We traveled once again through the canyon country of Southern Utah this April. Some great day hiking and a multi day backpacking trip kept us moving for our 2 weeks out.
Our first night out in the van was spent in the Bears Ears National Monument. We day hiked off trail into a side canyon at the headwaters of one of the large drainage’s on Cedar Mesa. Our route looped around the rim, descended a layer or two and re-crossed to climb back up and out. It checked all the boxes… scenic, seldom traveled, interesting and included spotting a concealed ruin in the distance that we hope to check out in the future.
The next day, we crossed the Colorado River at Hite and drove south toward Bullfrog and the Burr Trail. A short hike along the way and then we van camped in the desert above Halls Creek. In the morning we drove a short distance and spent the rest of the day hiking off trail on the Waterpocket Fold. Again, a very scenic and fun exploration of an area that has long been of interest to us.
After another night van camping in a beautiful spot, we drove to Boulder, UT and rendezvoused with our regular adventure companions Mr. A and Mr. B. We got organized for a pretty aggressive 11 day backpacking route that had been planned. The route would be complex and almost exclusively off trail through very remote parts of the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Setting off the next morning my full pack weight was 53lbs, yikes! A long rough drive to the trail head followed by a 5 hour hike thru desert slickrock country made for a very full first day. In the morning one of the team advised us of a very painful condition in his foot and made the wise choice of hiking back to the trailhead. A pick up for him was arranged via our Garmin InReach satellite communicator.
Our missing companion was pretty integral to the planned route, so a simpler Plan B was devised. Now a team of 3, we continued on, navigating to one of the spots that allow access down to the Escalante River. Camping in a side canyon 15 minutes walk above the river things seemed good and the river was running clear and pretty low. Our Plan B was to continue down the river in the morning, crossing and re crossing as needed, heading for a canyon we had been up once before.
Surprise. The next morning the river had maybe tripled in size, running fast and brown with bank to bank current. Pre trip we had discussed the possibility of snow melt from Boulder Mountain making the required river crossings problematic, but decided to go anyway hoping it would still be early enough in the season. Wrong. The first few warm days of April had just passed and the runoff was on. Needing to do multiple crossings and walking along the river bank would be potentially dangerous and definitely not fun. Time for Plan C.
The start of Plan C was to retrace most of our route from the past 2 days, IOW retreat. That would land us in a much more forgiving and straightforward canyon. The canyon we headed for is very long and exquisitely beautiful. Continuous high sandstone walls streaked with desert varnish, natural arches, a natural bridge, pools, waterfalls, pictographs and cottonwoods in full spring leaf out. Unfortunately, all of that plus no permitting or technical ability requirements and access from multiple trail heads has the reality of making it very popular. There were a lot more people in the canyon than we are used to seeing on our typically more remote desert sojourns.
Regardless, we made the most of it. We headed down canyon for a day and camped in a nice spot. We came up with a tentative Plan D. We would continue down canyon to the river and possibly cross over and up a canyon on the other side for a couple of days. Fortunately we came to our senses and agreed that the river in all likelihood would still be to high to cross. So, we spent a very pleasant day hiking with day packs down to the river and back. A much needed break from carrying those heavy packs, and yes, the river looked much too high to safely cross!
There was nothing left for us to explore so we spent the next two days going back up canyon and out to the trail head where we had left the van. In the end we spent 7 days of a planned 11 days out. We traveled thru some beautiful canyon country, some of it remote and some of it less so. Perfect spring weather was an important bonus.
Once back in Boulder we got cleaned up and then began working our way back to Colorado. Another night was spent van camping on some slickrock in the Cedar Mesa zone of the Bears Ears National Monument. We had a loop hike planned (Plan A) that would descend down a canyon we had not yet visited and then back up a canyon we had previously hiked through.
Following a bearing for about mile through the mesa top Pinion-Juniper got us to the rim. Some beta we had described two difficult spots that were close together. Old photos showed a log ladder in place at one of them. Shortly after dropping off the rim into the canyon we arrived at the first difficulty. It involved placing a piece of webbing for a hand line to assist stepping down onto a pile of stacked rocks. A bit tricky but within our capabilities to negotiate.
Continuing down we quickly arrived at the next difficulty. Looking down the pour over we could see the remains of the log ladder scattered on the canyon floor about 75′ below. That would have been a concern but more importantly just getting to where that ladder had been would require crossing a short but high angle and exposed ramp of slick rock with water running down it. Slipping, which looked probable, would be catastrophic at the least and potentially fatal. Plan B was implemented. B = back the way we came. B = Bail.
Once again we had fun but it was “not as advertised”. Overall we had another worthy adventure and got some good practice at making the always hard decision to turn back and seek safer alternative plans.
Check out a dozen of the Best of Photos here.