlook on hiking however, all of that was about to change. In my opinion, hiking as an activity unto itself, is pointless. To me, hiking isn't so much an excuse to walk around outside, as it is an exercise of spatial problem solving. The more elements involved, and the more varied the challenge, the more I enjoy it. This attitude presents a problem when it comes to dealing with established trails. I don't like them, not because I consider myself too manly or too anti-establishment to utilize a trail, but because the trail eliminates the very thing about hiking that I like…the spatial problem.

Sitting in my apartment, planning the trip, this need reared its head and inspired me to find a "new" way to The Jug. Intently I studied the contour lines of the topo map, looking for a manageable alternate route. After an hour of sipping coffee, and squinting to read contour elevations I had an acceptable path mapped out. This new trail of mine also had the added benefit of variety. To get to the new "trailhead" we would have to drive six miles up a jeep trail, ascending 2000 feet in the process. I knew that this particular USGS map was last field checked in 1976, but that was the beauty. The jeep trail could be anything from a graded road, to a perilous goat path. I am not one of those people who eschews motorized transport in favor of walking. My philosophy is, drive until you can't drive anymore, then get out and walk. I view my truck as a tool in much the same way I view climbing rope and carabiners, all of it is merely a technological extension of our intellect. Intellect is what we use to solve problems…especially spatial ones. On paper at least, I had concocted a nifty challenge, on land it would turn out, I had concocted a nightmare.

The jeep trail was a cakewalk, requiring me to get out and lock the front hubs into four-wheel drive, but free from any white-knuckle moments. At the "trailhead", Erica and I cinch up our packs and begin the descent down the small drainage that will dump us into Salome Creek 1000 feet below. Time…11:43AM…

As we tromp through the brush, the drainage continues to become narrower and steeper, eventually turning into a series of beautifully carved spillways in the pink granite that forms the base of the ground beneath. It is this splendor that the map fails to convey. It has no way to relate the delicate windings that a waterway can cut through a mountain, and no way to replace the pleasure of actually standing in such remote places. The map also has no good way to reveal the entangling mire of brush and thorns that this drainage is turning into. With the spillways behind us, Erica and I now find ourselves halfway to Salome creek with one mile remaining…Time…2:30PM…

Sitting on a high ridge overlooking our route below, we eat granola bars and ignore the bleeding wounds inflicted by thorns and hiding cacti. Both of us know that we have a problem. It has taken us over two hours to go just one mile. Making it to the creek and back before nightfall is rapidly becoming an impossibility. We know this, but choose to continue anyway, saving the problem for when things get desperate.

The drainage gets steeper, and therefore faster, and we make it to Salome Creek an hour later. From here, it is a three-mile hike down the bank to the Salome Jug. When we arrive at our destination, the sun is considerably lower in the sky, and the pink crystals in the granite give off a spooky glow, making the slot canyon below us seem like a fissure that exposes the earths fiery core…Time…5:30PM…

It is here that we make a critical decision. The way back is five miles of creek bed and steep thorny slopes. Two miles south however, is a dirt road that leads back to the truck, then another ten miles to where this whole ordeal started from. We choose to take the twelve mile option rather than have to scramble up cliffs in the dark.

Darkness has enveloped us, and we have been hiking along the dirt road for three miles now. Muscle spasms send bursts of pain throughout my legs and my dreams turn to thoughts of hot tubs and sleep. We decide to stash our packs by a cattle guard and pick them up on our way back out. Erica leaves her cameras. It starts to rain…Time…8:30pm…

In the darkness we try to locate a critical turnoff. I stop occasionally to get our bearings by taking a compass reading off shadowy figures I hope are the peaks I think they are. A storm is on us now in full force, the cold isn't so bad if we keep moving…Time…10:30PM… I'm having doubts about the last left we made. Confirmation of those fears comes in the form of a dead end. Tired, worried, and cold, we decide to huddle under a mylar blanket and sleep. In the wind the blanket tears and we become wet, muddy and colder. After 30 minutes of hell we decide to press on and find the truck…Time…12:30AM…

The truck should be around the next bend. If it isn't, we will have to spend the night out here for certain. Erica is growing weaker by the minute and my resolve is hanging on the giddiness that a lack of sleep produces. We have run out of water some time ago, and sleep and liquid are all I can think about. The minutes stretch on and I wonder if we'll ever find the truck…Time…2:15AM…

In the fading glow of my flashlight I see the reflection of my taillights. The adrenaline rush of excitement cannot overcome the fatigue, but I am joyous on the inside believe me. We climb into the cab and fall asleep. …Time…2:30AM…

We drove back home the next morning. While watching the news later that evening we hear a story about a couple that was hiking on a trail just north of phoenix. They became lost and disoriented and had to spend the night in the unusually cold storm. The woman died from exposure. Maps I realize, can be friends, but never underestimate their faults.

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