Posts Tagged ‘Desert’

Buckskin-Paria Loop

May 12, 2008

May 7, 2008

This is the 3rd time I’ve run the Buckskin-Paria Loop.  Since I don’t normally like to do the same thing twice, that’s saying something.

Guidebook author Michael Kelsey calls Buckskin “The longest and best all-around slot canyon hike in the world”.  That’s saying something too!

We all love going to various mountains here in North America, but every continent has mountains, most of which are actually taller, harder to climb, or more spectacular than here.  But there is no place in the world like the canyons of the Colorado Plateau.

Buckskin starts out in the dry, desolate, sandy flats just east of Page, Arizona.  After a few miles running in the sandy wash, the Navaho Sandstone walls rear up on either side, then start to grow closer and closer together.  Then it’s like entering another world – the light grows dim, casting reddish glows filtered from above, the temperature drops 20 degrees, sounds echo off the rock, you want to touch the rock and feel its texture as you run by, and you look up and realize it is completely impossible to get of out of here except by going back the way you came or to keep going forward.  Slot canyons are unique.

Decades ago when I first ran this route, “Skip” was the best source of info, a BLM employee who lived alone in a trailer at the trailhead; literally the “lone ranger”.  It was a hard life and he unfortunately died in a car crash.  More fortunately, the BLM now has a Visitor Center of sorts at the TH, and a highly informative website.  

This is an ideal running route.  Leave one car at the White House TH and ride your shuttle car to the Buckskin TH, or leave your only car 2 miles up the road at the Visitor Center and hitchike to the TH, 10 miles away.  Then it’s about 16 miles down Buckskin, most of which is in narrows, some of which is only one meter wide.  Reaching the confluence with the Paria, it may be possible to fill a bottle in the shallow seeps in the sandy bottom.  Regardless, turn left back up the Paria to the White House TH and Visitor Center.  The total distance is probably 25 miles.  The guidebook says 1-2 days; our trip was 5:44 – an ideal length for fun and enjoyment.

Bonus trip: Buckskin is also the TH for “The Wave”, an interesting Navaho Sandstone upland formation that has become wildly popular with Europeans.  Only 20 people per day are allowed in The Wave; 10 spots pre-filled via Internet, and 10 spots are day-of by a lottery; you put your name in a squirrel cage at 9 AM and they draw spots at 9:50 AM.  60 people were standing around in a hot dusty parking lot hoping to be one of the ten when we were there; I suggest you not be among them.

Since you’re presumably going to the desert to avoid rather than increase aggravation, try The Wave in the off-season, or for a better (but full day) alternative, run the entire Paria Canyon.  From the same White House TH to the Lees Ferry TH it is about 40 miles, and is another great route.  There are good springs in the lower Paria, and good commercial shuttle services to get you to the top (one-way down-stream is the only sensible way to run it).

The Buckskin-Paria Loop remains the best in it’s class however (see more photo’s here).  There is no number limit on day trips, there is a $5/pp self-pay at the TH system in place, and you will enjoy.  Bring enough water, and don’t go into this or any other slot if it looks like it might rain!



Maze Super Loop

May 1, 2008

The remotest spot in the lower 49 states is supposedly in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  But that is defined as distance from the nearest road, which might not be the best indicator of “remote” … on Saturday, I was on a road that itself was a 5 1/2 hour jeep ride to the nearest paved road, plus another 1/2 hour to the nearest telephone or water supply, and a total of 8 hours to the nearest doctor; off this road would put you much further away.  Unless “away” is where you want to be.

The Maze is where the Monkey Wrench Gang went to lose their pursuers.  The Maze is iconic; this is where you go to get really gone.

I call this route the “Super Loop” because it encircles most of the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park.  It’s a clever route, requiring a few crux entrances and exits to canyons, which then enable one to connect a 90+ mile loop consisting of jeep roads, sketchy trails, and creekbeds.  Water is where you can find it, there are no signs or markers, and finding solitude is not a problem.

I’ve run numerous routes here, but didn’t think I could run this; the only water is seasonal seeps that are far apart and must (must) be located, and off-trail navigation at night is tricky.  So I decided to hike it over three days.  This is how it went.

4/25 5 PM Start. Rather than wait till morning, I’m ready to go, so I go.  I make the very circuitous and slow drop off the rim and into trailless Willard Canyon; my first mile and a half takes an hour 35 minutes.  Once in the dry sandy wash bottom, I walk until it’s dark, then lay down and go to sleep.  No tent to pitch, a drink of water from the bottle and a few dried figs; life is simple in the desert.

4/26 5:40 AM: The wash is easy to follow – can’t do anything else actually – so I start early by flashlight. The Wingate cliffs tower above; there is no entrance or exit possible the entire length of this canyon except how I climbed in and where it ends at the bottom.  11:30 AM Green River.  A large cold river, the color of pea soup; such a contrast.  I turn right up the Anderson Bottom Road.  This is a long march; there is not a single tree for the next 17 miles.  Jeep tracks indicate someone else was actually here maybe a week ago.  You gotta really like the desert to like this.  5:15 PM “The Drop”.  This is the crux of the whole route; after 24+ hours and 37 miles carrying all my water (didn’t want to filter the Green) and no shade, I’m ready to get off the White Rim and down into Horse Canyon.  The Cedar Mesa formation is continuously overhung and utterly impossible for dozens of miles, except for this one spot a ranger showed me on a map years ago.  There is literally one exact spot in the entire north rim of this canyon where it is possible to get in or out.  “The Drop” goes at 5.4; I lower my pack to be safe on it.  After more scrambling I’m in Horse Canyon.  Cottonwood trees, water seeps; aaah, feels great.  8:15 PM Long day.  Unroll the sleeping bag in the soft sand.

4/27 6:00 AM Get water.  I made a mistake not filling up in the last seep when I walked past it last evening; it’s 16 miles to the next spring, so I backtrack a mile to start the day.  Then one of those wonderful Canyonlands exits: an impossible-looking route snakes its way up onto the rim; no trail but a route thankfully cairned by some really hard-core cattleman 50 years ago and allowed to continue by the Park Service.  8:30 AM Chimney Rock TH.  A commercial mt bike tour is breaking camp; first people I’ve seen since before starting a day and half ago.   9:45 AM Doll House.  I start across Ernies Country on the Fins Trail, which is marked on my 1987 map; the maps since then don’t show this trail, which of course, makes it ideal: it exists enough to follow, but barely.  2:20 PM Lou’s Spring.  One drop of water per second out of a metal pipe hammered into the sand below an alcove, dripping into a wooden trough lined with roofing metal.  That’s all it takes, and I very gratefully fill my bottles, noting that we are complete couch potatoes.  I mean, we do all these amazing (to us) routes, while 50-100 years ago ranchers and miners did the same routes, a 100 times more routes, with basically the clothes on their backs plus a knife, a horse, and bag of salt and flour.  What we do is nothing by comparison.  7:15 PM Flint Trail.  I finish cranking 2,000′ up this legendary jeep road without seeing anyone, and am about to make the drop into Happy Canyon for the final third of the route, when I notice a lone 4WD Westfalia camper is parked there.  I walk over to check it out – never knew Volkswagon even made a 4WD camper – and out steps one man, enjoying the heck out of himself in his totally tricked out camper (PV on the roof; etc) parked in the middle of nowhere.  Naturally we have all kinds of mutual friends, he pours me a cold beer, opens a bottle of white burgandy and pours it into Riedel stemware, puts out a plate of appetizers and starts cooking some fish, and insists I stay for dinner.  I probably shouldn’t be telling this, as it ruins the image of my hard-core trip, but sometimes this is how trips go.

4/28 6:20 AM.  After a later start than the previous two days, I make the drop into Happy Canyon on an old abandoned uranium road not marked on even my map, so time lost is time made up, and soon I’m scurrying along the creek bed.  This canyon deserves its name; it has some water and trees while Millard had neither.  I turn right up French Fork after only two navigation errors, surmont a tricky pouroff, and rejoice at the marvel of being in a place that I had only known as squiggly lines on a map; a route of possibility rather than reality; a place not mentioned in any accounts I’ve ever seen.  Until now. 1:10 PM Exit Canyon. The omniscient Wingate walls tower above and all sides, with no break or weakness, confining me to happiness but no food or civilization, so seeing this side canyon might go out I try it.  It’s interesting how I love being here but hate not being able to leave.  This particular exit is great; it cranks straight up the drainage, less convoluted than usual, which is good since there are no cairns and no certainty that it actually goes.  It’s always unnerving to think I could spend hours working on this, using up precious water, food, and time, making tricky upward climbing moves, only to be stopped higher up and have to reverse the whole thing back down and look for another way out.  I’m virtually at the top when an overhanging pouroff with a manky pool below it totally halts passage.  This can’t be happening.  Indeed it can’t: there’s a hidden cleft in the cliff to the left and I scramble over to check it out.  A juniper log has been leaned against the steep part, and someone has screwed in a couple of eyebolts for footholds in the log.  Weird but effective, and I’m actually relieved to know others have been here before.  Solitude is good, but being stranding in an unknown canyon is less good.  2:45 Hans Flat Road, hoofing it back to the car.  4:24 – closed the loop.  71 hrs 24 mins; basically 3 days.

The trip went extremely well.  Conditions were excellent.  This is a big route, a clever route, and a good route … providing one really likes the desert.  View photo gallery here, including a downloadable full-res map.

Maze Super Loop (hopefully)

April 25, 2008

I leave this morning for Canyonlands National Park, from where l expect embark early Saturday morning on  a 3-4 day jaunt I’m calling the “Maze Super Loop”.  The Maze (measured by time/distance to services) is the remotest place in the lower 49 states.  It’s great.

Normally I’m loath to announce any plans in advance … why risk telling anyone what you’re doing,  if there’s a fair chance you’ll fail?  Utilizing this strategy, one looks back at the previous 10 years (or in my case, 40 years) and the record shows nothing but an unbroken string of fabulous trips, great adventures, and grand discoveries.  But as we all know – and in the interest of honest blogdom I’m owning up to right now – that record doesn’t list all the miserable failures, total screw-ups, and complete debacles.

So here we go … if all goes well I’ll file a Trip Report on Wednesday or Thursday.  But if I mess it up … well … maybe I’ll just delete this Post and we’ll forget about it, eh?  😉

Canyonlands – March 26-30

April 2, 2008
Canyonlands is a great place. We went there at the end (hopefully) of this long winter, the best part being as one runner friend said, is “so we can touch actual earth for a change”.

Elephant Butte Indeed.

We started by going up Elephant Butte. It had some tricky spots. It’s not called “adventure running” for nothing.

We then moved on to a canyon called Bighorn. The weather was in the 60’s, the sun was out, and … no mud or snow!

The slickrock country of course is amazing. Miles and miles of pure sandstone, blue skies … and dry ground.

Bighorn required us to employ an unusual anchor for a rappel. Two of us lay spread eagle on the slightly sloping slickrock, while the other two in turn rapped 100′ down to gentler ground, with nothing but body weight anchoring the rope. The first person down got hung up on an overhanging section, which dragged us two “anchors” 6″ across the rock, causing an anxious moment. Then the second to last (and lightest, since now there is only one person anchoring the system) rapped off. The very last person of course has to figure out something else entirely, which in this case was a thin downclimb finished off with a two person shoulder stand. Anyone observing this might wonder if we were trying to win the Darwin Award, but it actually works well:

The next day we were in the Needles District, and tried to find a way into Lower Salt Creek. None of the backcountry rangers knew anything about it or had heard of anyone doing it; thus the obvious allure. This day turned out to be a good example of adventure running: we failed. We bushwacked for 5 straight hours along the rim of the canyon, continually trying to find a way down into it, which turned out to be impossible without a lot more rope than we had.


Which was fine. The terrain was bigger and better than we were, which is how it should be. You can’t complain when nature wins. And there was no mud.

The Needles of course are a great place for running. The NPS does a great job of marking trails, which tend to have much more of a wilderness quality than what most of us are used to. And there’s plenty of places with no trails …


More photos: