Vermilion Cliffs Sand Hills Loop, Bad As You Wanna Be

The land on this “hike” is under the jurisdiction of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Do not deface or collect here. I see that “Tom” was in the Eastern Sand Hills Crack on New Years Day, 1932. He left his mark. It was not a National Park then. LEAVE NO TRACE. At the beginning I left “hike” in parentheses. Michael Kelsey calls this area a hiking area. It is a freelancing route-finding scramble from start to finish here. It is sick, brutal, gnarly, nasty (and rewarding). I love it. You can do it? You’ll know before long.

Okee Dokee, Michael Kelsey is the only one that writes about this hike so go ahead and buy his book so that you know what mile marker on Hwy. 89A on the Arizona Strip to turn off at. Now throw the book in the trunk and read this.

Kelsey is almost 70 and apparently still walks at a seven mile per hour pace on vertical inclines. Congrats Michael, I see that you are just as dangerous as ever. I bought your new 5th. Edition of “Hiking and Exploring the Paria River” and the pictures are in color! But you are still dangerous. While the kids won’t need inner tubes on this one they will need a respirator. So not only is this hike bad as you want to be but M. K. is also as lousy as you want to be. Again, the good thing about this guy is that he goes where no one else goes (and sometimes can get you to the trail-but not on this hike).

Oh, I want to say that I am almost 60 years old and this is the second time that I have done the Eastern to Northern Cracks Loop. I am in extremely excellent condition. It takes me twice as long to do stuff as Kelsey.

Most 30 year olds can not keep up with me.

The hike: 6 hours, and we walked almost non stop-ten minutes for lunch. The route # that you turn north onto off of 89A is #1396. The parking at Jacob’s Pool is 2 miles north on this sand road. The Jeep made it to within 1/8 mile of Jacob’s where the last ravine was washed out. Get out of your car! Look due north at the Vermilion Cliffs. No, not northwest at a wide sand slide. There is a narrower sand slide due north. That’s right, it is not climbable. That’s slang for “you cannot climb”. Now, just east of this thin sand slide is a sand HILL. It is climbable. You are aiming for the extreme east side of this sand hill. You will not be able to orient again until you are on it. We are going to do the loop counterclockwise. You will see why. It is brutality but easiest. Michael is full of blah blah but never mind Rachel Lee’s old stone house. There are about 50 old ruins and they don’t have placards on them. So from Jacob’s hike the old road east along the fence. He is correct about it being washed out as it turns north. You are looking for the main spring as he says. Cattails! That’s what you are looking for! There’s only one place with lots of cattails! Now he talks about an “emerging hikers trail”. What in the world does that mean? Emerging from your chest like the “Alien”? I had an album once called “Emerge the Litter”. Does it have anything to do with the group “The Litter”? No it isn’t cairned like he says. About 6 people a year do this hike and they are all “hard core”. Likely none of the 6 will be emerging here exactly when you are here. We don’ need no stinkin’ badges. From the cattails head due northeast. The hike is brutal here and doesn’t get easier. Go home if you already cannot hack the sand and ball bearings. Start early in the A.M. and you can tell northeast by the sun. Eventually, about an hour from where you parked (at Jacob’s) you will reach the sand hill. Remember that you want the extreme eastern side of it. There is an intermittent trail here and there on the sand hill and maybe one cairn somewhere. At 1 1/4 hours the trail that you should be on crosses a wash at a huge black boulder on the right. Now in a few minutes the trail disappears. Look, this is a freelance hard-core expedition. The proper way may be up the wash “stair steps”, but we opted for going up as we were going to have to go up.

If you want to follow me take the alluvial fan looking clay straight up to the left. Want to go home now? The “Eastern Crack” is now obvious to your northeast and also bearing that way. Straight up for me. You are on the right track if you see the lizard petroglyph climbing up the wall on your left. This was at 1 hours 50 minutes. Michael counts 6-7 petroglyph panels. There are more than that. The second panel (also on left 2 hours) is 6 nice Bighorns. At 2 1/4 hours you will see what looks like a dam (there is also a slew of dead Juniper trees) as you continue straight up. You can do this. I am 60. This dam looking thing is what Kelsey calls a “constructed cattle trail”. Climb the wall and bear left on the trail for about 5 feet where it ends. Now straight up again to the top (many more great pets.). 2 1/2 hours to the top. Of course Kelsey goes up and back to his car that fast. What B.S. for most mortals! Anyway, leave a huge cairn at the rim when emerging (there’s that word again) from the crack, in case you get lost and must come back to descend.

What’s next? Bear westward along the rim. What’s referred to as easy and flat rim walking in “Hiking and Exploring the Paria River” is anything but. I’m no Jack Kennedy but I’m pretty sure I know easy rim walking. This rim walk is through loose sand, over and under rock formations, through obscure routes, blah blah. Anyway, reach an unused two-track (Bingo, M. K. is right on this landmark) in 1 to 1 1/2 hours from Eastern Crack. It took us 1 1/4 with our 10 minute lunch. At the two-track look over the edge to the west. That’s where you are going to descend. Let me explain something. The walking would have been easier about 1/4 mile inland from the rim but we wanted to stay oriented to our Jeep and Jacob’s because we have learned DON’T TRUST MICHAEL KELSEY. If you have not reached the two-track in 1 1/2 hours go back to your huge cairn and descend Eastern Crack.

Follow the track away from the rim (north) for 5 or 10 minutes. When it bears directly north away from the rim you bear directly south. It is a little disorienting as the chute downward is reached. The standard three-legged trapezoidal petroglyph tells you that you are in the right place. Now begrudgingly I will give THE AUTHOR credit. He does mark the Northern Crack rock art correctly which will keep you from thinking that you are lost. The way down the Northern Crack took us 1 1/2 hours!!! You will get pour-off “cliffed” 3 or 4 times but you will get around these. The Ancient Ones did, I did, and you will. The safety each time is to the left. You will make it because you aren’t wanting to go back up the Northern Crack I’m thinking. I never said “nasty” so often as when I descended this chute but you will still understand that counterclockwise was the right choice for this hike. Loose, dangerous and demanding. Do not lose concentration here, tired or not. Focus on the job.

Finally we land at the bottom. Each hiker had a gallon of water when starting. It should be gone. Now occurs the first break in the entire hike after 5 1/2 hours. Walk south in the relaxing flat wash. When reaching a fence line exit the wash left. Go through a hole in the fence and walk cross-country to your vehicle. 1/2 hour after reaching the wash at the bottom of Northern Crack you are drinking ice water at your vehicle.

M. K. did this loop in less than 4 hours. Gimme a break. I’ve been a hiking fanatic for 20 years. Guy’s insane…and writing hiking books. Maybe I’m amazed the way he knocks me off my feet. I’ll flip a coin. Nope, he’s insane.

Oh, do not ever attempt a hike that Kelsey says took him 7 hours. You’ve been warned. DON’T BLAME HIM, HE’S JUST “THEE AUUTHORR”.

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