My husband, a friend and I started out to accomplish one of our local bucket list items, which was to hike to the top of Parriott Mesa. With a couple of Castle Valley residents to show us the way, we set a date and time, filled our water bottles and headed out. The thermometer registered 103 degrees when we left our house, but it was a cool 99 at the trailhead. We had tempted fate a little by pushing our start time back from 4 to 5 p.m., weighing the estimate that it would take a couple of hours to scramble up, and a couple of hours to come down. No problem.
I’ve driven past Parriott Mesa innumerable times in my life and have always marveled that people had a route to the top. The perilously sheer wingate sandstone that caps the mesa looks impassable to me, as it does on all the rock faces around here. Our guides had made the trek many times in the day and dark, so I felt we were in good hands.
And we were. The climb started out as it looks from the bottom, along the ridges that form the pleats in the big skirt that fans out from the mesa. The shaley, scaly rock on that scree was a little slippery, and I wished I’d had cleats in my Keens. As we scrambled up the slope, the afternoon breeze evaporated our sweat and left us plenty comfortable in the June heat, and soon we rounded a bend that put us on the northeast side of the monolith in the shade. The views got more impressive as we went up, as the afternoon shadows started to grow.
I know many people who have hiked Parriott Mesa, many of them average athletes at best, so I thought we had this one in the bag. But after climbing for an hour and a half and coming to a veritable ropes course of obstacles, one of our group said “enough.” A long cable attached laterally to a nearly sheer face of sandstone was the first obstacle, while farther in the distance were a couple of ropes dangling straight down a 100-foot vertical crack in the rock. “Umm, I didn’t know we had to use ropes to get up here,” I said. “You can do it!” our cheery guides responded.
So we left one of our party to sit on a shaded rock to wait, while my husband and I continued on. The horizontal cable wasn’t hard; in fact it was kind of fun. But the hanging ropes were another story. I did make it up those ropes, but it took a couple of tries to make it to the top of the crack.
I’ve had the experience growing up around these rocks to find myself at the top of something I’ve clambered up, only to feel treed, panicked, and too scared to come down. The last thing I wanted was to get to the top of the mesa and have to call search and rescue, especially as our evening hours were waning.
I went up the crack part way, then came down before I was committed to doing something I couldn’t undo. Then my husband went up. As I watched him summit the cliff, I knew I had to try to make it up there too. Which brings me to the scrape on my elbow.
I’m a clumsy, uncoordinated climber at best. As I dangled from the rope, my hands white-knuckled from grasping the knots in it as my toes sought something to grip below, I used my rear end, my stomach, my elbows and probably even my chin to ooch my way to the top. Success! Then disappointment. That wasn’t the top. Beyond that station was a Swiss cheese-dimpled rock face followed by a nearly concave spot our guides said once had a rope in it to aid climbers. “The BASE jumpers put these ropes in and sometimes they take them out,” they said.
BASE jumping. Now that’s a sport I’ll never try. It further boggles my brain that people have the skill to climb these rocks and then the guts to jump off of them.
But back to the mesa. There we were with just a few short scrambles until we could reach the top. But the light was fading. The rocks were glowing and the sun was no longer shining on the river below.
“No, I think we’d better turn around,” my husband and I concurred. Our guides added no pressure to our decision, but took a few moments of their own to summit Parriott while we started picking our way down. We still needed to descend the ropes and cross the cable, then scramble over the boulders left by wingate slides from eons ago, and hike down the slippery skirt as the dusk gathered.
I felt a little glum. All that way, but not all the way. Our hands ached and our toes were pinched by the steep descent, but it was a beautiful hike. Our sense of failure at not reaching the top was soon replaced by a plan, perhaps in the fall, to have another go at it. Maybe then we’ll start earlier in the day, on a cooler day, when there are no evening shadows or shadows of doubt in my mind to tell me to turn around short of the goal.