The Wave is one of a few places in the area that you need a pass to visit. All 20 daily tickets are given away by lottery, 10 to people around the world for which there is hundreds entered every day and you have to wait months to even enter (when I looked the nearest lottery we could even enter was in October) and 10 local lottery tickets, where there is also usually a long line of people waiting outside the Escalante National Monument info center first thing in the morning. Kanab is the closest town the The Wave so lots of tourists are staying here in part to visit it. One morning, just before we were going to leave to go on another hike at the same trail head as The Wave, the RV Park landlord came to our door and told us to run to the Escalante office quick and pick up a somehow leftover pass from the day before. We headed straight over and hoped they were still there.
I walked in smiling and hopeful and asked the guy at the counter if there were still passes left, he looked at me like I was the dumbest, most “incapable of hiking the wave” person on the planet and said “yes” in a way that only a person who wants to crush all the excitement in the room can do. His attitude was so incredibly horrible I just let Ross take over at the risk of getting mad enough at the guy as to lose the passes completely…he kept asking Ross about our hiking experience and hinting that we we might not be good enough, maybe because we don’t dress in the tourist’s hiking uniform, maybe because we look younger than we are, whatever the problem was, it was unreasonable to treat us like inexperienced hikers knowing nothing at all about us. If he was concerned about us he didn’t present the questions as such, he just sounded rude and judgmental. We have everything we need for a long hike in the hot desert, we know when to turn back and we prove physically nearly every weekend that we can do the work so I was a little more than annoyed.
The pain of dealing with the grumpiest man in Kanab was worth it though, we showed up at the trail about 10am the next day, the hike was to be about 3 miles each way and temperatures were already in the high 80s and rising. We took about 6 liters of water, a subway sandwich, my digital camera and my big heavy film camera (film photos coming later). There was a lot of climbing on the way there, the worst part just before the wave where a 150 foot hill of loose sand seems to drag you backwards. We arrived just as a couple big groups of people were leaving so aside from one guy who passed us on the way in, there was just one other woman there. The place was immediately a sensory overload of texture and color. We found a good place to sit, eat, drink and recuperate before exploring the area. I must have walked another mile just wandering above and around the wave taking photos and we hung around for about an hour before heading back, trying to beat some storm clouds back to the parking area. It rained on us a little on the walk back and although the clouds offered shade, the heat wasn’t much lower – but the advantage of not having direct sun on us made a big difference. We passed a couple pools of water on the way back from previous rains, one filled with tadpoles and eggs that were somehow surviving in the shallow water in the 100+ temps. We took our time after we realized the rain had already caught us. I looked for patterns in the sandstone, rough trees and small animals to photograph and we made it back to the parking lot just before 1pm.
It wasn’t a difficult hike but the heat is what gets people not the hike. Just a few days earlier an elderly couple had died trying to make the hike on a 100 degree day and mid July, a 27 year old woman died. It’s not about ability, it’s about preparedness and knowing when to turn back, when to stay put and when to not push yourself too hard. I’m always reminded of a marathon runner who died hiking into the Grand Canyon. Her boyfriend and her had taken only 3 liters of water on a 15 mile (one way) hike, again temps above 100. When they ran out of water, the boyfriend decided to stay put but the girl decided to try to make it back to the top of the canyon with no water. Not to say we won’t get ourselves into a bad situation one day but I think knowing how serious the heat is and not trying to prove something to ourselves or anyone else is important I think. I wondered recently if the Lottery system for the wave was a good idea or was actually making people take unnecessary risks. The younger girl and her partner had waited months for their passes and the 9 mile dirt road to the trail head takes a lot longer than people might expect, making their “early hike” a little later than planned. I doubt many people would opt to not do the hike after waiting so long for these rare passes and might make the poor decision of hiking, knowing they’ll be returning in dangerous heat. I wonder what it will take for them to reconsider the method. I appreciate that they don’t want people trampling all over the wave day and night, but there must be another way.
Here’s some pics from the day! When I get my film back I’ll post some more!