George BarnettComment

Alone in the Wilderness (Abbey Country)

George BarnettComment
Alone in the Wilderness (Abbey Country)
I am convinced now that the desert has no heart, that it presents a riddle which has no answer, and that the riddle itself is an illusion created by some limitation or exaggeration of the displaced human consciousness.
— Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

It wasn't a mistake, I intended on an adventure like I've not yet experienced. Alone. The high desert of southeastern Utah offers so much beauty in the backcountry, but in the summer months the landscape is considered deadly. The July heat that consummates the completely dehydrated washes and mesas cause backpacking extremely difficult. I had all this in mind, along with the thought that I'd not be elbowing anyone over the sandstone saddles and ridges like mid Autumn weather would bring. I knew it was risky, hard work this time of year. But I had to try and see what adventure the Canyon country would offer me. Over the past two years I've completely fallen in love with the desert landscape and have began reading all of Edward Abbey's literature. I felt it was important to become more educated and physically involved within it's ground, it's slot canyons and ridges. I also knew that in order for me to be fully introduced and immersed into this rough terrain, that I had to go alone and get an ass kicking or two while hiking through it. (Just a hard headed wilderness freak that's too passionate for his own good).

Such a man would rather lie drunk in the gutters of Gallup, New Mexico, a disgrace to his tribe and his race, than button on a clean white shirt and spend the best part of his life inside an air-conditioned office building with windows that cannot be opened.
— Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

I spent the majority of my time backpacking through the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. July 17th came, the date of my birth 25 years ago, I Parked at the Squaw Flat trailhead and quickly got my Osprey packed up, this is when I officially realized how fucking insane this all was. How dry the air was, the heat, the sun. I literally left behind half of the gear in my pack to make more space for water. Who needs a stove/fuel when the water on your back becomes hot enough to brew coffee in an hours time in the sun? I was able fit four gallons of water into my pack, along with a small amount of food (almonds, spicy Verde peanuts and raisins), my tent and rainfly (It was monsoon season after all) and a reliable map. Typically back home, I can get away with a 40 pound pack for two-three days in the backcountry (purifying water in the many streams found in eastern Kentucky). Here in Canyon country, I was my own water mule, carrying a 69 pound pack into the silent desert. I was ecstatic with curiosity and deep appreciation for my current surroundings. Once I strapped my pack onto my back, I headed into Lost Canyon with squinted eyes and a heart filled with love.

The trails in Canyonlands NP are largely made up from cairns (a human-made pile/stack of stones), they pick up through sandstone saddles over rims and ridges. It's a lot of eye scanning over the dark red ground for the next pile, sometimes in questionable locations. But ultimately very trustworthy, at least where I was backpacking in the Canyonlands. The backcountry was unbelievably dry, every wash and shadowed crack was arid as could be. The junipers were giving off a brilliant scent throughout the days when I'd be graced by some portions of shade. I never left one area of shade unvisited, I took my time out there. I recognized each blistering back breaking moment, relished in them all and pushed back the memories of modern life as I've known/lived it. One of the most intriguing things about backpacking to me is how quickly your life can become as simple as it always should be. It's like a light switch, a flash, a blink. Simplicity pours over me as I begin to count and pack the things I, as a human being will need to sustain life for however many number of days I'll be in the wild. That idea is refreshing, reassuring and constantly on my mind back at home in the city.

In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe. Probably not.
— Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

After a night sleep in Lost Canyon (including a late night show of the Milky Way) I decided to head out early the next morning after "trying" to eat some mini bagels. The heat kept my appetite very far away. I made it to my next campsite (Chesler Park) around noon and immediately setup my tent, it was time to rest while the mid day sun ran its course. I remember waking up after an hour long nap inside the tent, my mouth covered in this resin like film, I shot up from my resting position and grabbed one of the gallon water jugs and put it to my mouth to drink, the burn was painful, but not as painful as the split down the middle of my bottom lip. After a beautiful evening hike to Druid Arch, I made the decision to get the hell out of dodge when morning came. It was time for me to get back to the mountains, the water, the wildflower filled meadows, the granite peaks. The desert knows my face well enough for now, as I know its touch and sounds. I learned some new internal material of my inner self out there in the Canyon country. Just as I had during my last visit in 2015. I'll be back to Abbey's country as frequently as possible, probably for the remainder of my lifetime. Just as I'll continue (re)reading his visionary work. I sure did feel his energy in the canyons surrounding me, especially during my afternoon wandering around Arches NP before heading back east to Colorado. The La Sal Mountains staring back at me during each hike, the pool of beauty was deep, and I was drowning in it.

I never truly knew the western sun, until today

The trails are made up of dense, hot, scorched sand

The lizards part from the sage brush like water

zigzagging and covering the rattlesnake tracks.

How does life exist here? A burnt landscape,

A desert, A wasteland, A paradise unlike any other.

If only I could exist here.

 

-GB

 

All images are shot on Fuji PRO 400H film

George Barnett, a Kentucky native that spends the better part of his days in the remote wilderness backpacking & roaming to find the next mountainside of inspiration. He & his son Levi Barnett have a untouchable relationship that only the tree's & lakes can comprehend. George searches for truth in conservation, the purpose of nature & it's inhabitants.