Death Valley: Rivers and Roads Till I Meet You (Part 2)

April 26, 2016

Click HERE for part one.

The rain had stopped by the time we started to wake up the next morning. Trying to beat the sun we rolled out of the tent into the hazy darkness of early dawn. The nights sleep had been a mixture of cozy and peaceful cuddling, rain softly hitting the top of the tent, and low muffled snarls of  coyotes rummaging through nearby trashbags. Working in the softening darkness we silently packed up the tent, had some cliff bars for breakfast, and readied ourselves for the day.

Fighting to beat the light slowly creeping over the nearby mountain range, we drove through the sleeping desert till we reached Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  I had never been to any sort of sand dunes before so I had some expectations for what sand dunes would be like and these didn’t disappoint.  Trodding across the soft sand painted in ripples by the rain and the wind, we made our way towards the largest dune until the sun, now peaking over the horizon stopped us in our tracks. We sank down onto the cold desert sand and watched as the valley lit up in a fantastic show of color. The shadows of the mountains and the dunes shrinking before our eyes. After sitting for a while in this new morning glow, we asked a lady who happened to be walking by struggling to get her 3-year-old, who was so fascinatedly distracted by the sand beneath her little feet to walk for any extended period of time, if she would take a quick photo of us.
IMG_2157IMG_2172IMG_2153IMG_2152IMG_2154 From there we meandered back to the car where  a photoshoot of some sort taking place. We made some sandwiches and continued on our adventure arriving around 8 at the Darwin Falls trail head. Now the hike to the lower falls is rather short, and the view that most people see is pretty lackluster. It is just a small waterfall with too many people crowded around taking selfies. For us, however, that would not do.  Having had a friend who had rappelled the entire falls the weekend before,  Phillip had suggested the day before we left that we go and check it out.

At this point, I had only ever rappelled once a year before on a trip to Holcomb Valley which had been an experience in and of itself.  The trip to Holcomb had been my first outdoor climbing experience. A few weeks prior to going I had a former college professor invite me to the climbing gym with an offer to teach me how to climb. I had instantly fallen in love with climbing and the day before I left to move to Ireland he had invited me out with a group to do some climbing in Pinnacles.  The day had gone well enough, the weather was great and we had gotten in a lot of climbing. Finally ready to head out it was decided that we would top out on a climb and rappel off the other side cutting our walk in half.  While building the anchor to rappel the weather had taken a turn for the worst, and we now stood on top of a tall slap totally exposed as the lighting and rain began. We were all able to rappel down safely, but I had had no idea what I was doing so adding in the weather and the slippery rocks it was definitely a thrilling experience. That being my only experiecne I was willing but nervous to try it once more. IMG_2204

The hike to the top of the falls consisted of following a service trail up for half a mile before finding the right runoff and hiking straight up the exposed mountainside. After reaching the top an oasis of trees in a valley below become visible, and we followed a small trail down.  Reaching the heavy tree line we bushwacked our way till we found where the stream widened and we were able to put on our wetsuits and wade through the cold mountain water, shoes filling with mud and muck and trying to suck us down.  After a few scrambles, we found ourselves at the edge of the waterfall. After giving me a quick tutorial of how to rappel, Phillip was over the edge leaving me standing on the shaded ledge, shivering from the cold water that had crept into my wetsuit, alone.

“Fuck me” I thought as I stood there waiting for him to yell ‘off rappel’ singalling for me to go.  Why couldn’t I just have normal first dates like most girls. I always seem to get myself into the craziest situations. A few years back I had been on a first date that ended in my jumping out of an airplane. Unbnounced to me, my date had arranged for us to go skydiving, pretty much solidifying me actually going through with it.  It was by far the best experence of my life, plummiting towards earth, helpless and completely alive in that moment.  Okay, I take back what I said, I never want to go on a ‘normal’ first date ever. I love this shit. DCIM100GOPROG0223950.


“OFF RAPPEL!”, Phillip’s voice came bouncing around the canyon walls.  Here it was, now or never. Using my cold hands I slipped the rope loops into my belay device, tightened myself up, putting tension on the anchor, and I stepped out to the ledge, leaning back, holding myself in suspense, one step from going over. There was no way I was backing down, as scared as I was, especially now that a small crowd had formed on a ridge across the way to watch the crazies go down the waterfall. “Fuck here goes nothing” as I stepped off the ledge, sitting back in my harness and letting my cold hand feed the rope through the device.

Going over the edge is what terrifies me. It’s only that one moment because it is so counter-intuitive. For me, going over the edge literally and metaphorically is how we know we are alive. Its when our bodies and minds rush because we are placing ourselves at the edge of our comfort zones, pushing ourselves into unknown spaces. Once over we gain a whole new perceptive of what is around us and how we exist in that space.

Dropping into that space was awe-inspiring, as the deep canyon walls formed by the sheer power of water alone over hundreds of thousands of years closed around me, the light spray of water hitting me, its powerful melody filling my ears, pushing through the fear had been worth it. My icy hands lowered me further and further till finally a was plopped into the water. Unhooking myself from the rope I swam across the cold green pool till I reached Phillip, who greeted me with a hug and told me to sit in the sun while he finished getting the rope down. As I sat, warming myself like a lizard on the hot stones, I watched him pulling down the heavy rope and thought, “yes, this is definitely someone I want in my life.”


More about Erica

Californian living in the UK. Erica is currently pursuing her PhD in Historical Geography at the University of Sussex. She is a writer and a researcher, a dirtbag and an explorer. Heart of the Nomad is her creative space to contemplate the complexities of life and share pictures and videos from adventures.

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