I’ve been so sore for the last few days that I could barely move, but that’s probably because I conquered the world last week.
Sunday Gulch Trail is one of the park’s most diverse and beautiful journeys, but I still hadn’t walked it. I had to, however, to collect GPS points for my job, so I set out on a cool and breezy day thinking the hike would be mildly difficult, but definitely doable in a couple hours.
The trail immediately corrected my thinking by revealing the railings on either side of the trail that continued down a massive hill of boulders. The railings should have clued me in, but I hopped, skipped and jumped from boulder to boulder while taking in the amazing scenery. I was traveling next to a dainty waterfall that slowly began to encroach more and more on my walking path, but I figured it would go away soon.
It didn’t. In fact, it got much worse. I soon found myself tiptoeing on the points of rocks that jutted out of the flowing creek I was now supposed to travel in. Not even halfway down the hill, I had to surrender to the fact that I was going to get wet because I encountered this:
After nearly sliding down on my rear end, I made it down the steep climb with everything soaked up to my knees.
But to be honest, the water was cool in the warm sun and it all kind of felt good – until I realized that the soles of my hiking shoes were now permanently slippery and that I had tripled my chances of slipping and falling like one of the three stooges on a banana peel.
After that, the trip was fairly easy for about a mile. The trail winds through a beautiful, lush forest with lots of tiny creek crossings and tons of towering Ponderosa Pines flanked by amazing rock formations.
But then, I came upon a legitimate river. Seriously, the little wandering creek I had been following turned into this wide, fast-flowing river where my trail was supposed to go, so I was left with no choice but to scale the rocks flanking it. They were steep and moist from all the water, but I made it around by clinging for my life. I did accidentally lose my green water bottle, and as it fell back down to the ground behind me, I wished it well and kept going because there was no way I was climbing that again. I hope whoever finds it gives it a happy home.
After skirting the river, I thought I was home-free. The trail opened up on this steep, flat piece of granite that shot into the air and was glowing with lime green algae – very beautiful and very strange.
That’s when I realized there was nowhere else for me to go; the river dropped off into a waterfall that cascaded down about 40 feet and the rocks were too flat to climb on either side. Why had nobody warned me about this? Was this trail supposed to be closed?
But then it hit me; I was going to have to jump over the waterfall. If I had done it at that moment, I don’t think I would have gotten as scared and it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but as I watched the drops rise up in the air after splashing down into the depths at the bottom of the falls, I began to panic. There was no way I was going to make this 4-foot jump and I was going to slip, fall, and end up in the water with a broken ankle.
Somehow, I made it (after perilously balancing on several small rocks and shaking like an idiot.)
Once past the waterfall, the trek was surprisingly less grandiose. The trail abruptly began to look less rocky and scenic and I followed the road back toward where I had started. I encountered a family who asked me, “How far do we have left to go?”
“Oh, quite a bit farther,” was my reply, to which they all began to squawk about how that just wasn’t possible.
I pulled out my GPS and saw that, in fact, as the crow flies, we didn’t actually have that much further to go – so, after admitting my mistake, we headed off separately.
That’s when I began to get hot and sweaty as the climb got increasingly more vertical. The trail looped around and around and around until I realized that sadly, my first reply to the family had indeed been correct.
An hour later, I came off the end of the trail and abruptly ran into Sylvan Lake. My feet were still soaked and I was hot and sweaty, so I headed off to grab a late lunch at the Sylvan Lake General Store before heading back to my blessedly cool (and still smelly) office. The bikers from the motorcycle rally were still filtering through the park at that point and a rowdy group of them actually picked one of their friends up and threw him in one of the giant troughs that contained ice water to keep the sodas cold. While the resort employees laughed and the bikers clapped each other on the back, the poor guy gasped and struggled his way out of the giant metal bucked full of ice water…and I wanted nothing more than to jump into it myself.