© Joe Berardi
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This was my sixth road trip to southern Utah for this year and to sum it up in one word, WOW. This trip felt a lot more like playing than work unlike some of my previous trips this year. There was no lurking book deadline waiting for me. This trip was primarily to make progress on my 60 by 60 slot canyon challenge and I’m proud to say my count is now up to 44. Yes, this old man has hiked 44 slot canyons or narrows since starting my quest at age 51, hiking my first in June, 2006. As of writing this blog I have one foot out of the door heading back to Utah.
I was anxious to start this trip and probably left a few days too early since rain was forecasted and I made do with it by scouting and visiting Capitol Reef NP more in hopes of getting some good photo opportunities. On reflection prior to this trip I realized that the photography part of things has taken a back seat to getting hiking information from many of my earlier trips. My second goal for this trip was to bring back some good photographs.
As my slot canyon count grows, I’m starting to hit some of the more obscure or lesser known canyons meaning I had very little information for these hikes. This trip was a real adventure not knowing what to expect. I dry camped at a RV Park in Hanksville. This was the first time camping here although I have stayed at a motel here a few times over the years. I prefer bathrooms and safety over setting up camp just anywhere on BLM land.
It rained on Sunday, my travel day. I spent Monday driving around scouting looking for trailheads, getting specific GPS coordinates or mileage. There was enough to do to fill the day. So Tuesday I went to hike a Maidenwater tributary hoping to make it to the narrows. This was a hike I planned strictly based on looking at a map. It was a bust; I hiked into wetland that was a bushwhacking jungle. I forced my way through it only to come across a large dry-fall that couldn’t be bypassed (not easily). It only took me about 80 minutes for this hike so I drove down the road to another tributary where you can see the narrows but it has a technical entry down into it. I knew about an easier gully entry nearby and hiked down it to within 20 feet of the streambed but without leaving a rope behind I was doubtful about coming back up alone. So this was my second goose-chase for the day. I scouted out Woodruff for later in the week.
It had rained overnight so on Wednesday it was plan B time. I spontaneously decided to drive the 30 miles or so to Capitol Reef in hopes of some photo opportunities. Along the way I was contemplating stopping here or there but ended driving straight to the visitor center. On arrival I noticed two things immediately, the parking lot was full and it was filled with 30 to 40 vintage 1930s type cars. Apparently this was a stop for a touring group but I noticed what was a large meeting out front of the visitor center was breaking up. You have to realize that I have a vintage car portfolio and got really excited about the prospects of adding to it. I noticed people were starting to go back to their cars and leaving while I couldn’t find a spot until one opened up. Now I was jumping out of the truck, grapping the Canon EOS T2i DSLR and trying to get some shots before they all left. These commotions lasted for about 5 minutes until most of them had driven off.
After the excitement was gone, I starting thinking about a nearby place that has been in the back of my mind for years. I have driven by many times what looks like a possible narrows from the highway and decided this was the time I would really check it out. So I drove over to it, found a place to park, starting hiking in a wide wash near the road. As the drainage went downstream away from the road it turned into just what I was hoping, a nice narrows with towering walls but it didn’t last very long and meandered back to the road. I stopped and took photographs along the way and got some nice shots of “The Castle” framed by the narrows walls. I returned to the pickup. This pretty much made my day and I started heading back with one more stop in mind. I stopped at Grand Wash trailhead along the highway to make a very short hike. I had hiked from the other trailhead to about midway on a previous trip and just wanted to see what I had missed. I headed back satisfied that the day was successful.
On Thursday the air was cool first thing in the morning and I headed for North Fork of Trachyte Creek. Just a reminder, these are wilderness hikes, no official trailhead and in this case no place to park although the narrow shoulder had to make do. Actually I was a little worried about how close to the road I parked. There also was no trail so I headed down from the road down into a significant wash. I got the GPS coordinate from my Garmin and with map in hand started hiking downstream. The dry streambed was mostly sand and gravel and quite wide for the first half mile. There were a few places that had small rocks that required concentrating on my footing. Eventually sloping Slickrock walls began develop as I continued. Then all of sudden I was at a very large dry-fall at the box end of a narrows canyon below. I had researched this hike on the internet but was completely surprised by this obstacle. I started rim walking to the left looking for a way in. The canyon wall was steep but had a large step to it with a lower level maybe 50 feet down. I found a way down to the bench only to find no entry. I found a set of foot print at the very bottom leading up to the cliff edge and I had only one conclusion, they rappelled down and I had to look for another way. I came back up and continued along the rim and found another way down only to be stopped about 20 feet from the bottom. I was really disappointed and returned back to the top. I couldn’t see any way down in this direction so I backtracked a ways. I surveyed with my eyes, the wall on the other side of the canyon, looking for any way down. I slowly moved my focus foot by foot along the other side until I suddenly realized there was a wall collapse at the bottom of the cliff that was maybe 50 feet wide. Now I’m looking to see how I could get to it. I map out in my mind a diagonal route through a large boulder field down to the loose dirt wall collapse and down the wall collapse to the bottom. I go Eureka; I know I can do it. Now I’m looking back to the dry-fall trying to figure out if I can even get over to that side. I started moving my legs heading back before I decided if there was a way over there or not. I kept going until I found the rim spot that had the boulder field. Now I had a chance for a close-up look and said to myself, just do-it, no more contemplating. I started following the mental route I made from the other side and stopped about halfway down. I seldom leave a rock-pile marking the way since I mark waypoints with the GPS but now I’m thinking without the GPS this may be really difficult to find my way back up if the GPS breaks. I make a rock-pile and continue through the large boulders working my way down and stop to make another rock-pile. I’m satisfied that I will be able to them from the wall-collapse and hike down through the loose dirt and small rocks of the wall collapse to the very bottom. I stop for a moment to enjoy it, mark waypoints and decide to mark the streambed by dragging my shoe. I’m thrilled and start hiking downstream. I’m thinking to myself I wish it was that easy going back up.
I continue hiking until I finally come to a shallow slot section and stop to take photographs including setting up the tripod and getting some with me in the scene. I continue on not knowing what to expect but this is supposedly a hike through (non-technical) canyon to Trachyte Creek. After awhile I come to another Slickrock slot, this time very narrow, starting out with small choke-stones of two or three feet followed by larger chokes-stones of four or five feet but I manage to climb over all of these until I get to the last choke-stone wedge into the canyon wall followed by a 6 to 8 foot drop into a mud puddle. I can see the foot-prints of my predecessor leaving 2 inch deep tracks in the mud. Apparently he made the jump but I’m solo and wasn’t planning on making the loop which probably would be too much for me. So returning over this choke-stone would probably be too much for me so I’m satisfied to take as many photographs as possible from this vantage point of a long straight steep walled slot. I take a break and head back. I finally reach the dry-fall bypass and look up the wall collapse to the very top. I take a deep breath and start my way up. I look for the first rock-pile and finally make my way up to it huffing and puffing trying to catch my breath. I had been going at my usual leisurely pace but this was a lot of work for me. I wait until I’m breathing was normal again and continue going up. I finally make it to the top with my huffing and puffing out of control. I take another video while trying to catch my breath and I’m ecstatic that first I made it back up and second knowing I’m done with all of the hard parts of the hike. I eventually make it back to the pickup and town.
On Friday I headed for the Woodruff Canyon trailhead. This hike I knew even less about except Woodruff and its side canyons are known as a great technical slot canyon. My goal was to hike as far as I can into the slot canyon. I had no idea how far that would be but I was game. This was another cool morning and I was ready for a long hike. It was a little treacherous getting down from the road into the wash but not a problem. This wash also starts out wide near the road but soon dirt walls of 10 to 15 foot high border the downhill side of the wash. I notice very little Slickrock near the streambed. Along the way I have noticed a lot of animal tracks but think little about it since the largest appears to be deer and cow tracks. It seems like I had been hiking for miles and I check the GPS, its 2.0 miles as the crow flies, I estimate on the ground about 2.3 miles. I had noticed a lot of greenery ahead and hike into to find a large shallow pool of water. I look at the map and it shows a spring here. I also notice animal tracks everywhere in the mud. Now I know where all those animal tracks were heading. I started fighting my way through the vegetation of these wetlands and was tough. It seem like it went on forever and I was thinking I was getting close to my hiking limit and would only press on only if the prize was close by. I fought my way through for a ways and decide this was going to be my turn-around point. I was dejected but pulled out the DSLR and was determined to come back with some good landscape photos. I normally use a point & shoot GPS camera while hiking and pull out the DSLR at stops. After getting out of the jungle and resting I’m eyeing everything as I take photos on the way back. I’m composing the canyon walls and framing with anything but mostly trees. I continue the walk a few hundred feet, stop and take a few shots and repeat. Then when I was composing a shot, I notice a crack in the canyon wall with a large tree in front of it. My first thought was it looks just like Long Canyon slot entrance in Escalante. I missed this crack on the way in and go over to investigate. As I walk to the tree I realize there is a ten to fifteen foot opening in the canyon wall here. It quickly narrows down to about 2 feet after only about 15 feet in. I walk up to the nearly vertical opening that is less than two foot wide and it looks very dark inside so I can’t see much. I dropped the backpack and tripod and wonder if I could squeeze through sideways. I squeeze into the slot traveling sideways when after about 15 to 20 feet it opens up into a small chamber. I say WOW, can you believe this. The bottom is covered with a cracked dried out mud pattern. I have the P&S in my shirt pocket and try to take a selfie. The camera refuses. It’s really dark and you always use natural lighting when shooting a slot canyon. I turn on the flash and take several selfies. I notice the opening on the other side of the chamber and wonder if I can squeeze into. I hike sideways into the second notch for a ways when I notice a bright light that is a ways off toward the top of the canyon. I can barely see the slot sloping upwards toward the light. I say WOW again and realize the notch has gotten slightly narrower and now I come to the point where this big old man can’t squeeze any smaller. I slither back to the chamber and think “this is really cool”. I go back outside and pull out the camera gear and setup the tripod for some shots with the DSLR. I’m thrilled that this place made my day. I eventually return back to the pickup and Hanksville.
On Saturday I head for the Irish Canyons. I had hiked Leprechaun about six months ago and decided to try Blarney this time even though I knew it was technical. It didn’t take me long to get to the first obstacle and I bolt back to the truck. I’m thinking Shillegh is only 0.2 miles away, walk or drive to it. I drive over to where the wash crosses under the road and can’t find any place to park. This highway is busier so I drive back to Blarneys side track. I walk the road back to Shillegh and start upstream. It doesn’t take long to get to side raving coming in from the right. The wash is rather wide at the confluence and I hike over to the ravine entrance where I can see into it and notice there is a slot back in there. I hike in exploring this little slot that goes on and on. I’m thrilled and take a bunch of photographs. Like many slots this one gets narrower the farther in you go and there are many small choke-stones that are easily climbed over. I stop where it looks like it getting too difficult for me and head back to the main drainage. I hike upstream and it is starting to look like a clone of the first slot. Again the drainage becomes a nice Slickrock slot that goes on and on. Again it gets too narrow for this big old man and I take lots of photographs. I return to the pickup and town.
For Sunday, I had put Death Canyon on the agenda. I had previously avoided this place because of the name and what little I have found out about it. I did know that a loop hiking on top and dropping down into the canyon was the preferred way but I wasn’t in the route finding mood and decided to do an up and back hike. I hiked up this fairly wide canyon that would be stretch to call a narrows although there are red sandstone canyon walls until it ends at a box canyon. It is only one mile in to the box so I return to the pickup thinking this is a good time for Black Creek.
I had scouted out Black Creek earlier in the week and decided if I needed a time-filler that this would be it. It turns out Black Creek was more a red sandstone narrows than my first hike and I explored and photographed it including hiking through the culvert running under the highway. It was lunch time by the time I finished here but instead of going to Hanksville I decide to hold out and drive to Blanding that is on the way home for me. I ate lunch in Blanding and the drive south to Arizona.