Category Archives: Backpacking

Grand Canyon – Tonto Trail (Grandview to South Kaibab) 11/27-12/1/08

We initially planned to do the Boucher Trail, but with the amount of precip we didn’t want to be on such a rugged trail, and fortunately due to the weather there were a few cancellations so we were able to get permits for the Tonto East area over 3 nights.

We got to the Grand Canyon on Thanksgiving, and it was snowing, and incredibly cold. The clouds were playing with the tourists, giving only brief glimpses of the canyon to everyone. The cloud level was about a 1/3 of the way down the canyon walls. We got to the Grandview Trailhead using a Xanterra taxi. What a rip! To get from the South Kaibab Trail Parking to the Grandview Trailhead, it cost us $43.

Fortunately even though there was 4 inches on the ground on the rim, the trail was relatively uncovered, unfortunately, our visibility was about 50 ft. It was kind of cool though, even though we didn’t have any views for a while. It felt like some chinese based movie where they’re on a trail in the mountains, and it’s really foggy. It wasn’t until we reached a saddle that we had any view of the canyon, but it was short lived. Once we dropped further down the clouds became fleeting and finally we were completely below the cloud level.

After another few hours of hiking we made it to Cottonwood Creek. There were a few campsites after heading down canyon a ways, and we camped at one of the first, with some shelter from trees, right where the flowing creek came in. As you continue down towards where the Tonto heads East below Horseshoe Mesa there are a few larger, flatter campsites on the rock shelves above the creekbed.

After that, things were again very characteristic of the Tonto Trail. Never climbing much, or dropping much, but extensive routes to the tops of drainages, and back to the river, all at the same elevation. Grapevine is supposed to be one of the worst drainages to navigate around. At the beginning, the other side is very close, but to get there you have to go 3 miles up and 3 miles back, but this is the Tonto – flat miles that go by quickly. We camped before Boulder Creek, just around the corner from Grapevine, and had basically the same vista to hike to as we did the morning before.

Lonetree was my primary water source. It’s only been a week, but I can’t remember if I filled up anywhere else. The potholes in Lonetree were still in the morning shadows, and it was a huge coldsink, and was freezing!

Our next night was Cremation Creek, right before the area boundary line. Cremation was a challenge to get through after a few days of easy walking. Instead of maintaining a constant elevation here, you drop in and out of a series of canyons. Close to the top of the last canyon is a campsite with rock benches, a huge overhanging rock for shade, and a large flat spot to camp on.

From there the fun ends. It’s a nice climb up to the Tipoff on the South Kaibab and then the challenging climb up the South Kaibab. Foolishly I didn’t eat my granola for breakfast, and my energy stores tanked halfway up. I didn’t want to take myself on a blood sugar roller coaster ride by eating enough of something to get me the rest of the way out, so I put up with a shuffling pace, waiting for energy from fat stores to be freed up and muscle broken down for energy. It took a little longer to get out, but I did it. The total trip was just over 28 miles.

For Tonto Trail planning check out the All Hikers Website.

Photos from this trip

Death Hollow (Boulder Mail Trail to Death Hollow, then Escalante to the Hwy 12 Bridge)

Finally, the trip to do a stretch of Death Hollow came. We stopped at the Hells Backbone Cafe in Boulder for a few minutes. Just long enough to sit down, look at the menu, order water, and realize that was about all we’d ever be willing to pay for there. So we had burgers for dinner, and headed to the trailhead to camp. On the way we drove across the Old Boulder Airport dirt strip, and found a plane there! That was cool. I didn’t think anybody used it anymore. 

The next morning the owners of the plane came to fly it off, and we headed out. Sand Hollow came and went pretty quick this time around. I thought we had gone down Sand Hollow too far before the trail exited, based on the trail outline on the map, so we headed up one of the drainages that the trail would cross and started climbing out the West side of it only to hit the trail from the wrong side, meaning we didn’t go nearly far enough. Oh well. At least we got that out of the way.

We hit Death Hollow within 3.5 hours. We dropped our bags, had lunch, and decided to head upstream a bit to find Squirting Spring. The actual source is sourrounded by soil, so there’s a narrow opening to get water from the actual source. The water from there travels down a flat surface where it’s difficult to collect. The water has iron oxidizing bacteria which causes the rust colored surface on the rock. Pretty sweet. From there we went for a swim in one of the pools and headed back down to where our packs were. The initial plan was to sleep in the campsite where the Boulder Mail Trail hits Death Hollow but we both wanted to move on.

The vegetation was pretty deep, and the quicksand was plentiful. There was flooding all through here a week before from heavy rains and that deposited a lot of new sand where there was solid rock in the creek before. The poison ivy was very heavy in some areas. Dragonflys were flying around all over the place, and there were no mosquitoes or biting flies. It was nice….except for the poison ivy. With the temperatures being on the warmer side, however, staying in the water to avoid the ivy was most welcome.

After we passed the point where I had never been before (where the Boulder Mail Trail climbs out of Death Hollow) things started to really open up – like a massive valley inside what was otherwise a fairly narrow canyon. We went cross country through the desert like areas to shave off some distance through the creek. Eventually, after 3-4 hours, we made it to the canyon where Mamie Creek comes into Death Hollow. There was actually a small flow of water. We camped just downstream of there on a new sand bar that was perfectly flat in an area which otherwise would have no good places to camp. I set the hammock up with a crack in a boulder, and a small rock, and a tree. Hammocks are the best when backpacking!

The next day, we went just a bit further downstream before we hit the only narrows section of the canyon South of the Boulder Mail Trail. Had it not been for the sand deposits making the unavoidable pools only waist deep, we would’ve had to swim them. I wouldn’t have minded that, but keeping things dry for sure, instead of hoping they’d stay dry in the dry bags was better in my mind than having a quick swim. Not long after we were through the narrows, it seemed like we were really close to the Escalante based on the cliff patterns I remembered. Less than 2 hours after we left camp we were walking through the Escalante.

Death Hollow provided 90% of the water flowing in the Escalante. For some reason the Escalante was a trickle and Death Hollow had a good flow. We made our way downstream to the huge bend in the river where the cliffs overhang the entire river, and half of the beach and stayed there for a bit, seeing if we wanted to keep going, or stop there. We decided to stay.

Getting up in the middle of the night was a bit eery. I kept looking up and up and up for the sky and not seeing it, only weird shadow patterns instead. Finally I tilted my head back far enough to see the sky. That canyon wall is just massive.

The next day we explored the entrance to Sand Hollow. The quicksand was fast and deep at the first bend, so we didn’t venture across the stagnant pool of water, but it looks like it would be a good springtime trip, before the brush gets too thick, and the mosquitoes come out.

We waited 15 minutes for someone to pick us up at the trailhead and give us a ride back to the trailhead. Which wasn’t bad considering the small amount of traffic on Highway 12.

View photos from this trip

Canyonlands – Needles

I’ve been wanting to do a trip in Needles for a long time. It’s got a reputation of having phenomenally spectacular scenery. It’s only fitting that I forget my camera on this trip, and only realize it when I have no opportunity to buy a mediocre replacement (something I’ve wanted to do anyway so I can pack that on mt biking rides instead of my nice one). I camped a few miles outside the park after 6 hours of driving, and the wind was howling under a moon-less sky with freezing temperatures. I didn’t bother with a tent – I just slept inside the truck.

The next morning Brittany and I met up, but not before I was given 20 questions by a national park cop about why I was napping in my truck at 9am, and him not believing that I camped outside the park. Oh what fun!

Our first destination was the Confluence Overlook. It was a pretty sweet section of trail with an initial drop down into a canyon and a climb out the other side. From there it was up and over slickrock sections, across lengthy valleys, up drainages, and then through some fun, quick downclimbs. The Confluence was cool. I’ve never seen it before. It was like pea soup mixing in with lentil soup. Those were the colours du jour, anyway.

Our next leg was 2.5 miles through “Cyclone Alley” it was more like Tumbleweed Alley. The canyon itself was one long 500 ft wide stretch with straight canyon walls the whole way through, and it was just a collection bin for tumbleweeds. It sucked.

After a few miles of scenic hiking, we were at our campsite, DP1, in the Devil’s Kitchen. The campsite is nestled in-between two sandstone fins. We had 12 ft piles of tumbleweeds on one side, stacked up against a tree, and in another tree, tumbleweeds were stuck all throughout it. While it was nice and warm outside the campsite, as soon as the sun dropped behind the fins around 5pm, it got cold, and the wind – which only existed at our site – made it colder. It would’ve been awesome a month from now when the temps were higher.

While I was sunning myself on some rocks outside the campsite I heard a group of people approach the turnoff for the campsite. Their conversation is as follows: Oh finally! That was the longest 0.2 miles I’ve ever hiked! Oh wait, DP1? Where the **** is DP1? Pull out the map…….wait……how in the hell did we get over here? Let me see that. Oh great, you were holding it the wrong way. That’s just great. Conversation ends. They kept going the same direction. Apparently they got all bent out of shape after going the wrong way on a loop trail, and they weren’t that far from the Devil’s Kitchen 4×4 campground.

The next day we were off to Chesler Park! We were told that we absolutely had to check out the Joint Trail and that the cool stuff started out right from the trail junction we were going to hit. When I got there, I saw nothing but more valley, so I decided to head off and hope that the cool stuff started when I reached the rocky area in the distance. When I got there, the trail headed East through more valley. I was debating whether to keep going or head back. I heard voices, so I dropped my pack and headed towards them. When I found the people a girl in the group greeted me like I was someone they were waiting for….I wasn’t him. So I told them my story, and they were like, well, it is really cool, and totally worth it, and it starts right here.

They pointed down a dark stairway which descended into the darkness of a crack in the earth. It was straight out of something from Indiana Jones. I felt like I should’ve been carrying a flaming torch. It was a surreal feeling as I descended the rock staircase and the cool air surrounded me. As my eyes, adjusted I looked down a long, straight section of narrows about three feet wide. Light intermittently broke the darkness. As I approached one of the lit sections I looked one way and the other down long stretches of cracks that were identical to the one I was in. Some were narrower than others. I went down the first set – sideways – and found that these canyons were just one big cross-hatched grid of narrows. I went back to the main section and kept heading down, deeper and deeper. Soon a series of massive boulders appeared, and I noticed a few cairns here and there. I made my way around them, and found a lot of cairns. I’m talking a few dozen in the narrows. As I walked through them, a cave like passage on the right opened up, with light coming in from the back, I saw over a hundred cairns lining the walls, and the floor. I was in total awe. The sheer number of cairns all over the place was mind-boggling. Some were tiny cairns, some were big cairns, some were cairns formed into arches. I dubbed it the Hall of Cairns. I didn’t see any inukshuks though. That was disappointing. Reaching the end of the Hall of Cairns, I broke through into full light again and descended another series of rock stairs into a picturesque scene. This section of the Needles was stunning. I had much more to see that day, so I headed back, but not before building an inukshuk in the Hall of Cairns. I must say, he was the best one I’ve ever built.

After leaving the Chesler Park area into the area East, the scenery was just incredible. Deep canyons with towering cliffs everywhere. The rock alternated bands of red and white colors. I can’t do justice of the scenery in text, so I won’t bother. After we dropped all the way down into the creekbed of Elephant Canyon we made our way into the Squaw Canyon area. To get there we had to climb up and over a ridge complete with a ladder built out of dead tree trunks and limbs, held together with bolts, bailing wire, then up a series of moki steps, and down the other side on a more reassuring steel ladder. A little ways up the trail we climbed up a tree trunk with foot notches into a small cave/canyon between two fins. Initially you just hop back and forth, and walk with your legs spanning the gap, but towards towards the end it is too narrow to get through with a pack on, and logs have been dropped into the gap. After shimmying through that obstacle it wasn’t long before we dropped into the creekbed and found our campsite, SQ2. This one had almost no shade, and tons of no-see-ums, fueled from the swamp like area all along the creek.

The rest of the trip out was unremarkable. It was somewhere between 25-30 miles…I think. It was a fantastic trip. The scenery is phenomenal. Chesler Park didn’t do much for me. All the area around it is just awesome.

Superstitions – Winter 2008

I love my truck, but sometimes the voices I keep hearing to buy a new one just sound so good. We were twenty minutes into the drive when my truck started overheating. So we pulled over on the freeway, lifted the hood and watched the steam come out. Looking around, the coolant tank was empty, so we filled it, ran the engine, and it sucked it all up – added some more, saw the temp gauge get down to normal and we took off again. We didn’t have heat from the heater, so I figured the thermostat malfunctioned and wasn’t letting any coolant through. It got back up into the red while we were headed to an exit, so I turned the engine off and coasted halfway up the ramp. Chilled there till the engine got cool enough to continue, and a cop told us where an auto parts store was nearby. I changed the thermostat – no dice, plus it was leaking now. So it was off to Big-O to let them deal with it. I realized it was a missing belt while they were taking it in, so they took care of the leak, put on a new belt, and we were on our way. It was a 2.5 hour side trip.

The rest of the trip went great, till we got into Page and saw the clouds South of there. I dreaded snow on the pass headed from Cameron to Flagstaff, and sure enough, we hit it. There were only a few inches on the ground, but it was fresh, and there was ice under the snow. Slow & steady got us up the road without too many problems – just some sliding towards the top. Fortunately things cleared up dramatically on the downhill, and we didn’t see any further problems the rest of the way. It took 14.5 hours to get there, but we were there!

It had rained in the Phoenix area before we got there, so the Superstitions were soaking wet. The sky was overcast, and no sign of it clearing up. The air was cool…cooler than the forecast said it would be. There was water everywhere. It was flowing down every drainage, nearly from the tops. We spent the first night on the East end of the Upper La Barge Box next to a steady flowing creek. The air temps dropped quickly at night, and we awoke to frost covering everything. So much for mid-40° lows. I didn’t sign up for this.

Day 2 we saw clear skys for the first time. The sun took forever to come up, and we dried a few things out, hitting the trail at a record 11 am. When I was on the trail we were on that day, two years ago, it was bone dry, and that day the water was flowing, and further downstream as more drainages joined in, it just got bigger & bigger.

We climbed up and over a ridge into a new drainage and setup camp. As soon as the sun dropped behind the ridge, the temps plummeted, and we knew it was gonna be colder than the first night. Did I mention this wasn’t what I signed up for?

As soon as the sun came up, I went down to the creek in this drainage to sit in the sun and eat some breakfast. I saw sparkles here and there in the water, so I thought I’d check it out, and they were gold flakes. They were everywhere. It wasn’t just this drainage, the stuff is everywhere, it’s just whether or not you’re looking that depends on if you’ll see it. It’s too much of an effort to pick up the individual flakes, they’re like grains of sand and disappear into the sand when you try and pick them up.

Day 3 consisted of a climb up and over another ridge, down a steep slope, and across a river….many times.

The trip back was uneventful, just long. I’m glad to be home.

View photos from this trip

South Canyon (Grand Canyon)

This trip concludes the Fall trip series. It was fun. Especially the two weeks I didn’t go on trips so I could catch up on everything I was missing all the other weekends. I’ll have to remember that for future trip sprees.

South Canyon is a fun, quick trip….kind of. It starts out by dropping down to the bottom of upper South Canyon which is no easy task. The route is pretty direct,after you make your way down the crack through the upper most layer of cliffs. The trail switchbacks tightly from there down several bands of rock layers, then several hundred feet of loose rock and that ends at the top of some cliffs with a nice flat area suitable for camping. Then it’s over to a gully where you drop down some trickly ledges, and make your way down to the base of a cliff, and switchback your way down to the bottom. Going down, it didn’t seem all that bad, going back up things seemed more technical – it’s usually the exact opposite.

The riverbed of South Canyon starts out with boulder hopping, then the slickrock begins which make things easy for a while. Boulder hopping is always intermittent though. After Bedrock Canyon hooks into South Canyon the boulder hopping gets a little more extreme. Then the terrain gets a bit hillier while taking the trail above the narrows (the narrows are impassable without a little technical gear – never read a trip report where someone went through them). The final drop to the Colorado River is slightly technical, but not bad.

Ten minutes after I got on the beach a small herd of rafters showed up on the river and one came up to see if they could crash with us. Rafters are usually good to backpackers because they usually show up after the backpackers make camp on a beach and kind of impose themselves because it’s either that or try finding a beach further downriver. We got a real dinner, complete with salad and a campfire. Nice.

I visited Stanton’s Cave and Vasey’s Paradise the next morning. It was alright, but just seems like another giant spring in the Grand Canyon. After that 30 minutes of fun, we decided to head out a day earlier, cause what else were we going to do?

Going back seemed much easier than going down. The slickrock sections seemed longer and more frequent which was great. There was the right amount of challenging sections to this trip, but not enough that they seemed neverending like some trips.

So after climbing out the sky to the North was filled with smoke. It later became apparent that the Kaibab National Forest was on fire again – probably a maintenance fire – a big one.

One thing to note on this trip – no ringtails, no chipmunks, no mice, no squirrels…..only ravens, and they were only interested in the rafts. Did someone/thing kill them off?

View photos from this trip

West Rim Trail – Grotto -> Campsite 6 & Back

With a new camera, I was really excited to head back to rephotograph some of the most beautiful areas I’ve been in. The trip got off to a great start when I pulled into the Coal Pits Wash Trailhead to camp, and while driving around to see if anyone else was camped there, I inadvertently drove into a section that had experienced flooding since I’d been there last, and there was a fresh 2 feet of sand deposited. After I hit a dead end I tried to turn around, and couldn’t back out. I tried all kinds of things to get out, but ended up going off into the dark to find long straight branches to drive on. After an hour of trying the branch method, I had made it 30 ft backwards. Then I noticed a 18″ hill I’d have to climb up, and knew I couldn’t do it as my wheels were already frequently slipping on top of the branches instead of gripping them. So I called AAA. The tow truck was on it’s way from Zion back to his shop, and I was on the way, so it didn’t take long for him to show up, drive down a ways, and get stuck. He stopped short of the real sand, but was in a huge flat bed loading tow truck. He used a shovel to clear out enough sand so he was on firm ground to get going back out. I asked if I could borrow the shovel for the night, and he flat out refused. So disappointed, I camped out in the back of my stuck truck. I planned on flagging someone down the next morning, but when morning came, I decided to work out some ideas I had while trying to sleep. The problem was my rear end is too light, with a slip differential, so because there was a lean to the right side, the left wheel was slipping, so I dug out the left side a bit so it could get more weight, and with a little rocking, rolled back. Then the next step was to get my truck back far enough that I could get my truck headed straight, because I had much better driving in the sand when going forward than back. I had to push my truck with one foot while laying on the gas with the other, then I had to back up to make my final turn to get straight, then I got going, and laid on the gas, and off I went. Free!!! It was a good feeling.

Starting out on the trail, the weather was cool, but quickly warmed up. I found it odd that I was passing everyone on the trail, even though I had a full pack on. I guess I don’t realize how much progress I’ve made in the fitness area over the years. I was surprised when I started climbing above Scout’s Lookout, and there were still tons of people coming up that way. It wasn’t until I got above Scout’s Lookout that I broke the camera out.

After 3-4,000 feet of climbing, I made it onto the West Rim Mesa, and saw what happened with the fires this summer. The fires from the summer before made the mesa pretty ugly, but the fires from this summer finished everything off. The Telephone Canyon Trail was closed – it was part of the loop I wanted to do up there. I was disappointed with that. The weather up top was alright. There was some wind, but not much. When I made it to my campsite, I could see the clouds moving in, and the wind picked up…big time. I chose to set my tent up right next to a fallen tree that was almost as tall as my tent in case any trees decided to blow over. Two blew over while I was camped there, but not next to my tent, fortunately. I was able to get some amazing photos when the clouds were moving off of the horizon, and the sun was coming through. It made the whole trip worthwhile.

Then it got cold. Really cold. The next morning I stayed in my sleeping bag forever, but finally got the guts to get out, and throw everything in my pack. I didn’t even restuff anything in their stuff sacks. Once I got onto the trail, the wind pretty much stopped. It was pretty isolated to where I was camped.

The rest of the trip was uneventful until I was closing in on Scout’s Lookout, and there were six California Condors flying all over the area around Angel’s Landing. I started taking photos of them, when all of a sudden, one came straight at me. I got an okay photo of it, then it buzzed my head and circled back to join the others. Condors aren’t typically found in Zion, so it was a pretty cool occurrance.

View photos from this trip

Wet Beaver Creek

Sure it sounds like a strip club in Tijuana, but it was a lot funner. Well, I’m guessing it’s a lot more fun. In comparing Tijuana to the Creek – both were pretty hellish. The Creek was more on the fun side of hellish things. Having never been to a strip club, I really wouldn’t know how that compares though. I wonder what the google searches hitting this post will be like. No, I really don’t want to know. The creek was seriously fun though once I accepted a few things.

It started out with a drive from Ogden to the Sedona area. A serious dust storm closed down I-15 on the way, forcing a long detour through some tiny towns. That added some time to the trip, then getting stuck in a drive-thru line at Wendy’s in Beaver for 25 minutes was even better! In total, it was over 11 hours. I spent the night in Flagstaff at a crummy hotel between I-40 and a very active railroad line which required the train to toot its horn at every intersection.

Completely exhausted, I started the backpacking trip. I had little planning for this trip, and didn’t know the first 12 miles or so would be dry except for some big disgusting ponds that I don’t think would be safe to drink no matter how much it was purified. So I had 1 gallon for the first day and a half. Crossing the open desert was long and boring. Nothing to talk about.

Day 2 we dropped down into a canyon that would connect us with Wet Beaver Creek. It was pretty cool. We had some down climbs, and scrambles down the sides of dryfalls between 10-30 ft drops. It was really sweet.

Middle of day 2 we hit Wet Beaver Creek – except it was completely dry, which was expected. A spring fuels the waters flow further downstream, filling all the deep cold pools we would be swimming over the next two days. I dreaded getting into the first pool, wondering if my pack would float with my water reservoirs inflated with air, and my dry bag inflated as much as possible, and float it did! Since the water was fresh from a spring, it was very cold. I tried holding the pack out in front of me, pushing off a large rock and kicking, but after the initial inertia wore off, I went nowhere, then the wind blew me back to the start of the swim. I started swimming with one hand going too, and started moving. The next pool was definitely warmer, but that’s only because being wet in the wind was much colder than being cold in the water. The next few miles were mainly boulder hopping down the creek. Looking at the GPS, we had barely covered any of the creek section. Our campsite was pretty sweet though – one of the best in the canyon with wide open spaces, plenty of sand to camp on, protection from flooding, and trees to tie lines between to hang stuff to dry. My tent was outside of a dry sack so I had to dry it off – I basically set it up hanging from the line – pretty funny looking. My camera had gotten wet enough that it wouldn’t work, so I don’t have any pictures.

Day 3 was supposed to be our final day, but as the day wore on, it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. With the inevitability of swimming pools, the wind, lowering temperatures as the sun dropped behind the canyon walls, and complex terrain to navigate in the dark, it just didn’t seem like a good idea. Back to the morning though, it was endless boulder hopping. It just never ended. Just boulder after boulder. Sometimes there were no boulders to hop though, so it was into the trees to thrash our way through. Sometimes we had to hop boulders on the banks, and sometimes hop boulders while thrashing through the trees! Eventually though, the pools came back. Looking at the GPS we were only half way through the canyon, and we were 1/2 way through the final scheduled day. It just seemed like we were stuck in a horrible time warp. At one point I was convinced our exit was just around every corner, and was getting disappointed every time. Eventually when the sun was getting low I had crossed a pool, and I couldn’t take it any more. I was hungry, wet, cold, and didn’t want to face the canyon anymore. We had no chance of making it out that night – at least not safely, and the area had a fairly decent campsite. There were a few flat spots on slickrock. I had a slab just the right size for my tent, but had a drop off onto rock of about 2.5 feet on 3 sides. With the wind gusts, it made for a tense night at times.

Early on day 4, we headed out. The sun was barely lighting the cliffs above, not quite reaching the pools. The first pool we hit was right around the corner from camp, which was a huge disappointment. I wanted to warm up a bit by boulder hopping first, but got thrown right into the swimming. There was no way around it, the water was cold. I didn’t wear a shirt cause I would’ve just been colder for longer with it on since it would take much, much longer to dry than bare skin. The wind was seriously gusting as I got out of the first pool. I froze. The second pool was right after the first, and was still cold, but not that bad. Then the 3rd pool was right after that, and the water was starting to feel warm – physically warm. It was weird, cause I knew it was just as cold as the first, but it was definitely warmer than being in the wind. Earlier the previous day I got tired of taking off my pack to swim the pools, so I left it on, and started swimming on my back. It made it super easy to go from hopping to swimming and back. I can’t remember how many pools I swam after that. It just all started blending together. I just knew I couldn’t stop or I’d freeze. I still didn’t know when I’d hit the trail leading out of the canyon. The banks got easier to get through, and the pools no longer required swimming. Sometime later a canyon appeared on the South side of the Creek and I knew I was there.

I was so happy to find a trail that I started heading up a good climb for a 1/4 mile only to realize that I was going up the wrong side. So back to the creek and up the other side I was on my way out. The last 4 miles flew by, and I was glad to get back to my truck so I could call everyone who was already worried we didn’t check in the night before.

It was hard dealing with a never ending canyon, and some tough terrain that required a considerable amount of time to negotiate, and to just start enjoy the hopping, and the swimming of long pools of freezing water I have a huge range of feelings about this trip, but overall I think it was fun. I don’t know if I’d do it again, but I definitely want to do more of the same – as long as the pools are fairly clean, you know, no stanky funk.

Only 3 good photos before the camera stopped working, so I’m just showing them in this post.

View photos from this trip

Highline Trail – East Fork Blacks Fork

I’ve always been compelled to stay in the desert & avoid the mountains when backpacking, but I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to get into the Uintas. The weather was supposed to be between 60/40 degrees the whole time, but that was way off. After a short detour down the wrong drainage to drop a car off – that being my fault, we made it to the East Fork Blacks Fork trailhead at dusk & stayed the night. It was close to freezing, and I was trying out a new Big Agnes 10° sleeping bag w/ the Big Agnes sleeping pad. 

I was initially concerned about not getting enough insulation on the bottom side through the pad, but that was the last problem. The first thing I noticed was that to cinch things up tight and keep your head warm you have to stay flat on your back because the bag is fused to the pad, and the pad isn’t going to move with your head, so it’s either breathe into your bag and build up condensation and reduce warmth since it is down, or keep your head completely out of the bag so you can move around. The bag is cut generously enough that you can, with a couple weird movements get onto your side, which is nice, but I noticed quite quickly if my feet touched the tent, the insulation was lost and my feet froze, or if I crossed my arms over my chest, I lost insulation there, so basically I couldn’t get comfortable at all. Then in the morning when I tried to sit up, I was reminded again that the pad was attached. Oh yea, and it takes some new skills to get your sleeping pad into your sleeping bag, but nothing detrimental. The 10° rating was a joke. I know they’re always off, but this was excessively so. I wore thermals, and several layers of clothing while in the bag, and still froze even when the temperatures were above freezing – well, not just freezing, but uncontrollable shivering at times. When it dropped into the 20’s one night, I just couldn’t sleep at all. I had to focus on keeping everything in a perfect position for optimal insulation so I didn’t completely freeze. I’m going to see if I can return it. I was excited to get it & try it out, but the limitations of movement, and terrible temperature rating made this a bad buy. With a different design I think the insulationless bottom concept could be much better. 

Anyway, the Highline trail is pretty cool, getting into some very remote areas. It takes some time to get out of the forest and start seeing the beautiful vistas, and drainages while climbing over the passes. Spending a night close to 10,000 ft before starting out definitely helped with any altitude problems I’ve previously experienced, and I was definitely concerned with carrying a pack at that elevation. Carrying extra gear & clothes for the weather added more than a few pounds.

There is a lot of forest between the trailhead and Pigeon Milk Spring where you climb above treeline and start seeing some views to the South and West. Smoke from fires in the region were clouding up the view, but they were still great.

The climb up to Rocky Sea Pass from this side was fairly easy. Once on top the wind was just howling, and was pretty cold, but the views to the East were incredible. There are several small lakes at the bottom of the pass, and there’s a great view of the trail ahead – if you can imagine it going through a ton of forest, dropping down to Rock Creek and climbing out the other side, and around the corner. Brinkley Lake is out of view from up there, but not technically that far away. The trial leads away from it before turning back northwards.

Brinkley Lake had a great view of the mountains to the North, and was a nice place to camp – there are many great sites to the East of the lake across the trail. We had some coyotes visit our camp that night, but I was knocked out w/ benadryl cause of allergies, so I didn’t notice.

Day 2 we re-entered the forest, lost some elevation and gained a whole lot more. After doing the majority of the climbing, the trail leveled out and we were crossing large meadows for a while providing a nice change of scenery. I was hoping to see some more animals by this point, but it just wasn’t happening. We rounded the corner, and hit Ledge Lake – there are some cool waterfalls coming down the cliffs. At this point we were approaching some new elevation highs, and I was noticing more than ever that I had to start breathing hard before moving just to get the oxygen in the blood up to decent levels.

Climbing Dead Horse Pass some nasty weather moved in, and I watched from a hundred feet below the pass as the downpour moved in. Turns out it was frozen stuff that was melting on impact. It moved on in 10 minutes, and didn’t result in much of anything. There was one lightning strike. Big black clouds continued to move overhead so I didn’t want to stick around on the pass for very long. The trail off the pass goes down a steep talus slope, with a narrow trail almost as steep as the slope itself cutting into it at an angle. The first step is the worst, hoping the whole time that you don’t slip and slide off the cliff.

Dead Horse Lake was gorgeous to look down on as we descended, and the storm clouds were flying by overhead.

The camp at Dead Horse Lake had a two walled wind shelter built up a few hundred feet into the forest, w/ two benches and a fire pit, so we camped there. Elevation was 11,000 ft. That night was the coldest with temperatures dropping below 30°. I just couldn’t sleep, and didn’t want to take benadryl since it’s effects seemed to be amplified at altitude, and I was paranoid enough being at elevation for so long. I don’t know how I got out of the sleeping bag in the morning. At least I was mostly dressed to begin with since I would’ve completely frozen in the sleeping bag otherwise.

We were hitting Red Knob Pass that day. We had to drop down into a ravine where the temps dropped into the teens, one of the creeks was frozen over, and we were in those temps for so long without sun that my arms went numb. When I finally got into a sliver of sun I stayed there for about 20 minutes just enjoying it. The trail up Red Knob was nice and easy, just slow going to let my oxygen levels keep pace with consumption. Our high point was around the corner of Red Knob at 12,170 ft. I was feeling a little loopy and getting a headache, so I dropped down into the East Fork Blacks Fork drainage pretty quickly. At the bottom of the pass we decided to cut off a day from our trip and head out, accumulating over 15 miles. Ironically it was in the last 15 miles we saw the most animals. Mainly a ton of moose. The trail seems to never end. The last 3 miles just dragged on forever, but end they did.

Overall, there was over 8,000 ft elevation climbed, and over 33+ miles, could be over 35 – the gps batteries didn’t last, so I’ll never know for sure.

View photos from this trip

Zion Narrows – Zion National Park

So Brittany got permits to do the Narrows, and who am I to say no to a pre-arranged trip where all I have to do is show up? The temps were supposed to be some of the hottest of the summer so far, around 108. We took a shuttle to start the trip to make things easier, and it was pretty cheap.

I didn’t know what to think of how things would be outside of the slot canyon sections – the upper portion of the trail are in a forest, walking along cow pasture, that looks like it’s being primed for development, on a dirt road. Soon enough we’re walking along the river, and the cliffs start working their way up into the sky. The heat of the day wasn’t that bad up at that elevation, and as the day went on, the canyon produced more and more shade, plus walking along the river, things were naturally cooler.

The waterfall didn’t disappoint. The water was pretty warm for a mountain stream, and the water was nice to play in.

Soon after, Deep Creek joined up and things got gnarlier. Well, not that much gnarlier, but the terrain got much rockier, making all the river crossings much slower.

Our campsite was at the mouth of Kolob Canyon. It was really nice. The temps didn’t drop below 60, and there were hardly any bugs around.

The next day I was totally prepared to go for a dunking, but with enough route finding, all deep pools were avoided. Midway through the Narrows section, I hit my first day hiker, then another, and another. I stopped taking pictures at that point. Where the canyon widened up, the temps were in the 90’s and I went swimming to cool off. The paved trail started shortly soon after, and within 15 minutes, I was at the Narrows trailhead, ready to chill in the shade with the air temps well in the 100’s.

I’m kind of undecided whether I’d want to go through the painstaking river crossings again, I might to do one of the technical slot canyons which drop into the main canyon.

View photos from this trip

Escalante River Canyon – Escalante to the Hwy 12 Bridge

After the Boulder Mail Trail, I wanted to get back down into the area to explore it more. The plan to go out of anything was touch & go, but in the end, I was able to go.

The plan was to hitch a ride from the Hwy 12 bridge trailhead at the Escalante River and get dropped off just outside Escalante where the dirt road leads to the trailhead. It should’ve so easy, with the area deriving the majority of its income from recreationists and tourism, but the problem is a matter of traffic around 8 am. The direction I needed to go was dead. I waited 30 min, and not one car went by. So I decided to give in, go into town, and pay one of the shuttle services to hook my shuttle up. The very instant I open up my truck door, four cars go by, and I was too far away to get noticed. I decided to give it one more shot, hoping the sudden number of cars going by wouldn’t be a one time thing. 10 minutes later, nada, so I get back to my truck, and a car goes by. Realizing it was a hopeless exercise in irony to keep trying to catch a ride, I went into town.

Luckily I was able to find a shuttle service with an open 40 minutes to make it happen, and I sure paid for it – it was pretty much on par with the price of gas I paid in Torrey ($3.23/g a total rip).

40 minutes later, my truck was at the bridge, and I was 16 miles away at the head of the canyon. The water flow was what I expected, pretty low. The mountains had pretty much melted off earlier in the year. The gov site said the flow rate was 5.5 cfs at the mouth of the canyon.

I wanted to spend as much time in the water since it was pretty warm. The water was nice and cold early in the morning and by early afternoon was just warm. The canyon hiking was everything I’ve come to expect from my experiences in Paria and similar canyons. Some trudging through water, and some sandy shortcut trails across the inside of the canyons curves. I was really enjoying just walking through the water, seeing what was around the next corner, and admiring the diversity of the geologic features of the sandstone.

Before I knew it I was already at Death Hollow. I actually had to stop and check the GPS, cause things had gone by so quickly. The river by this point had changed from flowing across the canyon floor to cutting deep into a sand bank with trees growing into the river and blocking the path for hikers, making it necessary to climb up onto the banks, and follow the use trails through the brush. One group set their campsite up right in the middle of the use trail. They weren’t around, I’m betting they were exploring Death Hollow.

I originally planned to camp in Death Hollow, but after walking upstream for 15 minutes, all the good sites were taken, and the others had poison ivy blocking the way. Looking at the time, it was only 2:30, and I couldn’t sit around for 6 hours waiting for night to come, and I didn’t want to risk encountering anymore poison ivy.

Speaking of poison ivy – I thought I didn’t get into any poison ivy on my trip through the area two weeks earlier, but it turns out that even though I didn’t come into contact with poison ivy, I came into contact with plants that had come into contact or had the urushiol from poison ivy brushed off onto them, and subsequently onto me. It came on 2 days after I got back, and hasn’t been terrible, but just annoying. This is after several real encounters when I never had a reaction.

I chose to continue down to one of the largest bends in the river downstream from there and camp there, but when I got there decided to keep going. I wound up camping about 1/2 mile upstream from Sand Creek on a 20 ft wide section of sand bench about 5 ft above the river with a nice cliff overhead. I needed rocks to set my tent up since I don’t carry stakes to save on weight, and finding rocks in good campsites was a huge problem on this trip! During the night I woke up a couple times to reinflate my Big Agnes pad cause it’s developed a problem with a leak I can’t find even with it submerged underwater. Anyway, I woke up a couple times during the night when I heard the river grow louder and then change its melody from before. Then it did it again a little later. I remember thinking in my sleep induced haze that the rivers volume was increasing, by a lot.

The next morning the river was swollen and brown. It wasn’t a dream. The river at the entrance to the canyon had gone from 5.5 cfs to 29 cfs overnight, and with the flow from Death Hollow (the flows from the Escalante were nearly identical as the ones from Death Hollow when I passed it), it was much higher where I was at. I’m glad I chose to camp that much further down because the trail that cut through the brush was getting pretty thick in portions, and there were a lot of river crossings I would’ve had to take. The water was freezing, and the going was slow since it’s slow going in a fast moving river when you can’t see the bottom, and it drastically varies from one step to the next. It took about 10 minutes of wandering in the water before I found the only place I could climb out on the opposite bank to find the trail again. The feeling of scratchy brush on my frozen legs was awful. Spider webs were all over the place. After a few minutes, I just gave up trying to wipe them off my face, and my arms, and just let them build up. Gross.

A couple river crossings later and the canyon was wide open. I had passed Sand Creek and not realized it. I met a couple that had to be in their late 60’s/early 70’s and they were backpacking. It was awesome to see them out there doing that kind of thing. They had planned to go up to Death Hollow and explore it a bit, but the higher water changed their plans. It wasn’t much further and I was walking through red sand and sagebrush, past the two arches to the South, and through the river a few more times. Then all of a sudden I was back at my truck. It had only been 24 hours since I started the day before.

It was a welcome quick trip through the desert before it turns into a roasting inferno for the summer.

View photos from this trip