Ash Canyon- Kraft Loop
Distance: ~ 7 miles loop.
Elevation gain: ~ 1300 ft.
Difficulty: moderate – difficult
Time: 2-4 hours
I decided to go for a hike this Friday. Just a hike; a real, actual hike that does not involve a canyon or any near death experiences. Alright, well I compromised. Ash Canyon isn’t a canyoneering canyon, it’s a little drainage situation in Red Rock National Conservation Area that locals use as a fitness hike. People of varying degrees of hardcore do the loop 1, 2 or 3 times. I joined a meetup group headed out on Friday morning and figured I’d use the opportunity to practice hiking with a heavy bag for canyoneering. If people can make it 3 times around, I’d be OK doing it once with extra weight. This was my logic.
I loaded my bag with 4 liters of water and a couple other things to make it weigh around 10 lbs….not terribly heavy but enough to add to the challenge. I probably should’ve tried it without weight for my first time, but I’m all about being overly-ambitious lately.
The hike up Ash Canyon is pretty comparable to Camelback Mountain in Phoenix; it has the same stairmaster, lung-busting, quad-burning scrambling manuevers, but in Ash Canyon you actually feel like you’re hiking. Maybe it’s the absence of the spandex-clad yoga moms dashing up for their mid-day workout before the nanny goes home. Maybe it’s the trees and stuff. Who knows. The tough section of Ash Canyon is definitely shorter, however; probably half or an optimistic 2/3 of Camelback. For those of you who have never climbed Camelback, this is completely irrelevant. But it’s important to me because ease of Camelback is how I measure my fitness level.
AC comes with a warm-up hike to the base of the canyon, then heads up into the stairmaster section. I did not do as well as I had planned. I kept up for the first half- an admirable feat considering the ‘moderate to fast pace’ this group had adopted- but then I hit the asthma wall and started making weird sounds with my lungs. A well-intentioned gentleman kept offering to take my heavy-ish backpack, and after 4 refusals and subsequent asthma-breaks I gave in and let him take it…if only to get us up the mountain and put him out of his kind misery sooner. It did help a lot and I was able to finish the climb without any other breaks. Damn you, heavy bag and airway constricting chest strap!!
With the toughest part over, I was ready to take back my bag and at least get the added workout bonus over the downhill and cross-country scrambling. However, the kind-hearted soul refused to give me my bag back and valienty carried it in front of him like a practice pregger-belly until I forceably removed it from him a half hour later.
We headed down into the unnamed wash that constitutes part of the Kraft Loop, and came upon a little family group of bighorn sheep. They’re endangered, so it was quite the honor to see them. There was a mom, a ram and a teeny tiny baby 🙂 We turned a corner and SURPRISE!!! MORE bighorn sheep! Four of them this time.
The hardcore kids branched off pretty soon, heading up over a hill and back to the base of Ash Canyon to go for rounds 2 and 3. I headed down the wash with two other guys for the “once is enough for me, thanks” route down to the car. We took the long-cut to go all the way around Kraft Mountain because it’s supposed to be a gorgeous walk.
While we were down in the wash, we saw MORE BIGHORN SHEEP!!!! There were at least 9 in this group, including a few little ones. The ram stepped down and stood mightily on an outcropped rock, guarding his herd by trying his best to look magnificent.
When his display only encouraged us to whip out our cell phone cameras, he came closer, doing his mountain sheep thing of balancing on the sides of cliffs. Chris kept getting closer and closer, so eventually the ram gave up and retreated.
Here’s a video of that happening; my favorite part is when the ram is standing proud but looks confused, and then looks behind him and says, “They’re not intimidated…am I doing this right? Why isn’t it working?”
With the animal excitement behind us, we continued our walk down the wash. It never slotted up much but the gravelly monotany was broken by occasional sandstone formations spilling into the watercourse, providing fun, easy “canyoneering-type” challenges. Even when it was just walking in the wash, it was a gorgeous area and well worth the effort.
I told the guys at least 3 times that I’d just spent a weekend in Zion canyoneering, but they either didn’t believe me or had no idea what canyoneering was because they insisted on helping me with every little obstacle in our path. I gave up trying to convince them that I knew what I was doing after awhile and just let them talk me through everything. Guys like to feel useful.
They were really nice, don’t get me wrong. I totally appreciate them hanging out with me while I was being slow on the way up and taking my bag when I wasn’t doing so well at breathing. They were fun to hang out with and we had a good time on the hike. One of them in particular just got way too caught up in the damsel in distress signal I put forth on the climb up and had me pegged as someone who needed to be babied. I guess it makes sense. If someone is asthma-attacking their way up a moderate hike, you aren’t really going to believe that they’re a hardcore outdoorsy person. I am nothing if not contradictory 😀
There were some fun obstacles in the wash. There was a crack to stem down and when it was my turn one of the guys insisted on me putting all my weight on him and he would lower me to the ground. Confused, I tried to tell him I could just go down the way he did. In response, he tucked his arm in between my legs and wrapped it around my hip, telling me to put both arms on his shoulders and he would put me on the ground. I didn’t want to throw all 600 lbs of myself on this guy, and I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. I attempted to half put my weight on him and half stem down, which resulted in a very uncomfortable situation involving that arm he’d put in between my legs. I kind of fell onto him at the bottom of the crack and we dusted ourselves off and pretended that nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
And there was a slide that we had to…well, slide down. And The Tunnel, which I had hopes of being like…a tunnel. It was probably the least cool rock tunnel I’d ever seen, but the boys were thrilled to show it to me and “helped” me down the basic scramble. Yup, they had no idea what canyoneering was.
But I had a good time; the group was fun, the hike was tough (without almost killing me!), the scenery was beautiful. I went home, drank a gallon of water, and had a long, wonderful afternoon nap. Happy Friday 🙂