We had a great time and some good adventure on this years spring desert hiking trip. We were out in the canyon country a bit later in the season than usual, leaving Telluride on Thursday April 29th and returning Sat May 9th. It worked out pretty well in regards to weather and temperatures. Not too hot and in between major storm systems.
We got out of town early afternoon, did some shopping in Dolores and Cortez and made it to the Bluff area by about 6:00. Van camped on the Butler Wash road at the base of the Comb Ridge. In the morning we did a nice hike cross country and up to the top of the Comb Ridge. Then traversed west across the slickrock and descended down to Double Stack Ruin. Pretty cool. Got back to the van in the early afternoon and drove to Page. Day 1 was fun!
We planned to van camp and do a Saturday day hike outside of Page, then drive on to Zion in the later afternoon. Thousand Pockets is across the highway from Wahweap and part of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. I had been on one day hike there in the past. We drove out to camp/trail head on some un maintained road, mainly sand, a number of miles off the pavement. It started raining about 3:30 AM. I got too nervous about possible deteriorating road conditions so we dropped the top on the van and drove back out to better road and went back to sleep.
Day 2. Plan B was implemented. We drove straight to Zion and did a day hike off the East entrance highway. It kind of drizzled off and on and was damp but never rained hard or steady. Rain gear was on most of the time. From the South side of the highway, by going up and down and around multiple canyons, we made a circumnavigation of Checkerboard Mesa, including a detour to get on the mesa top and take in the views of the developing storm.
It started raining pretty hard about 15 minuets after we got back to the van and rained all night. Snow at higher elevations. This was going to have a minor influence on our plan for the next day but was mainly a nice bonus because now there would be full potholes and likely available water in general.
Day 3 was the start of a planned 8-9 day backpacking traverse of Zion National Park and the adjacent Canaan Mountain BLM wilderness. This plan was divided into a 2 day trip across Canaan Mountain, followed by a 6-7 day trip thru Zion National Park. These two routes roughly connect and are contiguous along a SE-NW line. The South end starts outside of the infamous polygamous stronghold of Hildale, UT, goes across Canaan Mountain and ends at Rockville, a small community just South of Springdale and the South entrance to the Park. The North end is the Lee Pass Trial Head in the Kolob Canyons section of Zion, North of St George, UT on I-15 . A complex route from there to Rockville uses some park service trails and a lot of off trail remote travel.
We had arranged with a local woman, Lura G, to help us with some shuttle driving. Our plan was to meet at the Eagle Crags Trail Head at 7:00 AM but the road was too wet to dive up there so we met Lura in Rockville, 2 miles down from the TH. We left the van in Rockville and Lura drove us around to the Water Canyon Trail Head. Again the road was too wet to get to that actual TH so she dropped us off on the outside of Hildale, UT about 2 miles from the TH. Hildale / Colorado City, yikes, creepy.
Up Water Canyon, across Canaan Mountain and down Eagle Crags to Rockville. Highly recommended. Great slickrock, wilderness, views and cool historic Mormon pioneer stuff. Route finding and off trail travel is required. Got down to the van in Rockville late in the afternoon of Day 4.
Day 5. We went into the park and were at the back country desk at 7:00AM. We got a 6 day back country permit and a required designated campsite for our first night. After that we drove out to the East entrance and did a very nice loop hike starting just outside the East end of the long tunnel.
Day 6. Lura met us just outside of Rockvill at the Chinle Trail Head. We left the van there and she drove us around thru LaVerkin/Hurricane and North on I-15 to the Lee Pass trail Head in the Kolob Canyons section of the park.
The next 7 days packed in a lot of walking and adventure as we worked our way back to the van thru Zion National Park. The route started out on the LaVerkin Creek Trial and went to Kolob Arch and Camp 1. Next we went thru the Hop Valley and connected on to the Wildcat Trail. We spent night 2 on a spur called the North Gate Peaks Trail. The following day we hiked a few hours along the Wildcat Trail before leaving the trail system and descending down Wildcat Canyon to the headwaters of the Left Fork and our Camp 3. The next day involved route finding thru fairly complex terrain. Up and out of the Left Fork and across and down into the Right Fork. We were referencing some guide book beta from an out of print guide book printed in 1988. We had planned to make it a bit further but we had trouble figuring out how to get out of the Right Fork and ended up camping in the Right Fork.
A 50’+ free rappel into a pool of water blocked our ability to get to the exit canyon out of the Right Fork. This apparently used to have a bypass tunnel that allowed travel beyond. Surprise, flash flooding has plugged that up and now a rappel is required. After some painful bush whacking and trial and error we found a way out and were able to continue on to Phantom Valley the next day. Phantom Valley is a gem in an area of jewels.
We went were still in a remote and seldom visited section of the park but we had traveled thru here once before. Exiting Phantom Valley thru a pass next to the Inclined Temple, we followed a contouring route across slick rock and over another pass into Terry Wash. One of the nicest camp sites anywhere was waiting for us in lower Terry Wash. Sensational and we needed it.
In the morning we proceeded down Terry Wash to the 300′ pourover at the bottom. We exited out and climbed up on to Cougar Mountain. The route traverses the crest of Cougar Mountain and descends a very well established game trial down into the Southwest Desert section of the park defined by Coalpits Wash. We camped on the bank of Coalpits Wash for our last night of backpacking. Next day we hiked out the Chinle Trail, thru the petrified forest, to the van. This was day 12 of our trip. 2 day hikes to start, then 9 days of backpacking with an eddy out/day hike to get the permit.
Day 13. We drove out of Zion thru the East entrance and did another fine day hike off the highway. It’s hard to beat the day hiking off that road. Lots of options and all good. After getting back to the van we drove over to Escalante and van camped that night.
Day 14. We had a very nice hike starting along the Escalante River and hiking up Phipps Wash to Phipps Arch and Maverick Natural Bridge. Beautiful day and beautiful route. After hiking we drove on to Boulder, UT and had dinner and caught up with Ace and his famous dog Genghis.
Friday Day 15. Time to start back towards Telluride. Our plan was to get a hike in off the Burr Trail and either camp by Halls Creek or go on to Cedar Mesa. A final Saturday day hike somewhere on Cedar Mesa and drive home on Sunday. The weather forecast was for rain and snow starting Friday afternoon and continuing thru Sunday. The forecast turned out to be accurate and so we ended up just driving back to Telluride. All in all another great desert adventure was had!
I shot 325 photos. Here is a collection of 40 selected “best of” shots.