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Introducing the Eight of O-Eight
Introduction and Planning
Eight is a big number.

Big for a group of hikers out for a week or so of traipsing about in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau.

Since I started organizing these desert outings more than ten years ago, I've always counted on the normal give and take of peoples' schedules to keep the numbers reasonable. This year, though, was a bit of a perfect storm, with most people I invited expressing strong interest. At one point, we had a potential eleven folks interested! Yikes!

Fortunately, circumstances dropped this number to a more reasonable eight, but even that was bigger than any group I'd taken on any major trip.

After matching up peoples' skill levels, experience levels, where they'd been and what they wanted to see, it became clear that we weren't going to have a "hard-core" year. We had three brand-new people this year, and on top of that a large group size almost always makes harder outings even more difficult (mostly due to time issues). I hammered out an itinerary that focused on new areas, and involved pretty much nothing other than straight hiking. And with an appropriate number and size of rental vehicles, anything which went outside these parameters could be made optional to those who were not interested.

Let me introduce the group to you now, so you can start to feel comfortable with them:
First, the experienced ones:
  • yours truly (Andrew)
  • the ever-capable Jennifer
  • the ever-cheery Pu
  • the ever-easygoing Brian
  • the ever-blistery Shannon
And the new people this year?
  • Phuong (a former co-worker of mine)
  • Scott (Phuong's husband)
  • Bob (Pu's friend)
Pre-trip Dinner
Going through the Gear List
Awaiting our flight
We slotted this year's outing into early mid-March. A bit early, and likely to be cool and perhaps a bit moist, but with Jenn attending university, I was constrained by her March break.

As far as an itinerary went, I always like to hit something new every year. I came up with this rough itinerary, combining some totally new areas with some new exploration in some previously visited regions:
  • Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park
  • A 2-day backpack in Buckskin Gulch - often referred to as "the longest slot canyon in the world"
  • 3 or 4 days in the Escalante region, including a 3-day backpack in the Scorpion Gulch area.
  • A visit to Capitol Reef National park that didn't involve just camping or driving through (which we always seem to end up doing)
  • A possible visit to either the San Rafael reef area; or Horseshoe canyon in Canyonlands NP; or some tight slots in an area south of Hanksville known as "north wash"
Gettin' There
Thursday, March 6 and Friday, March 7
courtesy SRector
Shannon in front of luggage mountain
We arrived in Las Vegas late Thursday, March 6, and immediately proceeded to get our rental vehicles - three jeep cherokees, or so I thought - until we got to the Advantage car rental desk and were told that none of their Jeeps were available for rent. What was the point in booking them over a month in advance, then, I thought?

After a bit of talking with "the manager", we managed to get offered a couple of full-size Chevy Suburbans instead, at the same price. Phuong and Scott rented a smaller third SUV, and we were on our way.
The next morning we had the typical Vegas breakfast buffet (at the MGM grand this time). We discovered that our Suburbans are huge 8-passenger beasts with tons of cargo space, so we decided we could make do with two vehicles instead of three, and we spent some time returning our third SUV. We'd get by on just these two.
First-time desert view
Fresh-faced and Ready
A breakfast tradition
Off we went into the wild desert blue yonder, heading north on Interstate 15 out of Vegas bound for Utah. Bob, Phuong and Scott were suitably impressed with their first views of the Mohave desert scenery. It was a glorious warm day (for this time of year, anyway), and it was t-shirt conditions when we stopped for groceries in Mesquite, NV, just before the state line. We continued on to St. George, where we stopped and got some camp fuel.
courtesy PTruong
Into the Desert
Grocery Stop
Virgin River Gorge
Shannon at the controls
Motoring beneath the Vermillion Cliffs
Our first major outing was going to be Buckskin Gulch - a two day backpack in the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs wilderness area. We'd had a late start, and it was clear I wasn't going to make it to the BLM field office to pick up my permit before it closed, so I called ahead for them to leave it on the back of the information board outside.

Almost every single time we drive up this way, we go through Zion. Not today, though. We drove instead east and south on highway 59, passing back into Arizona and driving beneath beautiful orange cliffs and across the flats of the Arizona strip. We arrived in Kanab around sunset, picked up our backpacking permit, then drove on and around to Coral Pink Sand dunes state park. I had hoped that we'd get here early enough to enjoy a little walking out on the dunes (I'd never been here before, and was curious to see what it was like), but we had started too late and had taken too long to get here for that. We set up camp at the quaint but overly-generator-noisy campground, prepped our gear for the backpack, and went to bed.
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