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Colorado Plateau

In the Beginning
Early March 2000

Colorado Plateau title

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Here we go again. We're heading out on a four-month long backpacking adventure across some of the most rugged and desolate desert terrain on earth. If past experience can offer a glimpse at what's to come, we can expect to go days on end without seeing another person, we'll experience temperatures well below freezing, snowstorms, driving rain, and howling winds.

Then again, we'll probably also experience temperatures above 100 degrees (F), dust storms, and long, dry periods of carefully searching for water. We expect to deal with snakes and mountain lions, hungry insects and rodents, even unfriendly local folk.

Colorado Plateau Trail
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"We" are Joe "Mitch" Mitchell and Mike Coronella, and we're just a couple of desert lovers who live in Utah. This time we'll be covering approximately 660 miles on a wilderness adventure that should last for 117 days.

Where is this wonderful place that we will be trekking through? Some wild, exotic location that only the rich and experienced traveler can ever expect to visit? Hardly! We won't even be leaving the USA. The region that we will be exploring on this long walk is the Colorado Plateau, a vast, extremely rugged landscape containing deep canyons, alpine mountains, and an infinite variety of terrain between the peaks and canyon floors.

Why would we subject ourselves to such extremes? We want to gain a more intimate knowledge of these threatened lands, to experience the desert as only can be done by walking through the land, by eating and sleeping on the ground, by living there, surrounded by nothing but the splendor of the often moody Mother Nature. We also want to showcase these natural wonders to the rest of the world, and to persuade people to protect this fragile region from damaging human development.*

"From the first day of spring, 1998, to the first day of summer, we linked Utah's five national parks..."

Our story begins around Memorial Day, 1997, with Mitch's seemingly crazy idea of an epic backpacking trek: let's hike from Arches to Zion. Wow. I was certainly ready to “disappear” into the desert, thanks to a marriage that just had ended in the toilet, but, uh, can it be done? can we do it? We had experience backpacking together in southern Utah, but never anything nearing this scale. This was going to take weeks, and where were we going to get time like that? How could we afford this, with all of the needed gear?

Almost a year of planning later, after learning much about the world of sponsors, going in deep on the credit cards, and support from Mitch's generous girlfriend Rachel, we pulled off a first of its kind trek: From the first day of spring, 1998, to the first day of summer, we linked Utah's five national parks together on a continuous backcountry-hiking route.

Our route took us from Arches NP, through the Needles District of Canyonlands NP, into Dark Canyon, and on to Hite Crossing. During the trip we were snowed on 23 consecutive days, discovered a natural bridge (really!), went 10 entire days without seeing another person, saw desert bighorn sheep, hundreds of deer, recent signs of cougar feasts and ancient signs of man. We traveled up the Dirty Devil River before heading west to the Henry Mountains, where we took advantage of an unusually late snowpack by skiing and boarding for a few days.

Capitol Reef NP and the Waterpocket Fold quickly got us back into our pace, then we continued to the Escalante River, which we fought with for about 30 miles, before heading west, up onto the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the heart of the Grand Staircase/ Escalante NM. There we found ourselves in the west's largest roadless area, sick as a couple of dogs, something in the water, maybe. We survived days of vomiting and diarrhea, and headed to Bryce NP, another of our pre-appointed re-supply sites, where Glenn Purpura and his Jeep full of food and beer, found us once again. A leisurely stroll through pine-covered plateaus brought us to our final destination — Zion NP. After many adventures, we finished on our 94th day out, covering 516 miles.

But we missed so much, so...we're back on another hike.

Mike Coronella, MountainZone.com Correspondent

*To help protect the Utah wilderness, contact the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance at 1471 S. 1100 E., Salt Lake City, UT 84105 or call (801) 486-3161.

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