The Mighty Five + 1 (Apr 10-26, 2015)

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Conditions: Day hikes
Gear: day packs, cameras, and lots of water
Map: too many to list
Area: Southern Utah
Reference: Photographing the Southwest: Volume1-Southern Utah
Stats: 72.77mi, 14459x' gain (for all days combined)

April 11th: Arches NP (Park Ave, Balanced Rock, The Windows, Turret Arch, Double Arch)
April 12th: Fisher Towers, Arches NP (Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, Delicate Arch)
April 13th: Canyonlands NP (Chessler Park)
April 14th: Canyonlands NP (Mesa Arch), Arches NP (Fiery Furnace)
April 15th: Travel day to Capitol Reef NP (Scenic Drive)
April 16th: Capitol Reef NP (Cassidy Arch, Hinkman Bridge)
April 17th: Zion NP (The Watchman)
April 18th: Zion NP (The Subway)
April 19th: Zion NP (The Narrows)
April 20th: Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP
April 21st: Bryce Canyon NP (Bryce Canyon Overlook to Wall of Windows, Navaho Loop Trail to Queens Garden Loop)
April 22nd: Escalante NM (Zebra Slot, Tunnel Slot, Devils Garden) Kodachrome Basin SP
April 23rd: Capitol Reef NP (Grand Wash, Golden Throne, Cohab Canyon)

arches_np_coverArches NP (Park Avenue, Balanced Rock, The Windows, Turret Arch, Double Arch)
Apr 10-11, 2015

Park Ave, Balanced Rock, The Windows, Turret Arch, Double Arch Slideshow

I've been hankering for a road trip for a while. Last year I just wasn't in the mood to take a vacation. This year, early on, I was thinking about California. But that all changed when Gil started posting photos of Utah on a road trip he'd done. Then the Utah Mighty Five commercials started up. That was it. I put in a request for time off and started planning. By planning I only mean that I knew I wanted to visit the 5 big parks in southern Utah again. I'd been there in 2009 but that was before the knee surgery and I really couldn't get any good hikes in. This time I wanted to explore more. Then work got really busy and the bit of planning I was doing fizzled... I reached out to one friend to see if she wanted to join me but she couldn't. At close to the last minute it occurred to me...ask Tisha.... We'd done a trip to NM/CO a couple of years ago and we had a blast. I'd been wanting to do another trip with her so I thought...can't hurt to ask. Thankfully she was interested. We had roughly the same agenda for the trip... Relaxation, low stress, let the trip take us where it feels we should go, and generally a "wing it" attitude. That was all the planning amounted to.

On Friday the 10th I was up early. I'd packed the car with my stuff the night before. From my house I headed down the Issaquah to pick up Tisha. I arrived a bit later than planned but found Tisha (and Jeremy) waiting for me outside their place. We packed the car up and it was stuffed and then we were off. The goal this day was to make it to Idaho Falls, about an 11 hour drive. This turned out to be a perfect place to stop. We found a nice small cabin, unloaded a bit of gear, made dinner, and then relaxed with the first margarita of the trip :)

Up early again on Saturday the 11th the goal was to make it to Moab, UT early enough to find a decent spot to camp/sleep and then hopefully have enough time to venture into Arches NP for something easy but scenic. We arrived in Moab early afternoon, found a cabin, and then emptied the car out. Then, with camera gear in tow we headed into the park.

We stopped first at Park Avenue. It is a short through walk to the parking area on the other side, but we just did a short leg stretch in and out from the same parking area. We were both a bit weary from the long drive and just getting out and walking felt wonderful. I know when I looked up at the tall vertical walls of sandstone here I was thinking to myself that I couldn't believe it had taken me almost 6 years to return to this place. I need to get back to this area on a more regular basis.

After Park Ave we drove over to Balanced Walk. This is another short walk but there is one spot near the high point where one gets a look over to The Windows area. The sight of the sandstone arches with the snow capped mountains in the

After Park Ave we headed over to The Windows area. We did the hike up to Turret Arch, then over to The Windows, and then we followed the primitive trail that goes around the backside of The Windows making it a big loop. Back at the parking area we saw some of the first wildflowers of the trip, evening primrose. I'd never been to southern Utah in April and I was really looking forward to how the area looked in Spring versus Fall. Back at the car we walked over to Double Arch and were treated to some really nice evening light on Double Arch and Paul Bunyan's Potty. Finally, with low light, we headed back to the car and down to Moab for the evening.

Day 2 stats: 3.39mi, 401' gain (three mini hikes)
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fisher_towers_arches_np_coverFisher Towers, Arches NP (Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, Delicate Arch)
Apr 12, 2015

Fisher Towers, Arches NP Slideshow

The day couldn't have started out any better. Tisha and I headed off to the visitor center at Arches NP to try to get permits for the guided hike through the Fiery Furnace and we scored one for the next day! So now what to do with the day. Tisha suggested heading over to Fisher Towers just outside of Moab. Sounded nice to me. The hike is short but pretty interesting. Some flowers (evening primrose and sego lily) poking out. Climbers handing from ropes up on the chimneys. The day was shaping up to be a hot one...I wasn't used to this.

After Fisher Towers we headed back to Arches NP and first headed over to Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch. Very short easy hike. Sand Dune Arch is OK, Broken Arch is more interesting. Then late afternoon we headed up to Delicate Arch. We wanted to head in early to try to get a good spot for sunset. The place we crawling with people but it did seem to thin some by early evening. About an hour before sunset a couple of really rude French tourists showed up and gave us the stink eye. Apparently they wanted to set up their cameras where we were. Since the spot was occupied, they sat down a bit in front of us. One guy turned around and said "I hope we aren't in your way". I plainly responded that he was fine as long as he didn't stand up and then said if he did stand up...we were going to have a problem. So...they ended up scooting down just a bit further :) It was an awesome sunset. After all the color was gone but while we still had light, we headed down. We never did need to pull out headlamps even though just a short bit from the parking area the sun had completely set. It was pretty amazing that the place was covered with evening primrose flowers that had opened up in the evening (of course!) and the flowers seemed to glow in the dark.

Day 3 stats: 6.96mi, 1856' gain (for the day)
fisher_towers_map   delicate_arch_map
(click on maps to display larger versions)

chessler_park_coverCanyonlands NP (Chessler Park)
Apr 13, 2015

Chessler Park Slideshow

We got a late start...up a bit late because we wee tired from the day before. The car was finally pack and ready to go around noon. Bu about 1pm we were finally hiking. This is a great hike. Interesting terrain (hiking through washes, over slickrock, a bit of a scramble route to go in a back way. The views were incredible.

Lots of flowers on this trip but the real treat was the claret cup cactus Tisha found blooming. The heat was going full force today. Yikes. I wasn't quite "warmed up" to it yet and got a bit sick from the heat on the hike out. Nothing serious...just not used to the heat.

We were back to the Needles Outpost about 7:10pm. I've stayed here on a previous trip and really enjoyed that stay. This time...not so much. We arrived back at the store just a couple of minutes past 7pm, the open sign was still out. Tisha knocked to see if we could get a back of ice and the woman who was running the store let out a flurry of cursing and such foul language it was unbelievable. We left wondering if it was going to be safe to stay and as we drove away the woman actually came out of the store and nearly threw a bag of ice at our moving car. Completely unbelievable. We learned later that there were other campers that had had and issue just minutes before (two people wanting the same site) so the woman was in a bad mood already. Oh well...can't say I'd recommend this place unless there is a turnover in management.

It was getting late, we had a late dinner, watched the stars come out in the dark night sky and then...time for bed.

Day 4 stats: 9.6mi, 1810' gain (for the day)
(click on map to display larger version)

fiery_furnace_coverCanyonlands NP (Mesa Arch), Arches NP (Fiery Furnace)
Apr 14, 2015

Mesa Arch & Fiery Furnace Slideshow

Tisha and camped out at Needles Outpost. I didn't sleep all that well, maybe thinking too much about the crazed woman at the Outpost yesterday. About 7am we got up and packed up the car. We had decided to wait till we got to Moab to get breakfast. We found a nice cafe where I got a breakfast bagel and some coffee. The place had wireless so we got caught up on communications with family and friends back home. Nice. Then off to Islands in the Sky where we only had time to get our passport stamp and a photo at the park sign before heading off to Mesa Arch. It was a quick trip since we needed to head back to Arches to catch our ranger hike of Fiery Furnace. We made a beeline back to the Arches Visitor Center and then up to the Fiery Furnace TH to meet our group. The memorable part of the day was the air bidet at the Fiery Furnace outhouse trailhead. There was a strong breeze coming up from under the outhouse giving the user a refreshing breeze. The tour of the Furnace was awesome! Windy and gritty but a great trip. I'd recommend the ranger tout because he/she shows you some of the hidden gems you might easily miss if doing the trip alone. I'm not sure I'd want to do the tour without the ranger unless I was super familiar with the route. The "trail" is a maze of slots, ledges, and washes. It would be really easy to get turned around inside the Furnace. After the hike we could see a big storm was moving through so we got a cheap cabin outside Moab. Much easier that setting up tents and eating during a bad windstorm. Great day. We'll head off towards Capitol Reef in the morning.

Day 5 stats: 4.15mi, 1034' gain (for the day)
mesa_arch_map   fiery_furnace_map
(click on map to display larger version)
capitol_reef_np_coverCapitol Reef NP (Scenic Drive)
Apr 15, 2015

Capitol Reef NP Slideshow

There was no need to rush today so we slept in a bit and then, after the car was packed up, we headed off towards Capitol Reef NP. Today was to be a travel/chore day. The drive east was windy, lots of strong gusts. We arrived in Fruita about 1pm and then checked into Torrey Trading Post. I highly recommend TTP, small but very clean cabins. Very, very affordable. Our cabin wasn't quite ready so we drove off to Capitol Reef NP to drive the Scenic Drive. The views were just as I remembered, full of color and gorgeous. On the way out we stopped at Fruita and Tisha let me indulge in a strawberry rhubarb pie. OMG...awesome. The, we did the short drive back to Torrey to check into our cabin.

Afterwards, we walked across the street to do laundry and a bit of grocery shopping. I think both of us are looking forward to some good hikes inside the park tomorrow.

Day 5 stats: 0mi, 0' gain (for the day)

cassidy_arch_hinkman_bridge_coverCapitol Reef NP (Cassidy Arch, Hinkman Bridge)
Apr 16, 2015

Cassidy Arch & Hinkman Bridge Slideshow

Snow came in overnight. By early morning we had about a half inch. was cold too. Tisha and I decided we'd spend the day piecing together a bunch of small easy scenic hikes. So after breakfast (Tisha is an awesome cook) we headed to the park and tried taking a group photo at the park sign. A wind gust blew Tisha camera off the car and it got smashed in the drop :( After letting the hurt of the smashed camera fade a bit, we decided on Cassidy Arch for the first hike. Very easy but WOW…incredible! The trailhead is at the end of the Grand Wash Road and takes off uphill. Views off to Fern's Nipple (yes, a weird name) in the distance. Light snow fell occasionally but nothing to get in the way of the views. The trail heads up and up and up but nothing ever really steep. There was one guy hiking a bit ahead of us and when he rounded a sharp turn in the trail I heard him gasp "WOW" and when I got to the spot he had been standing...I understood why. In the distance we could see our first glimpse of Cassidy Arch and it was stunning! The route over to the top of the arch is easy. When we got there we walk over to the arch. It is an incredible view and for such a short hike it was so worth it. Just after we got to the arch it started snowing again and was coming down pretty hard. Peter, the guy ahead of us, was another Seattle area hiker. Seems all the hikers from WA were out in UT in mid April. Some wildflowers were starting to bloom. We stayed at the arch for a bit, took lots of photos and then headed back to the car. Peter, had hiked into the arch from Cohabitation Canyon so he took off in a different direction.

Back at the Grand Wash parking area Tisha and I talked about plans and what to do considering the weather. We fiddled around some then decided to hike out to Hickman Bridge so off we drove to that parking area and who should we bumped into but he joined us in the hike out to the bridge. The snow falling made it a great hike! We spotted some Claret Cup Cacti blooming. Today we learned bridges are formed by water and arches are formed by wind. Interesting. On the hike out we bumped into the rest of Peter's group and it turns out they were a party we bumped into on the way out of Chessler Park. Small world! Great day even with the weird spring weather.

Day 7 stats: 5.53mi, 1996' gain (for the day)
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the_watchman_coverZion NP (The Watchman)
Apr 17, 2015

The Watchman Slideshow

Today we moved from Torrey to Zion in search of better weather. Weather up at Capitol Reef seemed to be deteriorating so it seemed best to move where the weather was better. Springdale did get better but yikes….the park was a zoo. All campsites in the park were full. Most places were booked solid so we ended up booking a nice cabin type room at the Canyon Ranch Motel. Nice and clean but a bit on the expensive side. After emptying the car of all the gear, we headed into the park. The first stop was the Visitor Center to see about Subway permits. We found out a portion of the allowable spots (80 per day) we reserved for walk ups. So, we talked about it and decided we'd get permits for the next day. Score! Then a bit further into the park we headed for a hike up The Watchman trail for sunset. It was a really nice night. The big surprise was seeing the Prickly Pear cactus in bloom.

Probably one of the best questions ever asked on the trail was asked of us as we hiked down just as dusk was setting in. Two younger gents we hiking uphill with full camera gear including tripods. I was wondering where they might be headed since the sunset show was over. When they got close to us one of them asked "how dark does it get out here?”. I was confused at first thinking he was joking but no...he was serious. I mentioned something about this part of Utah being one of the dark spots in North America and said I hoped they had headlamps (the answer to the headlamp question was no). I'm not sure what was up with them...maybe a bunch of city folk from NYC thinking that the hidden lights along the side of the trail pop out when it gets dark...

Day 8 stats: 1.69mi, 810' gain (for the day)
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the_subway_coverZion NP (The Subway)
Apr 18, 2015

The Subway Slideshow

So today was the day for the Subway! It is not a super long hike but it was really challenging terrain (think hot)! We got up early since I wanted to avoid as much of the heat of the day as possible. We got to the trailhead finding ourselves the 3rd or 4th car. It was already pretty warm. I decided not to take the big camera on this trip. It's big and takes great photos but it is heavy. My small point and shoots would have to do for the day. I have no regrets about this. It has become fun again just to hike for the joy of it then to feel like I must bring the big camera along or the trip wouldn't be worth it.

The trail starts out steep, descending a gully with some loose rocks and dirt. Then finally at the bottom we met up with the "trail" which is more a route than trail. Sometimes it is in the river, sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other.

We didn't see anyone else on the hike in. It is really just a river hike until you get to the Subway. Right before reaching the "feature" there are some cool stepped waterfalls we walked right up. The water was a lot lower than expected which actually make the trip easier than expected. When we reached the entrance to The Subway we saw three other hikers.

Before heading in, we found a nice spot in the sun and ate lunch. This is an amazing place. Several pools, and very interesting light. It is very strange to be hiking a river that is nearly underground. We stopped at the pools and then continued on to the waterfall room which was really cool. A group of 5 guys was doing the trip top to bottom and they were rapping down into the waterfall room.

Lots of roaming around, time spent exploring, and taking photos. Then...reluctantly, it was time to hike out. On they way out we stayed in the river more than we had on the hike in. The grunt hike back up the gully was really hot and unpleasant. This part was not fun for me since I was struggling with the heat.

Lots of Claret Cup cactus blooming near the parking area.

Then...back to the motel for a late dinner completely exhausted.

Day 9 stats: 8.06mi, 1633' gain (for the day)
the_subway_map inreach_subway_map
(click on map to display larger version)

the_narrows_coverZion NP (The Narrows)
Apr 19, 2015

The Narrows Slideshow

Tiring day today. Tisha and I were up early and then off to pick up rental gear (dry pants, neoprene socks, booties) and then a shuttle ride to the far north end of Zion NP. After debarking, we walked the 1 mile of paved trail to the start of the river trail.  We didn't rent full dry suits, just booties and dry pants so now...time to put the gear on. Then...time to get into the water.

The water was low and surprisingly the Narrows were open. Apparently The Narrows isn't usually open until May. We took our time and hiked upstream (north)  to the end of Wall Street. Then we backtracked a bit south and headed into Orderville Canyon just a bit, maybe a 1/2 mile. Good day but very tiring. Water wasn't too high or too fast and air temps were just about right.

The plan after the hike was to head up to Mt Carmel for the night. So after dropping off our gear and getting the car packed up we headed through the park to Mt Carmel. We arrived and both got the same vibe from the place...(think Stepford Wives)...which was confirmed when the cabin had a couple of large wasps hanging out inside. We stopped by the office but I got the sense they didn't think this was a big deal. We made the call to head back to La Verkin to try to find a hotel.

Having a large room ended up being really nice because our gear reeked. The rental gear we used for The Narrows had infected us with "the funk"...OK so maybe just me. It was good to be able to get cleaned up, defunkified, and get gear dried out.

Day 10 stats: 6mi, 532' gain (for the day)
the_narrows_map narrows_map_trip_planner
(click on map to display larger version, click on trip planner to download a copy)

coral_pink_sand_dunes_sp_coverCoral Pink Sand Dunes SP
Apr 20, 2015

Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP Slideshow

Kind of an easy day today, another travel day actually. Tisha and I were making out way north from Zion and up to Bryce. It meant that in some ways...the end of our trip was closer than we wanted.

Before we left Zion we thought we would check on backcountry permits for a backpack trip in the Kolob area of the park. Trying to be nice to my knees, I wanted to try to find a campsite about 1/2 way in (so hike 10, camp, hike 10 out) but...we couldn't get the ideal campsites. The permits were already taken. I just thought a 14 mile hike either day would have just been too much on the knees and I wanted to have fun instead of feeling regret. So…with Zion being a zoo (crowded) and the high daily expenses we decided to head up to Bryce.

We made one stop though at the entrance sign to Zion. Time for a selfie. Not of me...of my neighbor's NASA pen. He'd mentioned a few weeks prior that he'd lost the pen in my car (we carpool in to work) but I looked and couldn't find it. Well...I think all the miles I was putting on the car rattled the pen out of it's hiding place. So in Zion we started a series of pen selfies with pictures sent back to Don showing where his pen was travelling to.

On the drive up to Bryce we stopped off at Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP (so-so). It was a nice leg stretcher several hours into the trip. I'm sure the place probably lights up in late afternoon and early evening but...I just wasn't too impressed with the park. It's a nice stop but I'm not sure I'd go out of my way again to stop there. We didn't stay too long and then it was time to finish the drive up to Bryce.

I decided to treat us to a cabin at Ruby's Inn. Temps tonight were expected to be around 29F so pretty chilly for tenting. A cabin would be a nice treat and much more comfortable. Tisha as usual fixed a pretty amazing dinner. Then we settled in to the cabin to journal and relax. We pondered the idea of stringing together several smaller hikes in the park tomorrow. A change in the weather was forecasted so we hoped it wouldn't get too cold.

Day 11 stats: 1mi, very little gain (for the day)
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bryce_canyon_coverBryce Canyon NP (Bryce Canyon Overlook to Wall of Windows, Navaho Loop Trail to Queens Garden Loop)
Apr 21, 2015

Kodachrome Basin SP & Bryce Canyon NP Slideshow

Tisha and I were chase out of Zion both the heat, the crowds, and the expenses. Bryce Canyon NP by comparison...was the opposite. Where we had heat in Zion we had snow in Bryce. Crowds in Zion. Near solitude in Bryce. The parks are close but oh so different.

We got up early so we could piece together lots of shorter "small" hikes. Tisha and I have continued with our flex plan to the southwest. First we started off with Bryce Viewpoint to Wall of Windows and then headed over to Sunset /Queens Garden loop. We got all we hoped for...sun, some snow, and lots of hoodoo.

After the whirlwind trip of Bryce we headed off to Escalante since the weather that direction was improving (we'd seen a few inches of snow in the area earlier in our trip) and we hope to get another try at Capitol Reef NP. Along the way we stopped at Kodachrome SP. That was OK (but not spectacular). After Kodachrome we stopped at the Escalante NM Information Station to get our Escalante passport stamp. We arrived in Escalante and checked into a cute cabin and then an awesome pizza dinner at Escalante Outfitters. Yum! Then we pondered what trips we could piece together along the Hole in the Rock Road.

Day 12 stats: 6.25mi, 1780' gain (for the day)
bryce_canyon_np_map kodachrome_basin_sp_map
(click on map to display larger version)

escalante_nm_coverEscalante NM (Zebra Slot, Tunnel Slot, Devil's Garden)
Apr 22, 2015

Escalante NM Slideshow

We were up early again. This time for a drive down Hole in the Rock Road. I was nervous about driving Gertie down that road since it was in bad shape when I was last there. It was badly washboarded. But this year it was reported to be in good shape. We hoped and found out, the reports were correct.

We had talked to Escalante Outfitters at dinner yesterday and they assured us Zebra Slot shouldn't be a problem as long as there was no rain locally. No need to gamble with hiking slot canyons when it has rained. But, the guy assured us that is was a short slot and unless it was raining locally, it should be safe. We took the advice and headed out (but remaining willing to bail if we didn't feel it was safe). We had no rain, just blue skies, so we started our hike.

We expected hot desert hiking but did not expect the gorgeous flowers show. The entire desert was covered in soft shades of wildflowers. We got to the slot opening and then hiked in as far as we could get. It isn't far...maybe a half mile. It was gorgeous! Then after exiting Zebra Slot we headed over to Tunnel Slot. It is not cairned much and it's a bit further in than we expected. But, patience, following our guy and route directions we kept going and finally found the our way to the slot. It is short but nice. Zebra Slot is definitely more photogenic.

After the hike out we headed back to Escalante and then continued on up to Torrey and Capitol Reef! We hoped the better weather for the return visit would allow for us to do more exploring in that park.

Day 13 stats: 8.65mi, 777' gain (for the day)
(click on map to display larger version)

capitol_reef_cover2Capitol Reef NP (Grand Wash, Golden Throne, Cohab Canyon)
Apr 23, 2015

Capitol Reef Slideshow

Another busy day and the trip is winding down. Today we were up early, 6am. Lots to do. We packed up the car again…and drove from the cabin in Torrey over to Capitol Reef. First up was to try to do the Grand Wash to Cohab trip one way but we just couldn't manage to hitch a ride. So instead of wasting time trying to hitchhike we decided to string a couple of shorter hikes together to fill up the day.

First, we would hike Grand Wash as an in out trip, a few miles in and then out. The highlight was spotting a yellow primrose. It was a bit eerie hiking a dry riverbed but knowing that after a rainstorm it would be a raging torrent.

The second hike was Golden Throne. We had looked at this trip as a sunset hike our first pass through the park but with the snow we had then, it just didn't pan out. I'm really glad we wedged this hike into the return trip. It ended up being a real highlight of the whole trip for me. First though we had to drive on the Capitol Wash Road to get to the trailhead. Wow…incredible they put a road in there. This hike is definitely very scenic. Gorgeous views and stunning flowers. There were many photo delays along the way.

The final hike was Cohab Canyon, a steep but short approach and then beautiful Canyon hiking. The trailhead we started from is right across the road from the store in Fruita. It's a steep set up switchbacks going uphill but then really interesting canyon hiking once we reached the "top".

After the final hike we headed back to the store in Fruita. For me it was cherry pie time :)

Now it was time to think about the drive home...We had two full days of driving ahead of us to get back to Western Washington. Today we wanted to get a far as a possible. We decided we would drive until I just couldn't drive anymore. We ended up just north of Salt Lake City at a cute and clean 1950's style motel for the night. Wow...what a find...thanks Tisha!

For the final day of the vacation, the 24th, we were up early one final time (7am). We needed to drive from just north of Salt Lake City all the way home. Today we travelled through 4 states (Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington). There were several rest breaks but about 13 hours after we left the motel in Utah, I was finally home about 8pm local time. I was tired, missing Utah, but also very glad to be home and able to sleep in my own bed tonight. I unpacked only a bit of the car, downloaded all my photos to my desktop, and converted all the RAW files to DNG files. Now…time for bed!

Day 14 stats: 10.89mi, 1830' gain (for the day)
(click on map to display larger version)

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