Capitol Reef to Bullfrog Re-Supply
May 15, 2018
Day 28 (continued)
I had just finished the bypass in the exit canyon up from Stevens Canyon. I was now in the “Land of Navajo Domes” as author Steve Allen refers to it.
I continued up the wash to the point that it begins to splinter in many directions. Here the route climbs a bench and then into the rolling sandstone hills that comprise the high-ground of the Waterpocket Fold in this area. Last time here I found it somewhat difficult to find the best route, but this time I moved quicker knowing there are MANY ways to get to the top and to just keep moving. I did notice a bunch of new cairns this time though. There still weren’t THAT many and often I still found it easier to just try to follow the path of least resistance than to try and follow the rock markers.
Once up on top I enjoyed the view spanning from the Henry Mountains to the NE to Bullfrog Marina to the SE. This 180-degree panorama shot somewhat compresses the view, but still provides an indication of the expansive landscape:
Going down the other side I continued to cross and go down gully after gully as I slowly made my to the northeast. There were a few potholes of water along the way, but I didn’t bother to fill up as I knew there would be more down below. Now fairly late in the day it was good view down to the the way I was headed — Halls Creek and the Grand Gulch (not to be confused with the other more famous Grand Gulch in SE Utah.)
As I got closer to the bottom my shins were killing me. I remembered this same sensation from the last time I did the route — the constant steep descent on slick rock really takes its toll on the legs. Nearing the very bottom I tried to angle it so that I wouldn’t get stuck in the deep brush at the bottom like I did on my previous trip. I ended up taking a route that was much steeper than I liked with serious exposure on both sides as it traversed a fin between two major potholes. As when I say major — I mean potholes nearing 100′ deep!
Alas… with a slow, steady step I made it down OK. I ended up… right back in the thick brush, so my sketchy route was all for naught.
In the thick of the brush the silver lining was that I to fill up with clear water coming from a side canyon. Not long after that I was down at Halls Creek where the brush wasn’t so bad. I walked a little ways north and called it a day.
Woke up to a sunny day and continued walking north up the valley. I’d alternate between hiking along the stream and cutting across the various benches.
Soon I was to the boundary of Capitol Reef — the third of five national park on this trek.
Within an hour later I was entering the Halls Creek Narrows. This is the location I encountered a flash flood back in 2015. The short video I made of that experience has become by far my most-watched on YouTube (and hence the most praised AND most criticized!) If you haven’t already, check it out on my channel.
Today was already quite a different day though. The sun was shining without a cloud in the sky and I’d already encountered something I didn’t on last trip… people! Less than 5 minutes into the narrows and I’d already run into two groups. But, that didn’t diminish the beauty of the canyon.
Talking a break right before the most narrow part of the canyon I could hear more people ahead. A single guy rounded the corner headed my way. As he approached he said “Jamal?!” It was Zach — another person I knew! I had randomly picked him up as a hitchiker last year as I was prepping for that hike. He was in Hankville and I knew he was likely a Hayduker headed south to nearby Poison Spring Wash and sure enough he was. Once in my Jeep we were chatting and he realized who I was and admitted that he’d used my site research — awesome! After last year we stayed in touch via email and discussed plans for this year — but we never imagined that our routes might actually cross again like this!
I asked him if he was with the group that I could still hear hooping and hollering around the corner. “No” he scoffed. We said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways where I soon ran into the other group. It was several youngish hikers (late teens, early 20s). I ran into two guys first and they are very enthusiastic about the canyon and said the others behind them were taking it slow through the deep water. Minutes later I met the others and it was definitely something I’d never seen in a remote canyon in southern Utah — five girls all wearing sundresses! This spot is about 20 miles from the closest road and boy did they look out of place! But alas… “Hike your own hike” and they were definitely having fun so kudos to them! 🙂
Leaving them behind I soon made my way through the deep water. Opaque from all the recent traffic it was impossible to tell exactly how deep it would get. Luckily… it wasn’t that bad — only thigh-deep.
Before too much farther the canyon opens up some, but the towering walls are still quite impressive. There are several abandoned meanders that one can spot as hanging canons high above.
Soon I was at the spot I’d encountered the flash flood. I could remember the location as if it had happened yesterday and it was odd to see the surroundings so dry.
Around the next bend I met another couple. They were sitting on rock in the shade as I was seemingly talking to myself. When I finally saw them I apologized and said I was making a video and how I’d been here during a flood years before and got that on video. The guy said “Oh yeah — I’ve seen that video.” That’s all he said though, so… maybe he was one those who’s not a fan. 🙂
Around a few more bends and I was at “The Alcove” — a huger undercut in the northern end of the narrows. It appeared that 2-3 groups were camping here — though at that movement I only saw the multiple clusters of tents and no actual people. I didn’t linger too long, just shot some video and snapped a few pics and continued on.
I met a few more people camped as I was near the exit for the narrows. They gave me good advice re: what I’d find in water as I headed north along the valley. Then I met a father/daughter setting up camp just outside the narrows. They had evidently hiked into the alcove area, but came back after finding it so crowded. And to think… this was mid-week!
As I headed north the water started to dry up as expected, but there were still plenty of options and I made sure to fill up before it dried up completely. I made fairly good time up the valley to the point where I would leave the wash and climb up an unofficial exit known as the “Airfield Route”. There was a cairn marking a faint trail running toward the cliff.
The route climbed up quickly and became less and less defined as it ascended through a cliffband. There were more cairns, but they no longer seemed to mark a clear route. I scrambled up a few ledges to only realize there was no way to continue. I retreated to find an alternate route in a different direction. As the route became more difficult the daylight was fading. I soon realized I was NOT going to make it to the top by nightfall as planned. There was absolutely no place to camp where I was, so I actually retraced my steps to a lower level to look for a spot. This actually took quite a bit of work as there was hardly any open/level space for a tent, but I finally found a spot that I could make do, made camp, and called it a night.
It was not a comfortable night, but it was cool to see the sun come up in the morning and gradually illuminate the Fold.
I’m typically not an early riser, but I didn’t linger too long on this cliff-side so before long I was packed up and continuing up the ledges.
The going was definitely easier with better light. There were a few spots that required taking off my pack and pushing it up ahead of me, but nothing too bad. This route is definitely more work for the solo backpacker, but nothing to shy away from in my opinion.
Before too long I was at the top of the the main ledges and in a small basin. From there it was just a bit more of a hike up an incline and to the official top. From there I rim-walked a ways to the make-shift parking area which to my surprise had several vehicles. I followed the road leaving the area to the east. The road was actually quite good. Besides a rough spot right near the parking area, I’d imagine even a passenger card could drive the road in good weather. I continued headed toward the Henry Mountains:
At the spot where the road turned north, I went straight and continued cross-country to short-cut to another road. Once there I followed that road a short distance to an area on the map marked as “Burts Spring” which set just a bit off the road. As I went to explore I found dense brush in the drainage where the spring was to be located, but no actual water. I’d spotted some sort of structure on an adjacent hill on my way into the area so I went to investigate that. Once I topped the hill I quickly realized there was much more than just a structure, but instead a corral, lineshack, and an entire waterworks system complete with a piped tanks.
It was nice place for a long break as filled up my jugs once again. It was good water — thanks “Burt”!
I’m glad I had the water as the next section was a long walk along a barren backroad in pretty much full sun. I was actually fairly lucky that it wasn’t a hotter day. I ran into a couple out riding their Quad and they seemed pretty shocked to see me out there walking. They offered me water/food, but I assured them I was fine.
By early afternoon I crossed the Burr Trail Road and continued out toward the rim of Clay Canyon close to its junction with Bullfrog Canyon. It was quite the impressive sight looking down to the wash far below:
I’d hoped to find a route down here, but I quickly realized that wouldn’t be as easy as I thought. I expected it might be a challenge, but really thought it would be possible. I’d stopped here years earlier and had scouted the area. Based on that recollection and some additional work on Google Earth and topos , I really thought I’d be able to find a way down. However, after about 45 minutes of walking the rim I didn’t find any such spot as the top rock later was really intimidating and sheer.
There were a few weaknesses where it might have been possible to lower the pack and then scramble/climb down a short pitch. But alas… I was too gun-shy to make the attempt solo.
After much contemplation I decided to abort the plan and begin walking south. There was a spot on topo maps that showed an old mining road that at least partially climbed the cliffs from below. I was hoping that I might be able to get down there, but if not I knew that if I kept walking south I would eventually get to the spot where the road cuts down through the cliffs. This is not the direction I’d intended to go, but I needed to get to Bullfrog Marina anyway for my next re-supply so it wasn’t really totally out of the way.
Side Note: my re-supply package wasn’t planned for Bullfrog, but instead for Hite. However, when that store closed for renovations after my trip began I had my package later shipped to Bullfrog instead. I thought I could hitchhike to the marina from my original route farther up the road.
When I got to the point along the rim above the old mining road I could the old road below and I could also see a weakness in the top later — I was really hopefully I could make them connect. And.. I did. In fact, based on various cairns there others had done this route before. The upper section was a scramble through big boulders. I enjoyed seeing big chunks of petrified wood as I made my way down. Then the bottom half of the route was just down a extremely steep talus slope. Before long I was down at the bottom looking back up at the route I’d just descended. The route connected to the notch on the middle-right of this photo:
Once down in the wash I made the decision to continue heading south instead of looping back to the north to my originally intended route. The route to the north included a few more unknowns and I wasn’t in mood for any more obstacles. And, since I had to get to Bullfrog anyway, I thought maybe heading south would make that easier. So… I set off walking down the canyon.
It was easy walking and I was enjoyed the colorful red canyon walls as the sun was going down. There were several red and white rocks in the area that were quite cool.
There was a trickle of water along this entire stretch which made me happy. It wasn’t the best water as there were cows in area and it also seemed somewhat-alkaline, but it wasn’t terrible. After a few more miles of walking I found a place to camp.
Continued down the wash in the morning. Soon the water dried up and I found myself walking across long stretches of cracked mud.
Within an hour I saw the road-cut where the Burr Trail descends from the higher cliffs down to the wash. Soon after that I intersected the road and then followed it east. In a short distance I passed the parking area for Pedestal Alley where a lone vehicle was parked. This is a cool short-hike to a cove of toadstools/hoodoos. Read about the time I stopped and checked it out several years ago while driving through the area.
Walking the paved road for the next several miles was really tedious. I’m not a fan of walking any road, but a paved road really drives me crazy. It was shaping up to be really warm day and it was already no fun as there was almost ZERO shade out here. At one point sand dunes were actually encroaching onto the road.
It was a tedious 6 miles of walking. Only a handful of cars passed me. None of them even slowed down to give me a second thought.
After a while I could see the cross-traffic on the more popular Highway 276 ahead of me in the distance atop a hill. It almost seemed comical to see trucks pulling boats. I knew their destination of Lake Powell was close by, but from my current perspective is seemed oddly out of place too see boats in the sea of sand and sagebrush! Just a bit more and I actually arrived at the intersection. I turned to the right to head toward the marina. A dead cow was there beside the road. I stopped next to the sign announcing the boundary to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area where I set my pack down for a break. I was going to get a snack and was thinking about making a sign to help with my hitching effort to get to the marina (now officially out of the way) a little more easier. But, before I even got my snack out a Jeep headed the opposite direction did a U-turn and came back to me. A lady leaned across her passenger and said… “You need a ride?”. I enthusiastically said “Yeah — if possible!”
They were locals and I’m so happy they stopped. Not only was the ride very appreciated — they were also great help locating the building that held my re-supply. It was recommended that I ship my re-supply box to “The Warehouse” instead of the post-office itself. This distribution center evidently had longer hours and was more equipped to hold packages. Seemed great, except… I later learned it was not a marked building and thus I would have never found it on my own. My helpers knew where it was and then actually gave me a ride back up the road to gas-stations-turned-small-town Ticaboo which is where they lived. This boost saved me another 7 miles or so of road walking — which I loved as I was so over the extra road mileage I’d already done with the diversion.
They dropped me off at the little store where I indulged in some cold drinks as I repacked my gear.
After that I headed away from the tiny town and paved road as I walked a backroad back toward the canyons. But… details on that will have to wait for Part 10: Swett Canyon and around Lake Powell.