Trip Report Feb 2015 Utah – San Rafael Swell – Ding Dang Canyon, Farnsworth Canyon
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Here it is Feb 22, 2015 and I’m home despite leaving for Utah on the 19th. When I was heading toward Utah I gambled the weather would be good enough for a hiking trip to the San Rafael Swell. Since I’m doing a full Art Show schedule this year (selling photography) my trips out of state for hiking is very limited. Well to sum it up I was chased out of southern Utah by winter weather but managed to get two good hikes in for the trip plus some scouting done. I didn’t hike on Day 3 since the wind was blowing constantly with 20+ mph winds and gusts were over 50 mph.
I drove from home to Hanksville, Utah which is plenty of driving to fill a day. Upon arrival the restaurant/campground had a sign up closed for the season and my impromptu attempt to get a campsite failed. So plan B was a motel I stayed at the previous February. This is a very small town with very few choses for lodging, gas and food. Some of the businesses close for the winter season.
From Hanksville, I drove directly to the San Rafael Swell and the Ding Dang Trailhead. Both canyons share the same trailhead. On this trip I had the GPS coordinates and finding the minimal trailhead with a small information sign was easy. There was no map on the information board rendering the hike obstacle description almost useless other than there are lots of obstacles in both canyons and Canyoneering experts can make a loop out of it.
I headed upstream in the wash which is the trail and after 1 mile a minor looking tributary coming in from the right is the wash from Ding Canyon. Although you can see the break in the ridgeline up high to the right it wasn’t obvious that this wash would take you into Ding Canyon. I had already seen some minor drainage feeding the wash I was hiking and the GPS coordinates from the San Rafael Swell 2015 Canyon Atlas (draft copy) said I was close but not quite there yet. I continued upstream a short ways to confirm this was it and backtracked to the junction and hiked up the wash that winded back and forth before approaching the obvious Ding Canyon. It didn’t take long to start hitting the obstacles and I lost interest after awhile and decided to try Dang Canyon which required going back to the junction and hiking further upstream. Hiking into Dang Canyon is a no-brainer since basically you are hiking Dang Wash from the beginning and Ding Wash is only a minor tributary to it by the size of the sandy/gravel streambeds.
Along the way I noticed several tributaries feeding in from the west and was trying to correlate to the one shown on the map. I started running into obstacles but unlike my first canyon entry every obstacle I came across in Dang had an easy bypass and it was getting interesting finding a short route around each one. Not only was I enjoying the obstacles but was able to continue making progress right into a very distinct slot canyon. Lower Dang is the classic slot with a narrow passageway only 2 to 4 feet wide with nearly vertical canyon walls. This was the slot canyon experience I was looking for and I found it. I did find a shallow pool of water less than a foot deep and about 20 feet long which meant either getting your shoes or feet wet or both.
I had marked my waypoints along the way and used the Olympus Point & Shoot GPS camera to capture documentary photos. At the slot I pulled out the Canon T2i DSLR and set up the tripod for some selfies. The sun was splitting the canyon with shade creating the typical mid-day photographer’s nightmare for dynamic range. I chose to wait around until the sun moved enough to get better photographs. I didn’t wait last year at Peek-A-Boo and now regret it. At that time I was doing a loop and my route was uncertain so I didn’t want to waste any time. Today it is a up and back hike and I had plenty of time to sit around, have a snack and impatiently measure how much the shadow moved every 15 minutes or so. After the entire slot was in the shadow I snapped a final set of photos, packed up and headed back to the pickup. I had not seen another person along the way but there was a second vehicle at the trailhead.
I drove the short distance to Goblin Valley State Park and got a campsite for the night. It was still light out so I drove to the Goblin viewing area and snapped some shots of the Goblins although I was tempted to hike the trail down into the valley but decided I had enough hiking for today.
It was a cold night in the mini-camper and I need to be retrained at the beginning of the hiking season. I could have been more comfortable but never got things set up correctly for the big chill. I headed out at about sunrise and by the time I got to I-70, exit 116. I finally realized the low gas situation was making me nervous enough to call my wife to find the nearest gas station. I ended up driving about 25 miles to a small town, Ferron and filled up at the only gas station. I returned via a simpler route but slightly longer and found the dirt road leading to Forgotten Canyon. The wind was blowing hard and the gusts were incredible. I could see the predicted snow storm clouds in the distance and pretty much made up my mine even if I made it to the trailhead via the 4WD jeep trail with my 2WD Ford Ranger pickup I was not going to make the hike because of the weather. I was totally uncertain about this jeep trail that had a “More Difficult” rating and making far enough in a 2WD vehicle. I didn’t want to get stuck in the soft sandy dirt with a snowstorm approaching. I slowly drove the road to near the remote trailhead that is really in this case, only a convenient place to park where the road turns and starts heading away from Eagle Canyon. I approached a significant wash from a hill top and decided the flat spot on the top of the hill was closed enough for parking and starting the hike. I had slowly made the drive to this spot and it was mid-day, late for starting a totally remote hike with pending bad weather forecast for late in the day. I chalked up this adventure to scouting and slowly returned to Moore Rd.
I drove to Green River for a late lunch and contemplated rather to drive home or stay the night. Many of the small motels looked closed for the season but Motel 6 had a good price displayed on their sign. I decided another night in the mini-camper wasn’t an option. I called Robin again for weather information and decided that there may be an opportunity for one more hike the next day. I stayed at the motel for the night.
I decided to get an early start since bad weather was arriving late in the day. I wanted to be at the trailhead by sunrise so I left the motel in the dark. I had on another trip scouted out hiking Farnsworth Canyon and had the exact GPS coordinates where I would park. The jeep trail to Farnsworth is just that and I could only make it to within one mile of the trailhead with a 2WD pickup. I drove the familiar dirt road and got to about 300 feet from my designated 2WD parking place and decided not to drive through a small rough wash to go only 300 feet further (GPS distance). I parked at a flat spot near a tree. I got out of the pickup and started to get ready for the hike. I seldom wear a jacket since this big guy heats up quickly hiking but it was cold and mean looking clouds were all around. I decided not the light denim jacket, not the heavy insulated denim jacket but my hooded winter waterproof coat which I don’t liking hiking with a backpack since the material is slick and makes everything unstable. I wanted to make sure that I would be comfortable when it started raining or snowing. I knew there would be two miles of hiking a jeep trail much less the hike from the trailhead to the canyon so I chose not my usual mid-weight tripod but a lighter tripod for the hike. Several of my tripods have a common mounting plate so the plate is usually left on the camera body.
I head off on the hike and mark waypoints and finally make it to the obvious trailhead without an information board and no signs other than two stick signs blocking the legacy jeep trail to the canyon. The “No Vehicle”, “Wilderness Study Area” signs were the only thing marking the trailhead. A worn path could be seen leading away from the signs toward a dirt hill and the crack in the San Rafael Swell. I entered in the GPS coordinates for the canyon and everything was a go and I followed the worn path. To my surprise I was still wearing the winter coat with the hood on since there was a slight breeze, cool and cloudy skies. The trail faded away into the slickrock and I approached the wash which required descending about 50 feet down into the dry sandy/gravel streambed. There wasn’t anything (cairns) marking the entry route so I worked my way down finding the gentlest slope and avoiding any scrambling. I marked a huge X in the sandy streambed with my shoe to mark the exit point even though I was marking GPS waypoints.
I purposely try not to learn too much about a future hike because I want the adventure of the unknown but I do learn enough to be prepared for the hike. For this hike I knew it should be easy going and it was, all the way through the slot section about ¾ of mile further up canyon where large boulders make the hike more challenging in a wider section of the canyon. I returned back to the slot section to set up the tripod and take some selfies. I carried a lighter tripod that normally does not get used and as I try to mount the DSLR, I quickly realize this tripod uses a different mounting plate than the one on the camera. I thoroughly looked through backpack for the correct one (plate) without any luck. So here I am with a tripod I can’t use but need to. I have straps on the backpack used for mostly carrying extra clothing as I strip down on a hike. I pull one of the straps out of the tight backpack loop hole and attempt to strap the camera onto the tripod. I finally get it secured enough to trust that the DSLR won’t fall to the ground and take numerous photos of me in the slot canyon. I’m in no hurry and look for good composition and move the tripod several times. I have a snack and head back. The first few hikes of the season are always the toughest for me since I am mostly inactive during the winter months. I have no problem finding my way back to the exit point and the sun is starting to break through the clouds occasionally and I strip off the coat and tie it to the backpack using the two straps. As I hike the last half mile my leg muscles start complaining with a muscle burn, which I missed for over a decade because angina had restricted my activities. Since 2011 stent implant in my main artery I’m on my third life. I have been carefully controlled my blood pressure for the past few years and suddenly realize even though I had made two good hikes they had been angina free. This big old man, sixty plus, was really having an adventure and enjoying the great outdoors despite the burning leg muscles. This muscle burn brought flashbacks of my youth snow skiing, racing down the mountains of upstate New York non-stop with my high school skiing buddies to see who could make it the fastest and farthest without crashing or resting.
I eventually made it back to the vehicle by mid-day thinking I still had some time left to do some scouting so I drove to some other jeep trails to check them out. After scouting I started heading for home deciding to drive through Moab and check out my books being sold at Back O Beyond Bookstore in the core of downtown tourist district. After this stop I made a beeline home arriving about midnight.
The winter weather not only hit southern Utah but made it down to Flagstaff, Arizona where they had 8 inches of snow the following day. This was my first Utah adventure for the year.