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.


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.



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.


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…


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.


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.




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…





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.



2 thoughts on “What’s left

  1. Kudos for getting down there. It is cruxy for sure – been trying to think of a good loop to incorporate that area and its confounding and not clean at all. Great images, looks like the new setup is workin’ for ya!

  2. Awesome. I just followed some of your footsteps I believe. Looped Willow, Davis and 50 Mile via backpack/packraft and cheated with 4 miles of road walking to complete the loop back to Willow. With a shuttle the skies the limit down there, clean loops are tough.
    I learned paddling 10 miles of lake in a loaded down packraft is a damn good gym substitute. Keep the reports coming…

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