In the morning there was some time to kill before the boat arrived. I took the time to get organized and then actually had a swim in the Colorado River. This was quite the memory! Somebody once told me that one could wade across the Colorado at Spanish Bottom when the river was low. This was definitely not the case on this day and I’m not sure if it could ever really be accurate!
Once the boat from Tex’s Riverways arrived, we loaded up. My boat ride was complete in about 30 seconds. Once across it took a bit of a fight to get through the overgrowth along the river. There I dropped the pack to go a ways downstream to check out Brown Betty Rapids — the first rapid of Cataract Canyon. There was still a rafting party breaking camp below the rapid:
I decided to go up Lower Red Lake Canyon Trail instead of the route along the river and tough climb out farther north. Even though I love the later-mentioned route I found 4 years ago, I thought it would be cool to re-visit LRLT again. When I did it for the first time many years ago it kicked my butt — HOT and steep with a fully re-supplied pack doesn’t make for an enjoyable hike. But, I was curious to see if that memory was just because I was ‘green’ back then or if the route really is that bad. Now I can say… the truth is somewhere in between. The route up is definitely hot and steep. Ideally this would not be hiked mid-day, but when doing the crossing at river at 11am this is hard to avoid. Near the top I did spot water at the big dryfall though. This is out of the way and would involve a moderate climb down from the trail, but if really needing water there might be an opportunity here. I pushed on. I took a nice nap before getting up to Cyclone Canyon. I was pretty drained by this point.
Pushing on the scenery was great. Looking behind me was an amazing sight with the Needles to the south peeking up from the walled-in corridor of Cyclone Canyon. Some older maps show a spring here, but I saw ZERO sign of water.
The permit for the zone I wanted to camp was taken (Needles North), so I ended up with Red Lake/Grabens. I was nearing the edge of this zone. So… I had to decide if I could push hard and make it out of the park (and not need a permit) or drop pack and call it an early day. Since it had already been a tough day — it didn’t take too much contemplation. I actually decided to not just kick back at camp and instead did the side hike out to Confluence Overlook for sundown. Awesome place, but unfortunately the late-day sun was bad and the rivers once again both ran muddy. One day I really hope to be here when there is a great mix of the rivers. I made it back to my camp just as the sun was going down on Cyclone Canyon:
Packing up camp in the morning I move my pack and uncover a big scorpion! I’ve seen smaller scorpions a few times car camping, but never on one of my hikes. It definitely made me a little more cautious packing up the rest of my gear!
The route over to Big Spring TH is a fun one. There are some great slickrock crossings, a steel ladder to climb and plenty of great views south to the Needles. I met a few people along the way making the hike out to Confluence Overlook.
Nearing Big Spring Overlook I needed water so I followed the wash down to the dryfall and looked down to the lush area below with cottonwoods and a flowing stream. I had to follow the rim for quite a ways before I found a spot that I could climb down and fill up my jugs. This would be a tough climb with a big pack — especially if one was solo. The water ran clear and was plentiful. The scene once down the ledge:
Back to my pack, I climbed up to the official TH at the end of the park’s paved road and found a very busy parking lot. Dozens of cars parked with many people just taking photos from the overlook. A whole bus of students was just loading up. Evidently they had just done the nearby pothole interpretive trail. It’s always so strange to come out of the wilderness and immediately be surrounded by people.
I walked along the edge of the road for about a mile before I hoped down into a side drainage which would lead down to Little Spring Canyon. The upper part of the canyon was difficult just because of the thick brush. About half way to the spring there there is a dryfall which has to be bypassed. The best bet here is to rim walk along the southern edge and then drop back down into a side drainage.
Back down in the main canyon there is an small arch along the wall on the northern side, and then soon after the bottom of the canyon begins to fill with brush as I approach the spring. Soon the brush is incredibly thick as the water starts to run. I stop for an extended break in this lush oasis and refill the jugs. From here the route leaves Little Spring canyon via the side drainage to the SE. This drainage immediately ends in a dryfall, but it’s possible to climb the steep slope on one side to get to a ledge system near the top. I’d done this before, but this time out it was much harder. I had to push my pack above my head to the small ledge and then climb up the 8 foot ledge with barley any hand holds. A pile of loose rocks on the bottom is there to give one an assist. This is VERY tricky (and slightly dangerous) for the solo backpacker. If solo and less than 6’2″, one may wish to bypass this. Once one has filled up with water I’m fairly certain it it would be possible to backtrack to the upper dryfall and then rim-walk to this same point.
Once on top, I found my way through the jumble of rocks and headed slightly north and then over the pass which heads east to where the route intersects Salt Creek just below the Lower Jump — a huge dryfall (which frequently has a trickle of water going over it.) The edge here is exceptionally sheer and in fact overhangs the canyon quite a bit. My first time here I accidentally walked out onto the overhangs not realizing what I was doing. I thought about trying to recreate that scene with a timed-photo of myself, but I could not bring myself to do it — just too scary!
I had another goal for this area that I did want to achieve though. In my previous trip I spotted an arch in the distance across the canyon on the north side. Unfortunately my only photo of it was out of focus. I could once again see the arch and decided to go take a closer look. I’m glad I did.
From here I headed up the wash and to the 4×4 road. There was a lot of water this time in the wash. Though I didn’t see it last time, I think I might have missed it by walking too high along the bank because it looks to be a fairly permanent source of water here based on the foliage.
Once back on the road I quickened my pace and was soon outside the boundaries of the park. Several miles to the north I left the dirt road behind and dropped into the drainage which would head northeast. This part of the route again put me on the Hayduke Trail. Once down in the side drainage I was surprised to find even more waterholes — possibly leftover from the recent storm. Hayduke authors call this We-Hope-So Wash. Farther down there was a big overhang and pool which looks as if it would hold water for much the year. I missed this landmark last time as I did a side hike to The Loop. As amazing as that viewpoint is, I decided to skip it this time as it was getting to be fairly late in the day and I wanted to climb up to the mesa ahead of me if possible.
Getting out of We-Hope-So to the east is somewhat tricky. I remembered last time it took quite a bit of trial and error to work my way up through the sandstone ledges. I really thought it would be easier this time, but it wasn’t. I quickly realized that I wasn’t quite in same place as before as I actually walked one bend farther down the wash. But, like last time, with a little bit of patience and scouting I was able to find my way up. I decided to make camp on the slickrock with a great view over to Junction Butte.
The next day I headed out to walk the ridge toward Indian Creek. This was a highlight from my 2009 trip and I enjoyed it equally this time out. You really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere surrounded by these amazing canyonlands. The route seems almost paved with colorful rocks and flowers were in bloom as well. The unique sandstone towers act as the world’s largest cairns marking the way to the north. Again I must re-iterate — you need excellent navigation skills out here as you ARE a long ways from anywhere and not likely to see another soul.
Eventually I made my way to where I would descend to Indian Creek. This is also a tricky route and gave me a little bit of a problem last time, but I think I made it harder for myself than necessary after reading other trip reports. I explored a different route off the upper ledges and found it was actually harder than my previous route. But, I made it down in, but then got ledged out similar to last time in the mid-level. I actually (eventually) found my way to the very same descent chute that I used in 2009. It requires sliding down a chute between two big chunks of rock (see the very center of image on left.)
This got me to the lower level. From here I stayed in the main drainage. The route from here on looks daunting so last time I swung to the north into another drainage which was quite rough and now I know… that was a mistake. The main drainage though it looks bad from the top is an easy stair step walk down and the bottom section is easy as it dumps one right out to the magic crack that leads to the bottom of Indian Creek. This is the lower section of the descent route:
All was good, except… there was no creek! Indian Creek is usually a perennial water source. With the recent storms I thought it might be even flowing high… but nothing! I’d been warned that the ranchers upstream have water rights and can take all the water, but I’d never read of that actually happening. Semi-apprehensive I continued downstream and soon I was happy to see pools of water. The water never did flow, but there was a constant string of stagnant pools as I made my way down the canyon.
When I got to the junction of Rustler Canyon I stopped to fill up my water jugs once again. I contemplated taking a side-hike to the waterfall down canyon, but with so little water in Indian Creek I didn’t think it would be worth the effort. Another trip.
Headed up Rustler I soon came to the dryfall obstacle. It looks problematic at first, but it really doesn’t take too much effort to get past this point. There is a ledge system on the east side that is easy to climb and gets one up to the pothole. From there one can climb straight up the tiny slot of the watercourse. There’s likely to even be some dripping water here.
Once on top it’s somewhat of a slog through the upper reaches of Rustler Canyon before making it out to the Lockhart 4×4 road.
Once on the road I headed north and around the bend into Lockhart Basin. Easy walking here, but it’s a slow go as distance is deceiving in this wide-open country below the upper canyon country’s upper rims. Finally around the corner I was excited to see what I thought to be a stock pond in distance. When I got closer it was confirmed and I was happy to add water to my containers in this fairly arid region. It’s in this stretch that I ran nearly out of water in 2009. Walking away from the pond I came across my THIRD dead cow of the trip. That somewhat tempered my enthusiasm for the water.
From this point I decided to leave the route of the Hayduke Trail and its circuitous and dry route north to the Colorado River. Instead I wanted to climb a huge talus slope to connect a previous scouting trip of mine atop Hatch Mesa. I was now staring at that climb and it looked incredibly daunting. If I hadn’t already been on the top and stared down this incline, I’m not sure I would ever attempt it. It was a colorful mix of rocks , mud and talus and thus I dubbed it the Striped Monster. It was late enough in the day that I decided to wait until the morning to officially embark on this part of the journey.
With the early morning sun in my eyes, I started up the Striped Monster:
I’d picked a route that I quickly deemed too steep, so I angled farther south to a more moderate slope. It was a slow go picking my way through the boulders making sure the footholds were stable. Once on the more moderate slope, it wasn’t too bad — just a tedious climb up and up. There was a big flat area about half way up that I dubbed the rest stop. Here I stopped for a snack and studied the pitch above which was the steepest section yet and filled with the biggest boulders. After the short break I continued up finding fewer options for travel the higher I went. I could see impassable sections to my left and to my right closing in on me as I went higher. I started to question my earlier scouting trip — wondering if I’d really scouted it well enough. Many of my steps sent small rocks careening below. I finally got to one incredibly steep section which looked as if it was the final crux. After much testing of footing and contemplation, I decided the chute was too steep to get up. I went back and looked for another way. Here’s what I was looking up at:
After I took a few big steps up and around the other direction toward what appeared to be extreme exposure, I realized there was a good route that cut immediately back and to above the chute without doing anything scary. I logged the point on my GPS and while doing so… I saw a point from my previous expedition called “Chute Top”. This is where I turned around before so I was confident that from this point on I was in the clear! And sure enough, after picking my way up through the remaining boulder-field and then zig-zagging up a few remaining ledges, I was atop the Wingate cliffs, atop the monster, and what an incredible view it was:
Up on top I made my way to a 4×4 road that I’d walked before. I’d rather walked along the more-scenic rim which I’d also done before, but I wanted to make up some time and get across the mesa as a storm looked to me moving in. About an hour later I connected to the main gravel road and was headed to the Hatch Campground where I wanted to refill my water. Before I got there though… water came to me in the form of another storm. I made a temp shelter and hung out while be biggest part of the storm passed by. Walking again the smell of rain on the sage/juniper was incredible. It was a cold rain too — I expected to see snow once the storm moved off of the La Sals.
Soon I was at the campground where I took a break and actually cooked a hot lunch while I dried out and tried to warm up. I was the only one around. This was a great stop-over as it had running water, pit toilets and trash cans. Re-energized I headed out cross-country to get to the Trough Springs Canyon trailhead.
Shortly after leaving the campground I picked up another Jeep road and soon after that the sun popped out and it actually started to get warm again. I could see over to the Behind the Rocks area where I was headed. Definitely looked like new snow on the La Sals as well:
Once I was at the TH I quickly picked up the trail which follows the rim of the canyon a long ways on the northern edge. I’m curious about the upper end of the canyon below the rim as it’s full of cottonwoods and looks like a nice canyon.
The trail finally dives off the edge via a steep descent down a side ravine. The trail picks its way through huge boulders before finally dropping all the way down to the flowing creek. It’s a very pleasant area — and if I didn’t need to push on I would have liked to camp in this area.
Traveling down canyon was somewhat tough as there wasn’t a great trail and the brush near the stream was fairly thick. Soon I was surprised to see the nice flow of creek dissipate and become intermittent. When the creek dried up completely I backtracked a bit and filled up my jugs just in case Kane Creek was dry ahead. The lower end of the canyon has more cow presence too which was a real bummer. Looking back up the canyon another storm seemed to be moving in:
Once down to the junction of Kane Creek it took some work to figure out how to get through the crazy thick brush to exit the other side. To the uninitiated I know this sounds strange, but really the brush can be so thick it completely stops all travel in the direction you want to go. I got across Kane Creek (which was flowing) and finally found a spot where brush was broken by a landslide. Here I climbed up and around and finally get through the thick stuff and out to the Jeep road. Exhausting work!
After checking out the petroglyphs on the huge boulder by the road, I walked down canyon just a bit before leaving the road again to tackle my next challenge — climbing back up to the canyon rim via another jumble of boulders. This gulch I’d also scouted from the top last fall, but again it looked much more difficult from the bottom. It was getting late in the day so I’d started up the slope so that I could camp up on top.
From bottom I could see several impassable cliffbands. I remember having difficulty on one such spot on my scouting trip, but was able to find a way around it. But, now I couldn’t tell where that point was from below. I just headed up the main gully slowly climbing boulder over boulder. At one point the boulders were impassable so I had to ascend a steep slope on the south comprised of sand and fine chips of rock. It was near the angle of repose so it was a sketchy climb. I got to top where it meet a vertical wall. From here I was able to carefully make my way back to the main drainage and continue up. Unfortunately, I was almost immediately met with another impassable set of boulders. The boulders were only about 6′ high, but there was absolutely no handholds or any easy way to implement something to climb up. I was bummed as it looked like as easier going once above this point. So, I backtracking thinking maybe this was where I had to use the bypass on the scouting trip. I walked along the steep scree all the way around to where I could climb higher. This was semi-sketchy due to the loose footing. A fall here could cause one to slide 10 feet down the slope and over the cliff which was about 20ft sheer drop. Looking ahead I wasn’t even sure if this route would connect. With the sun going down and my body tired, I decided it would be best if I retreated to the bottom and camp back down near the road. I wanted to make sure I didn’t get stuck up on the side of this ravine for the night, so after I watched the sun go down below the far rim of the canyon, I headed down as fast as I could.
Going back down wasn’t that much faster and by the time I was back by the road it was fairly dark. My final camp wasn’t as awesome as I’d hoped, but at least I wasn’t stuck on the side of a cliff!
The next morning I decided to not give the cliff another attempt. Even if I got to the top w/o much delay, I would have to really push it to get through the Behind the Rocks area by my 2pm scheduled pickup at Moab Rim TH. And… that would be w/o spending any quality time in this incredibly scenic area that I enjoyed so much on my first visit. So, instead I decided to follow the Jeep road down and out Kane Springs Canyon.
Not more than a few miles down the road I had to step aside for a 4×4 caravan to pass. And then a mile farther… another one. Soon there were Jeeps and ATVs everywhere! I was again nearing civilization… on a weekend!
Despite the throngs of people, the walk down and out was pleasant. The stretch past Hunter’s Canyon and the switchback has plenty of fine views and later I stopped at the “birthing scene” — a cool petroglyph that I’d never seen.
My shuttle ride (aka my parents) were actually to meet me at the Moab Rim TH, but I told them if they were early they may wish to drive up Kane Springs Canyon. The lower end of the road is in good shape and it’s a scenic road… and I told them there would be chance I’d be walking down the road if I’d opted out of the Behind the Rocks route. Sure enough… somewhere near Hunter Canyon my parents were there to meet me.
BUT… I wouldn’t let that detour me of my official goal. Sure, they took my pack and refilled my water with some ice-cold good stuff… but I still continued walking as they drove farther up the canyon to take in the sights. In fact, I even walked UP to the Moab Rim just to get this sight of city that I’d longed for:
It was exciting… two years in the making! I was extremely happy that I’d made it. AND.. I was also equally exited that, at least for now, my body can still handle it! Time to start planning the next adventure!
Soon after getting back down and re-synching with my parents, I got to see another site that I’d longed for:
End of Part 4. Hike complete. 283 miles.
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