East Slickhorn-San Juan-Slickhorn canyon loop

Slickhorn and East Slickhorn are remote canyons in Cedar Mesa country in southern Utah, with the nearest towns being Blanding and Bluff. Less visited than the more famous nearby Grand Gulch, even our canyonlands bible ‘Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau‘ by Micheal R. Kelsey (must buy if you are interested in exploring the area) has this to say- ‘Adventurous hikers may be able to hike all the way to the San Juan River (?) in either of these 2 main canyons, but the author still hasn’t done that, and hasn’t heard whether or not you can make it‘.

However we had looked at the excellent trip reports from Roger and Susie on the Two Hikers website where they describe a backpack down these canyons in 1997 confirming that, not only is it possible, but that they had an excellent hike as well.

The canyons had the attraction of being seldom visited, rugged, and able to be hiked in a loop by joining the canyons with a hike alongside the San Juan river, one of the major rivers of the south west and itself a feeder of the Colorado River. In addition the canyon’s and their tributaries contain a large number of well preserved Anasazi ruins. We were sold!

Or see a more detailed topo map here

Thursday 12th October 2017 We headed east on the road through the beautiful, wide spaces of the southern part of Bears Ears National Monument. This is wild country with few cars, distant rocky buttes and no houses. Stopping off at Kane Gulch visitor centre as we needed a permit for the backpack, Brian asked about potential water sources in East Slickhorn (as this was a particularly dry autumn) but the ranger had no information as ‘no-one goes down there’ -excellent!  Another drive down tarmac then dirt road to the head of ‘Slickhorn 2’ and we parked under some junipers to shade the car.

We started hiking south on a sandy dirt road for about 4 miles before splitting to cross country into the head of East Slickhorn. Firstly on easy slickrock with bits of scrambling including a dryfall avoided on the right (right down canyon or west). We carried water with us but there were some intermittant pools of water every 20 minutes or so on the way down although they gradually got worse and disappeared as we descended. A nice set of ruins on a ledge on the western slopes was a good excuse for a stop before the heat drove us onward.

From there the going varied between nice slickrock, boulders, bushwacking and a little trail- never too desperate though and we made good steady progress. Nearing the bottom of East Slickhorn we began to get nervous of not finding any water but eventually found a tiny spring seeping onto the slabby canyon floor. Also we lucked out to find a boulder with a flat top to camp on with views down to the rocky slopes of the San Juan! Bats all around in the evening- a nice start to the Slickhorns.

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Nice slickrock at the top of East Slickhorn

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East Slickhorn
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East Slickhorn
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Water at last! Near the bottom of East Slickhorn before it opens out into the San Juan
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Superb camp on a perched boulder

Friday 13th October 2017 We headed down the right (west) side of the canyon on steep bouldery ground initially for about 40 minutes to pick up an old mining track that contours round the north side of the San Juan on terraces about 750 feet above the river. Found a couple of petroglyph panels on the sides of huge boulders on the way.

The mining track made for a superb panoramic hike west along the San Juan river – winding its way in and out of side canyons with huge cliffs and escarpments all around. Had a grand food stop above a steep drop to the river across from ‘Government Bird’ rock- a feature across on the other side of the river. It was dry up here but good campsites on the terraces are everywhere! Continuing on we made it to the end of the mining track above the confluence of Slickhorn canyon with the San Juan.

Another useful old mining track zig zags down to the river here and we saw a canoe group packing up and floating off far below. Our aim was now to head up Slickhorn canyon and we picked up a faint track contouring north into the canyon. Eventually Slickhorn canyon bottom came up to meet us and we were able to scramble down into the canyon floor after about 2km. We sat for late lunch by a shaded pool in an idyllic spot.

Went for a short explore down canyon to the confluence of ‘Hanging Canyon’ and Slickhorn where in 1997 the ‘Two Hikers’ had visited a huge 30m wide pool. Today there was a rather stagnant looking small pool of water unfortunately. We took 4 liters water each from another trickling seep a short distance up canyon and then continued upwards. The going got much tougher and hotter with scrambling over and round boulders and with the now heavier loads. Passing the first canyon to the east at 4.30 we scrabbled up further over some massive boulders and found a flat sandy spot under a cottonwood for a dry camp. An excellent varied day!

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On terraces above the San Juan

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Mining track above San Juan
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Above Slickhorn Canyon looking back to the San Juan
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Water at the bottom of Slickhorn
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Boulders in Slickhorn
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Some flat ground to camp on in Slickhorn

Saturday 14th October 2017 Lovely warm still morning and we are off at 8am. The going eases with some trails appearing in the canyon bottom. Stopping at the junction with Trail Fork, we leave some spare gear under a juniper to explore (flat spots for camping here). Trail Fork is rather beautiful with big cedar mesa canyon walls and a slick rock wash. Looking for a site called ‘Big Ledge Ruin’ we get a bit lost but eventually find a old trail that climbed the south slopes to avoid a dryfall cliff. The ruins are high up on the north side.

What a fantastic location these ruins are in. We scrambled up rock to a long ledge in the middle of steep cliffs with various granaries and kivas. Many had juniper and mud walls  and one at the far west end was in a super exposed ledge with a small well preserved step and doorway. The position overlooking Trail Fork was incredible.

We sauntered back to the gear in the main Slickhorn canyon, had lunch, then headed up. After about an hour we hit the next side opening called 3rd Fork. The Kelsey guide covers this area and water is mentioned so we took water bags with us. 3rd Fork is densely vegetated but we couldn’t locate any surface water. On the way we visited a tiny 2 storey granary and wooden kiva, but in the hot sun now these were a little less interesting to us than Trail Fork!

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Bear prints in Slickhorn
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Trail Fork- Big Ledge Ruins
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Trail Fork- Big Ledge Ruins
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Trail Fork
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3rd Fork- Double Deck Granary

With only 200ml water left between us we now started looking in earnest for water! Martina headed up 2nd Fork whilst I searched up Slickhorn itself but with no luck. Having seen some minor potholes earlier in the afternoon we opted to head back down Slickhorn. At about 5.30 we came across some minor pools in the rock and Martina filtered the water through her neckerchief with great results! Set up camp nearby in a small side canyon north of Trail Fork which had a relaxed open sort of ambience.

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Sunday 15th October 2017 The temperature dropped to freezing overnight but the sun soon hit the walls above and warmed us up. Hiking back upstream we explored the western walls opposite 2nd Fork to find some nicely sited ruins on a slabby ledge about 100 feet up from the floor (blog post banner photo). Just uphill a few minutes we followed a faint side trail to more ruins and petroglyphs. The hiking mellowed out somewhat above with some particularly golden groves of cottonwoods. Scrambling up the west cliffs again we found the ruin named ‘Perfect Kiva’ in guidebooks where we used a wooden ladder to descend inside.

We were now near the head of Slickhorn Canyon and, after some exploring picked up an interesting exit trail that climbed steeply before traversing some tremendous undercut slabs at the top of the canyon wall. What a trail! Easier sandy washes then took us to the Slickhorn Trailhead and all that was left was 45 minutes of sandy dirt road back through pinyon pine forest to the car. A fantastic, varied short backpack.

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Cottonwoods in upper Slickhorn

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Perfect Kiva
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View back down Slickhorn canyon from the exit trail traverse

Two Hikers website 1997 hike

Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau‘ by Micheal R. Kelsey

The American Southwest 

 

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Upper Muley Twist and the rim route

Monday 9th October 2017 Back at the town of Escalante we camped at Escalante Outfitters on a cold and windy night. We have a couple of days before we need to return to Escalante as Martina has a Skype interview arranged for a job back in Scotland.

We decide to go for a loop hike in Steep and Hot canyons, north of the Burr Trail road and have a leisurely morning shopping, drinking coffee, writing cards and preparing our food for an overnighter.  Two dusty looking hikers arrived at the Outfitters who looked like Haydukers and sure enough it’s Bert Gils from Belgium and Monique Weir from New Zealand. We had a great chat and they sound like they are having an incredible hike and are looking fit and in good form. Making us feel more than a little jealous of their long hike and the stunning scenery of the Hayduke that awaits them as they head on westwards.

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Monique and Bert

Later on we drive along the Burr Trail and descend a shallow wash into Steep Creek. It’s choked with old spiney and scrapy willow but we hack our way through heading northwards upstream. After about an hour we decide that the potential scenic benefits of this hike possibly don’t merit the bushwacking! If this had been part of a longer thru hike we would have kept at it but since this was just an overnighter we turned back, with thoughts on heading into hopefully scenic Upper Muley Twist canyon instead.

Back to the car at 5pm we drive another 25 miles east to the Upper Muley 2WD Trailhead in beautiful crisp low light and start hiking north. Firstly along a 4WD track into the canyon then just following the dry bed of the canyon. Some great arches on the way too.`

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We dry camped around 7pm on sand just next to the dry wash and settled in for a cold starry night.

Tuesday 10th October 2017 Minus 5 in the bell end of the tent in the morning and we set off further up canyon with easy hiking wearing all our clothing layers! the canyon walls close in nicely as the wash twists it’s way along. More great arches and an owl flies by. We drop our backpacks at an arch on the west and explore the slot canyon heading up onto the plateau to the west (we think this is part of Jamal’s Hayduke alternate route to Escalante).

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Martina forming an arch on the side canyon
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Good Moon Rising

Back in the main Upper Muley Twist canyon we head up further to a narrow slot and a climb up a 20 foot dryfall where we haul the rucksacks up using our cord that we carry. The canyon dead ends a short way after this though so we lower ourselves back down again and retrace our steps for about 300m to see a cairn marking an exit from the canyon that we missed in our excitement!

This cairn marks a fun contorted route along the east wall of the canyon scrambling around obstacles before heading more directly up east onto the rim of the ‘waterpocket fold’ itself.  We were now on a rocky ridge overlooking Strike Valley to the east with beautiful wavy rock layers and distant views out east to the Henry Mountains and Tarantula Mesa. A series of cairns followed the ridge line southwards with wonderful hiking and views before, too soon, we descended back down into Upper Muley Twist and back down to the car.

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Escalante loop- Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante-Brigham Tea Bench-Boulder

Thursday 5th October 2017 We left Kanab campsite and drove on one of our favourite drives up through Orderville lined by beautiful autumnal cottonwoods and sparkling cold sun, then over the high plateau past Bryce canyon and onto Escalante town through stark but beautiful scenery. We asked at the ranger station about the state of Death Hollow river level as the river had defeated us last year with its deep, cold, fast flowing water. The ranger had one report of a team that had turned back recently at the crux narrows  but we decided to head in anyway as the autumn has been dry and we expected the water levels to be reasonably low.

We left the car at a windswept and dusty turn off about 2 miles west of the town of Boulder in mid afternoon at the eastern trailhead of the Boulder Mail Trail. Having hiked the west portion of this trail last year and finding it to be superb we were so glad to be back now on the eastern side.

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An easy hike to start on good trail winding its way through pinyon – juniper scrub before we dropped height onto slickrock and to cross Sand Creek with running water and lush cottonwoods, greenery and even some aspen. From there we continued west on slickrock before a bigger drop down rock into stunning Death Hollow. It was evening now and our thoughts were to finding a campsite before dark and we waded downstream in and out of the river of Death Hollow before finding the same site as last year on sparkling white sand on the canyon floor underneath ponderosas. Wonderful!

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Into Sand Creek
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Dropping down into Death Hollow itself
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Camp in Death Hollow

Friday 6th October 2017 Now for the descent down Death Hollow to the Escalante which had defeated us last year. The river bed here is filled with hard wearing volcanic boulders in many places making for tougher going than many of the canyon rivers here abouts. That plus the ubiquitous outcrops of poison ivy along the river banks slowed us down initially. The scenery was superb though with towering walls and the green canyon floor filled with tall ponderosas.

As we continued the going got easier and steady as we often followed faint trails on the banks between river crossings. The water warmed up into the day making the river crossings easier too. Often the bed of the stream was slickrock sandstone layer. It occasionally dropped off into potholes or deep clefts though such that we had to keep concentrating. We passed the junction of Mamie Creek which was a useful marker point and stopped for a bagel lunch on a beach with sparkling blue pools.

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Lunch before the Death Hollow narrows

Next up was a section of narrows which were exciting! The water roared through a subway shaped slot with rock overhead forcing us down to a crawl and a sloping slippery ledge under the water for feet. A mistake would have made for a cold swim but we both made it and from then on Death Hollow was more mellow but continually beautiful. Saw some canyon wrens, dippers, blue jays, woodpeckers, 2 snakes and a buzzard!

We made it to the junction with the Escalante River at 3pm and noted that the Escalante had much less flow than Death Hollow.  We continued down the Escalante with some trails, river crossings and bushwacking to camp near the Natural Bridge. What a great day!

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Death Hollow
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Death Hollow

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Escalante Natural Bridge

Saturday 7th October 2017 A cold night. Our shoes and socks froze overnight and we had a slow start waiting for the sun to hit us and thaw us out. We walked downstream along and across the Escalante river which was broader and more open here with sagebrush flats but still fringed by red rocky cliffs.

We crossed Highway 12 and saw a few people here around the trailhead, soon leaving the road and people though on a good mellow trail. Stopped to watch a canyon wren dart about on the rock only a couple of meters away. It had a white breast and long curving beak- good for extracting insects from cracks in the rock? There are a few well marked river crossings but mostly this section of the Escalante down to Boulder Creek is easy and relaxing hiking. Golden cottonwoods lined the river.

At Boulder Creek we hit a huge pile up of wood and flood debris which had formed a large island with rapids through the wood. Just beyond was a fresh downed cottonwood tree, with distinctive beaver teeth marks. Impressive!

Half an hour later we found our exit point from the river on the ‘Brigham Tea Bench as described by the Steve Allen guide and stopped for lunch in the shade from the now hot sun at about 2.15pm.

A faint trail climbed up rock slabs to a dessicated wooden ‘line shack’- an old cabin complete with an old bed and table. From there we headed north on a mix of sandy flatlands and swirly slickrock following a wide bench between the high escarpment on our left and the canyon of the Gulch on our right/east. It was hot and sometimes tiring on the sand but the wild atmospheric open views were a great contrast to the canyon walking.1007-IMG_2508-escalante-river1007-IMG_2514-escalante-river1007-IMG_2516-escalante-river-beaver1007-IMG_2519-brigham-tea-bench-line-shack

We decided to keep going into the evening to reach a series of rocky pools on the other side of a saddle on our western escarpment. Made it there to a wonderful campsite on a small patch of sand amongst rippled rock with a string of pools below us descending down the rock slabs. Crystal clear starry night and totally quiet- another great day!

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Sunday 8th October 2017 Warm still air in the morning (8C) and we left the tent to scramble up the creased slabs to the north. The slabs were too steep to be taken direct but zig zagging and following lines of weakness allowed us to reach the summit with multiple pinnacles. What a spot!- which didn’t look like it sees many visitors at all but with extensive views across this remote sandstone area with the higher slopes of Boulder Mountain to the north.

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Back at the tent we decided to also have a look at the water line dropping westwards before packing up and leaving the campsite. Numerous potholes and vegetated pond oasis’s made it another lovely area to explore.

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After a superb start to the morning we continued hiking north along the slabby eastern side of the dome escarpment until it faded away and we turned west to follow shallow washes into Deer Creek. Just before Deer Creek we hit an obstacle of a 30 foot cliff but after a bit of hunting around we found a slender tree trunk lying against the cliff and were able to shimmy down to the bottom. A bit more scrambling through bush, across Deer Creek then up walls on the west side aided by some juniper trees and we emerged onto a trail heading northwards upstream.  Relaxed hiking past autumnal cottonwoods followed before we hit the Burr Trail tarmac road at a campsite and picnic tables.

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From here we hiked north west on the Burr Trail towards Boulder town on tarmac. Paved road is not our favourite hiking but at least the scenery out here made it very pleasant and there was very little traffic although a supported cycle group came past at one stage. Eventually we caved in and hitched back to the car beyond Boulder. But what an excellent 4 day loop, with lots of scenic interest, variety, scrambling and a few side trips. Recommended!

More photos here

Loop hikes in Utah’s Escalante by Steve Allen – the bible to the Escalante area, a brilliant guidebook and a must buy. But getting rather dated (published 1997).

Jamal’s Across Utah description including part of this loop in a Hayduke alternate looks superb.

 

Canaan Mountain and White Domes

Tuesday 3rd October 2017 We drove east from Las Vegas stopping off overnight at Snow Canyon State Park and then onto the towns of Hildale/Colorado City on the Utah-Arizona border. Our aim was to do a two day loop hike up Water canyon onto the slickrock plateau of Canaan Mountain,camp and explore a bit before returning down Squirrel creek back to the car- map here.


We hiked up the steep trail in Water Canyon with good flowing water (as you might expect) before the trail zig-zagged upwards steeply west of the canyon floor to ‘top rock’ – a small platform overlooking the canyons. This is a superb section of hiking taking an improbable line out of the canyon and onto the rim. From there we followed slick rock drainages holding good pothole water to the summit ridge of Canaan Mountain in a beautiful area called the White Domes.

We camped near here under a full moon and the next day meandered amongst the domes enjoying the slow creep of the morning sun glancing over the slick rock. Leaving our gear at the camp, we hiked west on an old stock trail with a mix of slickrock and deep sand amidst ponderosas with views north to Zion National Park.

On return to White Domes we collected up the camping gear and followed the stock trail east through some deep sand patches. A drop down into a scooped basin on the purest of slick rock was amazing though and we crossed the head of Water canyon, over a col, then gradually on more slick rock towards Squirrel creek. This was a wonderful, traverse. At the head of Squirrel creek we crossed a heavier used trail and turned down into the canyon with its lush greenery created from a flowing spring source. A jeep trail at the bottom made for easy walking via Short creek back down to the trailhead where our vehicle was now frying in the afternoon sun!

More photos here

Squirrel and Short creek are part of an alternate of the Hayduke trail and Water canyon could be used as a further alternate to the Hayduke providing some extra stunning scenery at the cost of maybe 2-3 additional hours if you had spare energy!

You could also hike from the Water canyon trailhead north all the way over Canaan mountain to near Rockville on Highway 9 (which goes into Zion national park) as described in the guidebook ‘Favorite hikes in & around Zion National Park’.

 

 

Autumn 2017 in the US south west

Back again to the canyons and high desert of the US south west in October 2017! We flew from Scotland to Las Vegas and rented a car with 3 and a half weeks to get out and backpack further into some new areas.

You can see an overview in the interactive map below and read our blogs listed below too (work in progress)…

  1. Canaan Mountain and White Domes north of Hildale
  2. Escalante loop: Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante-Brigham Tea Bench-Boulder
  3. Upper Muley Twist and the rim route
  4. East Slickhorn-San Juan-Slickhorn canyon loop
  5. Dark and Youngs Canyons
  6. Humphreys Peak, Northern Arizona
  7. Hackberry Canyon-Yellow Rock-Paria canyon

 

Mallorca hike-GR221 February 2017

We hiked a short backpacking route on the Spanish island of Mallorca in February 2017. Roughly following the route GR221, we started in the north in the town of Pollenca and headed south west from there along the coastal mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana.

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Summary Overall it was a great little hike that took us 6 days, fitting well into a 1 week holiday. There was lots of variety – combining steep, high mountains, woodland, history and nice villages. We carried a tent and wild camped except for one night in the small town of Valldemossa. We hiked in late February/ March but the busiest time we think is April/May in Spring and in Autumn (September/October). It’s probably too hot in Mallorca in the summer but the climate allows for spring hiking and possibly January to early February if you can put up with short days and colder weather.

We have a photo gallery here.

Resources We used the Cicerone GR221 guidebook (2009 version, I believe a new edition is coming out in April this year), Discovery map and I also had the Cicerone Walking in Mallorca guide on my Kindle. The combination worked out well, the printed map was useful in addition to the Cicerone guide as it provided a wider picture to the sides of the trail with alternate trails and towns and roads. The Walking in Mallorca guide provided info on other trails and we followed these on a few occasions with some bad weather but also to take a higher level route than the GR221. The website Alpenquerung.info by Markus was also very useful with maps and a gpx.

Day 1 Pollenca to near Lluc We took the bus from Palma to Pollenca (the buses are excellent on Mallorca) and filled our MSR stove up with unleaded at the petrol station in Pollenca before we started walking at about midday. We immediately took off on an alternate high level route over Puig Tomir to the east of the GR221 piecing together route descriptions from the Walking in Mallorca guide and the Alpenquerung website. This was an excellent choice for us in good weather with about 1000m of ascent but following trails the whole way, taking us about 7 hours. We had good views over the north of the island to Cap de Formentor. There was a short step down rock with via ferrata cables on the descent. The water source at Coll des Pedregaret was dry. However the source at Ermita was good– we camped near here.

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Day 2 Lluc to Cuber We descended to Lluc monastery and hung about here for a while as the cloud was down, with drizzle and the winds looked strong higher up. Eventually we took a lower level route round the peak of Massanella to the south- again piecing together routes in the Walking in Mallorca guide. This turned out to be fun as it included the extraordinary Canaleta de Massanella- a mountain canal built in the 1740’s to take water down to the towns on the eastern plains. The hiking along the canal was narrow and exposed in places with the sound of gurgling water under our feet.

We crossed back onto the GR221 near the Col des Colums (plenty of water in a river on the south side of the col) and then descended down beside the concrete viaduct (more water) to Cuber reservoir to camp.

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Day 3 Cuber to south of Deia Today was a bit longer but superb and with lots of variety. An easy walk led to the Col de L’Ofre then we descended down the cobbled steep gorge of Barranc de Biniaraix to the town of Biniaraix. Water was available down the gorge in a few spots. Then we hiked through attractive town streets to Soller (the biggest town on route including an excellent small gear shop) and onto Port de Soller. Onto Deia on lower level trails past olive orchards and oak woods. The ‘Finca’ of Can Prohom provided a great excuse to stop for drinks and cake!

We took water in Deia before hiking steeply up south out of town. The trail is not marked here but heads from the main road up a minor zig-zagging road just prior to the Hotel Es Moli. We found a campsite on a terrace just before dark next to an old shepherd’s hut and water tank- maybe 45 minutes above Deia.

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Day 4 Deia to Valldemossa A short hike today up to about 920m then on the ‘Archduke’s trail’ – a cobbled wide path right along a ridge with a vertical drop off to the west and views down to the coast- superb! From there we dropped steeply through oak forest on a good trail into Valldemossa. There was a water trough on the lower slopes.

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Day 5 Valldemossa to south of Estellencs Today was a long one but over less steep terrain. We stayed high on jeep tracks avoiding the town of Balyalbufar on a newly signposted trail. There is a good water source in town in Estellencs as the road crosses the river. Heading south from the town the trail mostly stays on the coast side of the main road through forest and we found a campsite on terraces beneath the jeep track trail after about an hour.

Day 6 Estellencs to Peguera This was our final day on an alternate described in the Cicerone guidebook but now the signposted Gr221 trail on the ground (well at least to the town of Es Capdella). Hiking on below the road was easy on jeep tracks before the trail zig zags back up to the road and back north along it for a few hundred meters. There is a water tank at the trailhead on the south side of the road. The signposted trail then climbs a jeep track steeply up the hill to the new refuge ( Sa Coma d’en Vidal) under construction. It looks like it will be ready soon….

We were hit by high winds and cloud here as we climbed further on a jeep track to a high point and nicer trail down into the Galatzo valley. Just above where the trail flattens out onto jeep track again there was a good water tank with a pipe flow into the tank.

Easy hiking on jeep trails then tarmac all the way into Es Capdella town with a store. We followed the Cicerone guide description from here past S’Estrat but it looks like there is a new trail that runs beside the road all the way to Peguera.

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