Three Strikes and You’re Out: A trip into the Black Canyon

With summer quickly coming to an end, Dan, Caleb, and I decided to go on a 3-night trip into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River before we started our Fall semester. My neighbor, Chris, also joined us on this trip. It had been a busy summer with internships and work, so we were all eager to get into the canyon and unplug for a few days.

So eager, that Caleb decided that it was a good idea to speed a few minutes after telling him, “watch out, there’s usually a speed trap up ahead going up this road”.  Blue lights = Strike 1.

After a quick stop for burritos and coffee in Gunnison, we made our way to the ranger station to pick up our permit. Getting the permit is free, but first you’ve got to go thru their safety speech. Basically, don’t get dehydrated and rescue isn’t easy if you get hurt. We loaded our packs in the parking lot as other visitors to the park watched us, wondering how’d we get down with all that gear.

Looking at the descent ahead of us
Caleb navigating down a tricky section

The hike down is no joke since there’s not really any sort of “maintained” trail going into the canyon. It’s steep, loose, and loses approximately 2500′ of elevation in two miles. But it was totally worth it.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Most spectacular place I’ve wet a line
Chris with a brown that took a Pat’s Rubber Legs

We spent the first afternoon fishing around camp and had some success, but we were all happy to be down in the canyon away from it all.

Dan in his happy place
Necessary supplies for a good fishing trip

After catching some fish (everyone except Caleb at least, sorry bud), we set up camp, made dinner, and spent the evening catching up. A few beers in, I had to go relieve myself and walked away from camp. As I walked thru the tall brush in the dark, Caleb decided it would be a good idea to jump out of the bushes to scare me. Strike 2.

Let’s pause for a second. We’re 2500’+ feet down in a canyon, night has fallen, there’s zero-cell phone service, and we are nowhere near a hospital.

Turns out river rock can be pretty slippery (duh). It seemed like slow motion, but as Caleb was jumping out he slipped. At first it didn’t seem like a big deal, but once he lifted up his pant leg we saw the damage. An old tree stump, about 1″ in diameter had sliced his leg wide open.

Thankfully, Chris, Dan, and I have some sort of medical training. We went to work on stopping the bleeding and cleaning out the wound. Needless to say, Caleb was in a good amount of pain.

Photo once the bleeding had slowed

In addition to the three of us having medical training, there also happened to be an ER doc a few campsites down. We got his opinion (as well as a few complements on our med kit) and determined that we’d be hiking out first thing in the morning. With it now being 10pm at night, Caleb’s pain level, and the strenuous hike out ahead (not to mention the few drinks we had), we decided it would be best to stay put until the morning and hike out then.

We packed up in the morning, dumped some weight (all of the untouched beers and even some whiskey), and began the long hike out. About 19 hours after Caleb had fallen, we made it to the ER in Montrose. Unfortunately, this meant that stitches or sutures were no longer an option. Wet bandages for one month it is…

X-ray to determine if there were rocks, dirt, etc in the wound.
Chunky bow for me. Nothing for Caleb.

After spending the night in Montrose, we decided to hit the river again before heading home. Still determined to catch a fish, we put waders on Caleb and drove down the Gunnison to give him another shot. Needless to say, after speeding ticket and an ER trip he was due for a fish.

Unfortunately, the fish didn’t seem very interested in anyone else but me. Caleb got skunked*. Strike 3. It was time to go home, but we’ll be back.

*Fishing slang for going fishing and catching nothing. No skunks were actually involved.

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