Well watered, part I

It’s hard to put into words the allure of the endless sea of navajo sandstone that surrounds the greater Glen Canyon region, with large fat fingers extending up the Escalante, North Wash, and Dirty Devil.  The heart and soul might be between Stevens and Navajo Mountain, bound by the Kaiparowitz to the west and let’s say Lake Canyon to the east.   _dsc6416

The canyons of the area (which I find arguably the most magical of anywhere) make all that rock easy to dismiss, especially in the warmer months.

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Winter, then, is a good time for a heavy dose of bench and rim walking.

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A family of coyotes and later a red fox also seemed to be enjoying the solitude…

 

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It’s also of course the time to do seasonally inappropriate things like willow bashing and wading through beaver dams in 35 degree rain.

 

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If you’re gonna really get to known a place you gotta experience it in as many states as you can…

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After more than one occasion of beaver-cursing it was quite comical to arrive at this pool only to have a beaver casually (and, at least it seemed, arrogantly) swimming around just a few feet below me.

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Don’t blame his choice of home though…

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Lost and found…

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I slept in an alcove, which I don’t really care for.  I prefer being in the open, but dislike shelters even more.  The noise of the water drowned out the arrival of more rain in the night.

 

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Most of the day was very enjoyable and very wet.  Soup and coffee in another massive alcove took the edge off the slowly growing frustration of routefinding through dozens of dams and collapsing benches.

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January cheatgrass crop was off to a great start…cheat indeed…

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Things got a lot more wet once back on top (with some wind to spice things up further).

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Having driven most of the way (though not quite this far) down HITR after a wet week and then 8+” of rapidly melting snow a few Decembers ago I thought I had experienced it at its worst, but one step onto the road (which was half covered in water) and it was clear I was wrong and the choice was already made for me about whether or not I would be doing some more “if I have time” wandering.  At least there was stout and plenty of soup…

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Well watered, part II

A lot of catching up to do, so we’ll move backwards.

I woke up not feeling any more motivated.  More rain all night, still raining and judging by the depth and texture of the mud in the small radius I’d walked around the vehicle in the past 12 hours, even just a small handful of miles on the carmel bench on which I sat wasn’t appealing.

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Even less appealing was sitting in the vehicle for another day or whatever so after a lot of extra coffee and procrastination it was back out into the wild…

 

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Travel was as bad as expected in places but overall much better than I’d feared.

 

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and then there was rock…

 

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despite more rain I was enjoying myself quite a lot and thankful I’d been stranded into seeing more new places in all of January’s glory

 

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…very nice stroll downcanyon in the afternoon.  No clean loops on this outing so I embraced the disjointed mess of lots of out-and-back explorations.

 

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Tons of (very) fresh sheep sign.  I was sure I’d see them with my mammal luck so far but never saw ’em..

 

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morning stroll…

 

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I love inclement weather but seeing the sun brought much joy…

 

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Full narrows will have to wait…

 

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One of my fav features of the region is without a doubt the often-shocking amount of water outside of the canyons..

 

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Only so much space up between canyons though…

 

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more disjointed explorations…

 

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aaand get on top!

 

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One night with only a bit of rain and a few hours of sun were plenty to afford an escape back to the highway, though the post-trip food scene is pretty sad this time of year throught SE Utah.  A small price to pay…

 

What’s left

…is a lot.  Over the past couple years the greater Glen Canyon area has become my favorite place to backpack and I’m convinced it still possesses some of the most spectacular, legit wilderness in the lower 48.  It’s definitely a mixed experience at times.  Many side canyons have recovered remarkably fast in this extended period of low water and it’s not hard at all to see it as it was pre-dam.  But I’ve also walked across Hall’s and Bullfrog bay and in such places that don’t have the benefit of frequent and significant flash floods, it’s hard to imagine it ever being the same.

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This was to be mostly a trip for checking out some canyons that don’t really allow for loop hikes (of course as part of a larger loop).  I hoped to find a new route down, but the places that looked good on maps were not even close on the ground.  From the rim, there did not look like there was anywhere close to sufficient water for boating, which I was fine with since the boat was brought out of necessity for later in the trip.

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After making it to the bottom down a known route I had lunch and chatted with some dudes from Chicago and Brooklyn who I’d watched from above thrashing around in the willows and struggling with the multiple crossings.  I finished lunch and stepped into the water to try to find a way through the wall of 15′ tall willows and was surprised to find it thigh-deep.  I asked if it was similar depth in the the stretch they’d been walking.  Totally ignorant of the intent of my question, they made a few comments like, “oh you’re about my height and it doesn’t really get deeper so I think you’ll be okay.”  Their shock that I had a boat in my pack and their look as I giddily floated away as they continued their struggle was as good as you would imagine.

The water was mostly fine with a slightly frustrating amount of dragging only for the last river bend or so before my destination.

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I did not make it as far as I’d hoped that evening, but my camp was good (once I moved it after noticing the massive woodrat nest next to where I first stopped).

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I was about 2/3 of a canyon behind schedule but figured I could cut out one of the later ones and still make it to to the head that day.  I’m not sure I’ve experienced such a spectacular canyon with such spectacularly difficult walking.  The riparian in the bottom is just madness.  Beaver dams and the whole lot.  Benches above are mostly good, but there are massive springs (see little waterfall pic above) flowing from Navajo/Kayenta interface, so you’re still crawling through oak and crossing poison ivy forests even up high.

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Progress was slow and I decided it wasn’t worth rushing up to the end just to do it and that it warranted a return trip with two or three days for proper exploration.  Back to the water…

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There’a big hole in the photo-history here, which was really quite a lot of misery.  Water was pretty good again, but winds had steadily picked up and by the time I reached the silt-chute boating near the lake it was a full-on apocalyptic scene of gray, vegetation-less silt flats, massive sand storm, and a bouey laying on its side half buried in tumbleweeds reading EXPLORER CANYON.

I suffered on the lake.  Very slow progress, getting tossed around in my Scout, and no rest because if you stop paddling you quickly find yourself where you were 10 minutes ago.  The water though not the headwind improved slightly once I exited the main channel but it was still rough.  I headed up a side canyon that has long been on my list and was probably only a bend away from land but just couldn’t take any more, especially being late in the day and with little hope of a place to camp in such a narrow canyon.  I turned around and made my way to my final destination, laughing at one point that I was paddling as hard as I could and traveling backwards at a solid 3 mph for 10 seconds or so.

 

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I reached shore and probably due to some combination of the wind, sitting in water for a few hours, and likely not enough food was immediately shivering like crazy despite it likely being over 70 degrees.  Eager to walk, I packed quickly and headed upcanyon, dreading that if things hadn’t changed I had a doozy of a beaver complex to negotiate soon.  In the meantime, the combination of prints of shoed human, barefoot human, river otter, and mountain lion was quite amusing.

The beaver dams of a few years ago were long gone and progress was easy, but finding camp was a bit tricky.  The aforementioned lion was obviously make quite the frequent (and recent) trips through the narrow canyon, so the floor didn’t seem like a great (or at least restful) idea.  I laughed picturing it making the swim through the belly-deep narrows sections.

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I found a nice high camp by dusk and feeling good about how the day had ended realized i didn’t have my paddle.  In my sloppy haste to get walking I’d left probably the largest, most inexcusable thing possible outside of my backpack itself.

I was angry with myself less because of the lost object and more because of potential consequences if circumstance had been different and most of all that it had happened in a moment of discomfort that was really quite minor.  You don’t leave things behind in the backcountry.  You just don’t do it.  It’s a basic and very important rule and should be easy.  Head was not in the game.

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It was not long though that it was hard to muster any emotions other than awe and joy.  I’m not sure you could convince me this little “Y” isn’t the most beautiful place on earth.  I’ve been here a few times and my mind hasn’t changed.

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It’s not quite the same without the Mimulus blooming but the orchids and columbines were a fine substitute.

 

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I chatted with a foreign couple and hoped they’d noticed the poison ivy they’d just walked through in their sandals and shorts.  Guess they’d find out sooner or later…

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I’m not sure I can think of another trip with as high of highs and low of lows.  Fitting for visitation to Glen Canyon.

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Down there in the rocks

Stomping grounds

Aside from being an obvious must-visit just by looking at a map, this area has some fascinating history that makes it particularly special.

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One of the most rewarding side benefits of doing trips with a baby over the last year and a half has been learning to enjoy things like spending a half day checking out every crack upcanyon.  Miles and hours not spent on overall progress was previously hard to stomach…

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Colors were great…

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Climbing out for camp is worthwhile this time of year.

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White granite washes were a unique experience…

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More hours exploring dead-ends…

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Lots of cross drainages makes a multitude of loop options look good on mpas, but on the ground is always different.  Three drainages that looked like they would surely get me where I wanted all ended in barely-unpassable dryfalls.  A pass at dusk finally got me where I needed to be.  With 5ish miles to go, half of which I had already done on day one, I decided hiking out in the dark would allow me to do some extra exploring the next day, so I kept walking.  Boulder hopping, yet another head-scratching canyon country miner’s route out, and I was back at the truck for cold beer and cultural catch-up with KCYN CANYON COUNTRY, 97.1…

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Photoset: Where the canyon begins

I’ve become increasingly enamored with exploring the greater Glen Canyon area over the past couple years.  I often don’t see the lake and when I do I tend to blast through as quickly as possible, especially the weedy, silty mess where the water ends.  Last week I finished a trip early and had an extra day to check out a canyon that required walking through the said zone.  On my way out as I was about to climb up to the Kayenta bench and hightail it out of there I decided to take a few shots.  Shot with A7RII and Zeiss Contax G 90/2 Planar.

Photo set: Sand, rock, storm

Going to try something different.  Hopefully these can become a regular installment.  I don’t really know what to call it; I don’t like “photoessay” and it’s not really as formal as a “gallery” or “portfolio”.  Just a group of photos with something/somewhere in common without having to force them into a “trip report”.  I’ll give the wordpress gallery format a try but I’m not completely sold on it.

These are from a walk last weekend.  Shot with DP1 and DP3 Merrill.

Click for gallery view.

Backups

It’s always a good idea to have a couple easy access trips in your back pocket.  This trip was supposed to be somewhere else, but an increasingly poor forecast had 2+ hours of off pavement driving looking like a bad idea.

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Several years ago while flipping through a certain normally-awful magazine there was a trip that caught my eye that looked surprisingly creative and excellent.  DP1M0782

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A few modifications to add some good-looking stuff, remove some lame-looking stuff and make a loop and I had a nice highway accessible trip for times like these.DP1M0790

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Funny thing is Autumn and I started a variation of this a few years ago but about four miles in decided we just weren’t that into it at the moment, drank the beers we had brought, and went and swam in the Fremont instead.

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The weather changed from sun to sleet to hail to rain in 15 minute intervals most of the trip.

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As far as Utah national park traverses on navajo sandstone go, I’ll just say I’m not sure why anyone would choose Trans-Zion.

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Now that’s a gully scramble…

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Basic idea is up ridge, down drainage or vice-versa.  The crux was an icy, neck-deep slot swim which luckily came during 15 minutes of sun…

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In my hasty loop closing planning I neglected to notice that I had to walk through a parking lot trailhead, but it was the last day and almost back anyway, so minor foul.  The first 30 miles or whatever was smashing good with some of the best park hiking I’ve done anywhere.

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Quenault Creek

I suppose moving away from anywhere there would be some regrets of things you neglected to do, but it still pains me that I was on backpacking hiatus while living in Washington.  Luckily we still have a lot of family and reason for regular visits.  Olympic National Park always seemed to be pretty special the few times I visited and a proper few nights spent there has been on the list for several years.

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After spending a few glorious sunny fall days on Whidbey Island for some friends’ wedding (where we were also married one day away from exactly seven years earlier), the forecast for the following days when we would be out in the wilds didn’t look great, though I figured it would be appropriate to have a proper rainforest experience after such a brutally dry summer.

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Trail name: Mossy Bottoms

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Being there for the small window of colors other than green was a treat…

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Backpacking with Z has made the idea of the basecamp make sense for the first time.  It’s pretty difficult to be under 40 lbs with the carrier (just the pack and babe is already 30+) and it’s nothing like carrying a well packed 40 lbs in a nicely harnessed backpack.  Being able to dump shelter, food, and not carry around a few days worth of wet and dirty diapers is the way to go when possible.

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We did get a bit of rain on day two but nothing to hamper spirits.

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Mountain goats, lots of elk, and two bears made the already spectacular day even more magical.

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Despite the rain our camp was under such enormous and dense cedars that it was completely dry when we arrived back at camp.  The difference in darkness and light between our camp and 30 meters out amongst the scattered alders along the creek was staggering.

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Inventory…

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Reminding Auntie not to forget the Evan Williams in her morning coffee…

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I prefer loops but returning the way you came isn’t all bad.  New perspective, new light, and always things you missed the first time…

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This would be a pretty spectacular (if woody) boat ride earlier in the summer…

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No roads through the park and lots of trailless drainages definitely gets the future-possibilities-crank turning.

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A couple nights of car camping at Mt. Rainier topped things off nicely.

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Roostin

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Returning to familiar places differently, whether by different access points or as part of a completely different trip is always worthwhile, but revisiting some of those places with Zazie has been tremendously rewarding.

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I’ve become pretty sloppy with packing over the last couple years.  I often forget things, accidentally leave extra things in my pack, take more food than I need, not enough food, etc.  I know I’ll be fine and it’s usually not more than an annoyance, but having someone else completely relying on me who can’t decide that she’s okay with dealing with those consequences has made me refocus some gear choices.

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Shelter has perhaps been the biggest change.  I very rarely even take a shelter and have never backpacked with a floored shelter.  We cowboy camped a few nights before she was very mobile, but anything less than fully enclosed and freestanding would be pretty frustrating.  There would be lots of sand eating and center pole fixing.

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We went with a Tarptent Cloudburst 3, which has met our needs quite well.  Dead easy to set up and lots of room for the small footprint.  The only problem has been on this particular trip, which was the first that we have actually used it in any rain.  I bought the tent used but it had never actually been used, and I neglected to notice it hadn’t been seam sealed.  We had about 5 hours of continuous, often heavy rain our first night of the trip (another scenario where a suitable, liveable shelter is a must with a baby), so some creative leak plugging was necessary.

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Setting up a basecamp minimizes hauling the required extra gear for most of the trip and also has the advantage of a low penalty for extra tasty and heavy food and beverage.

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We also gave in and picked up an Osprey Poco Plus after not being satisfied with a couple other gifted and/or diy framed carriers.  A woven wrap was great when she was smaller and we still use it a lot, but for backpacking its not the most practical anymore.  The Osprey is pretty nice; most notably the storage space is quite impressive and well-designed.  The hipbelt isn’t great, which is too bad considering 35 lbs in one of these carriers feels a lot different than 35 lbs in a pack thats a nice solid compressed unit right against your back.  Overall, though a framed carrier has lots of advantages, like a place to sit and a sunshade for someone who pulls a hat off after about 45 seconds.

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Some very cool, very old alcove finds of the non-human variety

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It’s easier than ever to decide it’s too much to head out, but the experience and and memories made are richer than ever.

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