Sunday 25th August 2019 We flew into LA from Scotland yesterday and drove up the east side of the Sierra mountains, stopping to pick up our hiking permit and bear canister on the way to the McGee Creek trailhead. It was a blistering 30C here as we packed our gear in the shade and emptying spare food into the trailhead bear box to hopefully prevent bears taking an interest in the rental car.
For this our first backpack of the holiday we aimed to warm up for 4 days following mostly trails, some cross country and to reach a high point on McGee Pass at about 11,800 feet for acclimatization.
Once we started hiking up McGee Creek through sage and past some aspen, the air cooled down a little and it was a very pleasant gradual ascent up to Big McGee Lake at 10,500 feet. We saw a few other campers here but found a cool spot above and away from the lake. A few mozzies around on the way up but tolerable at the campsite – phew!
After a beautiful sunrise over the lake with some snow patched mountains behind, we set off uphill on trail on a grand hike past lakes and some frozen snow patches. We had brought mini crampons- ‘micro spikes’ to fit over our trail shoes and these worked perfectly for moving quickly up the snow. The pass was fairly gentle and scree covered but had good views out west to the jagged ridge of the Silver Divide and the green meadows of Tully Hole below- our descent line.
This was an idyllic valley with lush green meadows and wildflowers, marmots, pika, chipmunks. We eventually connected lower down with the John Muir Trail at a river crossing at Tully Hole – mozzy central!- and followed the JMT northward for a wee while. It was obvious this was a heavy used trail, as well as seeing lots of people, the trail was wide and dusty from many foot and hoof marks. Still it was pleasant hiking and soon we reached Lake Virginia where we cut off cross country northwards up a shallow drainage over a small pass to the the Rams Lake area to camp. Man this was nice up here above the treeline, amongst the small lakes and rough hills around!
We set off on a rather beautiful cross country rambling descent down through meadows, past dotted lakes and streams. We soon picked up a trail below Rams lakes that took us down to Purple Lake. Saw a white owl in the trees and an osprey catch fish on the lake. Back on the wide PCT we headed northwards and turned off soon again to climb up on another trail to the large Duck Lake. Someone kindly offered us some DEET mozzy repellent which Brian gratefully accepted! From Duck Pass we headed north west following notes for the Sierra High route on the broad ridge of the Mammoth Crest. We decided to haul water to camp on the plateau like ridge with panoramic views all round. Particularly north to Banner and Ritter mountains and south to south impressive swelling thunderclouds which we were thankfully able to watch from a distance.
Next morning we had an easy saunter down to Lake Mary on the outskirts of Mammoth Lakes town to end a rather scenic and wonderful ‘warm up’ backpack. We only had the small problem of getting back to our rental car at McGee Lake trailhead. Though yo!- we lucked out and we hitched a lift from a very kind gentleman who took us back to the car in one go along three different roads including the final few miles on gravel dirt road. Thanks!
In April 2019 we hiked for a week along part of the 630 mile long South West Coast Path in England. The path itself takes a huge loop round the south west tip of England from Minehead to Bournemouth through Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. We walked a section from Bude to St Ives on the west coast of Cornwall.
We have visited Cornwall a number of times on rock climbing trips. Sea cliffs like Bosigran and Chair Ladder near Lands End have provided us with some of the best climbing anywhere on golden granite with Atlantic rollers crashing into the shore for atmosphere. In between the climbing days we have also walked along the coast path and thoroughly enjoyed these too.
I was also encouraged to see that the incredibly well travelled hikers, Amy and James from California, had included the coastal path in their top 10.
Summary We had a great hike. The trail follows the coast closely, mostly along the top of steep cliffs at the margins of farmlands. The quality of the trail is excellent and the scenery is tremendous with huge waves, cliffs, wide beaches, and grassy rolling fields. The coastal towns and villages are a standout too and hiking through was a pleasure adding variety to the wilder cliff top scenery. It was the Easter holidays and there was a lot of people out hiking near to the towns and surf beaches, but away from these it was quiet, particularly in the mornings and evenings.
We hope to return for more of the south west coast path!
Resources We had a Cicerone guidebook. This was another reliable and recommended Cicerone guide which comes in printed and ebook formats providing trail descriptions, background info and strip maps. I also had OS maps for Cornwall on my android phone using the trusted Viewranger app. The trail is well marked and pretty clear most of the way, so there was a lot less need to consult the maps for navigation than we are normally used to.
We camped along the way. Although wild camping is technically not allowed, we were able to camp stealthily out of sight from the trail away from the villages. There are some fantastic wild cliff spots to be had if willing to search away from the trail, but there could be times when tent spots are limited, so a little planning ahead each day paid dividends. We didn’t see too many attractive commercial campsites on our hike (other than the recommended Hellesveor at St Ives) as most were holiday village style fixed caravans which don’t appeal to us (example here).
As the trail passed through towns every day, we took all our water from taps without any need for treatment which was nice. There are also lots of streams but it was simpler and safer to collect clean water from the towns. The towns also meant that we didn’t have to carry much food with us at all. The trail also passes an abundance of great cafes on the way with tempting cakes and Cornish Pasties!
Day 1 Bude to Dizzard We made it to Bude on the west coast of Cornwall by about 3.30pm after taking buses and trains from Bristol Airport. We picked up water and some veggie pasties and headed south on the trail away from the bustling town, busy with the start of the easter holidays.
We soon settled into hiking on a good cliff top trail looking down to the sea with fins of rock projected out from the shore into the water. There was a fair bit of up and down before we arrived at the lovely National Trust oak woodland of Dizzard. Just beyond we found a place to camp off trail and sheltered from the strong easterly breeze that we were to experience for most of the week.
Day 2 Dizzard to South of Tintagel The trail dips down to sea level often to cross bays and harbours and we are getting used to the steep dirt steps that take a direct line up and down the slopes. Our first harbour is Crackington Haven and we dive inside a cafe here to escape the cold easterly wind and devour some cakes.
More roller coaster cliff top meandering to Boscastle for late lunch (another harbour town and one which flooded in 2004). There are quite a few tourists here at this picturesque cove and with attractions including the Museum of Witchcraft.
We continue south with some great wild coastal scenery to Tintagel, with its popular castle, where we stop for a drink, to take on water for overnight and to buy some more pasties for dinner. Take an old (possibly mining) path down from the cliff top to find a superb tiny spot to pitch the tent overlooking the broiling sea.
Day 3 South of Tintagel to Padstow The sun came out today lifting the temperature from the previous hazy days. Saw plenty of birdlife including fulmars, guillemots, ravens and peregrine falcon feeding a chick. Passed through pretty Port Isaac which was mobbed with tourists- seemingly a TV series Doc Martin was filmed here which explains the tourist numbers!
We crossed sandflats at the mouth of a huge estuary to get to a ferry crossing to the larger town of Padstow where we chickened out and went for the comfort of a B&B for the night!
Day 4 Padstow to Porthcothan Moist but warm morning as we hike out on the south shore of the estuary over flat trails and beaches. We traversed out to two peninsulas today- Stepper Point and Trevose Head. Along the way we passed a few cool huge vertical holes in the cliffs with the sea breaking down below. There were also a number of pleasant beaches between the rocks; Butterhole, Trevone and Harlyn- where we stopped to eat our now nearly obligatory Cornish Pastie! This one a rare ‘Mediterranean veggie’ flavour carried out from Padstow.
The next beach at Polventon had remarkably clean sands backed by green blue water. At the far end there is a RNLI lifeboat station with a massive ramp system for the boats to slide into the water.
After Trevose lighthouse the skies darkened and we were pounded with rain for the rest of the afternoon before taking refuge in the lovely cafe/shop in Porthcothan.
Day 5 Porthcothan to Newquay to Ligger point The rain thankfully stopped in the morning as we returned to the cliff top walking along to Bedruthan. We descended steps here to the sea with the waves broiling in against the cliffs. As we neared the large town of Newquay it got busier and we passed many surfers braving the cold air and even colder sea temperature!
Bustling Newquay provided all facilities so we did some quick shopping and sat on the grass in a park eating our pasties in the sun. On the way out of town we hiked right through the dry sandy harbour at low tide. We pushed on to The Gannel south of town, this is a large estuary best crossed by a causeway exposed at low tide. Onwards a good trail took us out of suburban Newquay and past a series of rocky beaches to look for a campsite. Unfortunately into the evening we found ourselves passing a large MOD area near Ligger Point and we hiked on quickly to find a tiny site on a grassy ridge leading from the clifftop down to the sea.
Day 6 Ligger Point to south of Portreath Sun today and more lovely surf beaches, cliff tops and the odd town. We stopped for early morning warming coffee in Perranporth. We passed Cligga Head with its granite quarry- a bit of a landmark for us being the first granite we had seen on the hike and reminding us of the great climbing further south on granite cliffs.
Not far on we were distracted by the irresistible cozy cafe in Trevaunance and sat outside in the garden with cakes and tea. Mining was the theme of the day culminating with the stark outline of the chimney at Wheal Coates. This is a popular spot and there were more people out on the trails than previously.
At Portreath we had great pizza for dinner outside the Portreath Arms and collected overnight water before hiking on into the evening to camp.
Day 7 To St Ives A gentle start today along good flatish trails out to the lighthouse at prominent Godrevy Point. Near here we looked straight down onto a crowd of grey seals basking on a lovely sandy beach. From the point we could see St Ives ahead at the far end of a huge wide cove of sandy beaches. The hiking there was deceptively long though as we had to circumnavigate the estuary at the town of Hayle. Hiking through town did give us the advantage of picking up a Subway sub for lunch- superb! Today was scenic, but away from the wilds as the trail mostly passed through populated areas.
St Ives is a touristy but loveable town and we all but finished our hike through the harbour at low tide and onto the high street shopping areas.
We have visited an area in the south west of the United States called the ‘Colorado Plateau‘ a number of times now. The plateau covers the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and southern Utah. It is characterised by high desert, deep canyons, steep rock cliffs, forests and vivid colours. For us the attraction is in the vast wild countryside that provides endless adventures for backpacking, exploring, hiking, scrambling as well as paddling and rock climbing. There are many signs of prehistoric cultures too: Ancestral Puebloan, including the ‘Anasazi,’ Sinagua, Fremont, and Cohonina. And thankfully much of the area is public lands such as National Parks, National Monuments and Wilderness Areas (although under some threat from the current Trump administration).
Listed below are our outdoor adventures- many with links to blog posts.
We visited California in Autumn 2019 and took a 10 day break to hike in southern Utah again from September 14th. We stayed in the Escalante catchment for another two excellent 4 day hikes covering some new territory for us.
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.
Back to the desert and canyons of southern Utah and northern Arizona in September/ October 2016. Two years ago we hiked and kayaked our own version of the Hayduke Trail. Having enjoyed it so much we returned this year with a rental car to hike to some other canyons and interesting places. Whilst we wouldn’t get the full immersion of a multi month hike such as the Hayduke, we were aiming to target some of the most spectacular places in the region with some trips ranging from 1 to 5 days.
The aim for our final week was to visit new territory to us on the northern side of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. We chose to try a loop hike, starting at the Indian Hollow trailhead and dropping down to Thunder River, before heading to the relatively popular Deer Creek and then to the Colorado River. From there we would hike along the river downstream off trail on rough bouldery terrain for about 7.5 miles to Kanab Canyon. We would then exit the Colorado and hike a long way up Kanab Creek then Jump Up Canyon, Sowats Canyon to reach the Jump Up-Nail trailhead. All that would be left then would be some jeep tracks and cross country over the wooded plateau back to Indian Hollow trailhead.
Saturday 13th October 2018 Starting from the town of Kanab, we drove towards the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park, firstly on tarmac, then a long good quality dirt road due south. There were lots of hunters camped along the way in cold and frosty sites in the high altitude and shaded ponderosa pine forest. The last 5 miles of off road driving turned a bit rougher with a few deep puddles, but with some nice autumnal aspen in the roadside forest. We were delighted to see a couple of Kaibab squirrels with their distinctive long bushy white tails and pointy ears.
Indian Hollow trailhead was still in the trees, but in a brighter open spot beside some wooden corral fencing. Leaving the car at midday with 6 days food, we looked forward to potentially the longest hike of our holiday, backed up by a reasonably positive weather forecast after the previous rainy couple of weeks. A short stroll on a trail took us to the edge of the forest and the lip of the north rim of the Grand Canyon- always an impressive sight!
We followed the clear trail down the first cliff band to the ‘Esplanade’ – a wide fairly flat terrace between cliffs- and this made for easy walking as we headed east to join with the more popular Bill Hall trail. Some cool slick rock slabs with good looking water in potholes provided an excuse for a stop to admire the scenery. Once on the Bill Hall trail we saw our first other hikers of the day but most were setting up camp and we continued on to the top of the next cliff band known as the Red Wall where we collected water from another pothole for our own dry camp tonight. Here we had our first view of the muddy brown Colorado River, still a long way below us and we descended steeply down a rubbly trail through the Red Wall into Surprise Valley.
The temperatures had been cool today and we felt that we had lucked out as this area can get oppressively hot even in the autumn! Surprise Valley itself hangs above the Colorado River and is the result of huge historic landslips. Once in the valley we headed east to set up camp just before the divide above Thunder Springs. There were rain showers passing through but we stayed dry throughout the night with our tent nestled in behind some boulders.
Sunday 14th October 2018 A great day! We take a short side trip down to the unusual feature that is Thunder Springs – a huge waterfall emerging from underground and through the middle of a cliff surrounding by lush greenery supported by this perennial water source. The views beyond were cool too with Tapeats Canyon snaking its way down to merge with the Colorado.
Picking up the camping gear we headed back on trail across the dry arid ground of Surprise Valley to cross the divide on its north side above Deer Creek, followed by another steep descent down to the creek. The low light and clear air resulted in beautifully coloured walls either side of us. There were gushing springs feeding into Deer Creek and we had a stop there under some cottonwoods. The hike down Deer Creek to the Colorado River was an absolute delight- initially through lush greenery and cactus then on rocky terraces through a steep striated and sculpted canyon. We found some hand print pictographs on the rock walls.
We exited the canyon all too soon but had the grand view of the Colorado River a few hundred feet below us now. Down at the Colorado we wondered around the stunning waterfall as Deer Creek plunges over the final cliff to the Colorado and met some other people as this is a popular spot for river rafting groups to take a break.
Thankfully the temperature was only a little warmer here as we now had an exposed bouldery, trackless walk alongside the Colorado River. We left the boating groups and started picking our way through boulders right down at river level, before using rock terraces to traverse under a ‘Tapeats’ cliff band to reach a small spit of sand. Resting here under a tamarisk we enjoyed a little breeze sweeping down the river and we debated the way ahead as we knew we needed to climb up steeply at some point to avoid being cliffed out. We noticed a few cairns just above the sand spit and climbed steeply up a scoop in the rock to reach a wide sloping terrace above which made for easier headway- and birds eye views down to the river.
We crossed a little gorge and Martina took water by scrambling down to a small pothole perched above a steep drop- one of our best water sources ever! Shortly after that we came across Siesta Spring which also had good water- and it was running. Onwards, we pass a cool jumbly conglomerate wall then drop back to the river at Cranberry Canyon. We decide to stop at the confluence of Fishtail Canyon and the Colorado River. A short stroll up Fishtail revealed some cool canyon walls and more clear water in large potholes. Also near our camp we saw some ‘scraping rocks’ which must have been used in the past to sharpen tools.
Monday 15th October 2018 The going along the river was slow, mostly through boulders with very occasional trail and some bushwhacking near the river. We make steady time though and take about 3.5 hours to cover the 4.5 miles to reach Kanab Canyon. The scenery was stunning with the shadows shifting as the sun rose through the morning and we enjoyed this cross country hike under the towering cliffs of the canyon. A few rafts pass us on the way and they helpfully ask us if we need anything or would like a lift down to Kanab Canyon! Brian was tempted but Martina resolutely wanted to keep hiking!
The water was flowing strongly out of Kanab and is a brown muddy colour- a sign that the recent storms are still having an effect. I (Brian) was concerned that we may not make it up the canyon as I had read that there are tricky deep pools to negotiate even at normal water levels. We knew we could expect the extra obstacles of high water levels, soft sand and mud and some storm debris of logs and branches.
A challenge can be good for us though(!) and we set off anyway and at a fast pace up the cobbly river banks with frequent muddy river crossings. Kanab is a beautiful canyon with unbelievably high limestone walls and constant twisting and turning. We passed under a sublime huge striated alcove with water dripping over the edge in a curtain from above. After about 2.5 hours we made it to the junction with ‘Whispering Falls’ canyon and its strong clear flow of water. This was to be our turn around point if things were too difficult, but we had no thoughts to that now and kept wading up canyon heading for a possible camp near a landmark tower at ‘Scotty’s Hollow’.
The going got tougher with a series of large dank muddy pools and car sized boulders to scrabble over and round. Each presented a test for us to work out how to get round them- wade deep pools, burrow under them through gaps or scramble up the canyon side? Surprisingly, we meet a large group of student age hikers coming down canyon- if they have made it thus far then we could relax in the knowledge that we should be able to make it up river.
Eventually we arrived at Scotty’s Hollow, a large side canyon from the west with clear running water and at a tight ‘u bend’ in the canyon overlooked by the lofty ‘Scotty’s Tower’. We found a good camp above the river (in case it floods again) but under a cave with loose looking rock unfortunately which made us a wee bit nervous lying underneath protected only by tent fabric. That was a 10 hour day of wet, silt, boulders, pebbles, scrapes and cuts but we both are feeling good if a bit tired. Interestingly for future planning, our pace up Kanab in these conditions was about the same as that boulder hopping along the Colorado River.
Tuesday 16th October 2018 Survived the night with no rock fall! We headed up river, still wading the muddy stream and scrambling over huge boulders. Reaching another landmark that is Showerbath Spring, we admired it’s cool hanging ferns streaming with clear water. The going eased a bit from there for 2.5 hours before we hit the junction with ‘Jump Up’ canyon- our exit from Kanab Canyon and a chance for dry feet as it was bone dry! Resting here we watched some ubiquitous but always fascinating ravens soar alongside the canyon walls.
Jump Up was narrower and, with smaller canyon walls, provided quite a contrast. The limestone canyon provided lots of ammonite fossils in the pebbles as well as colourful red agates. These limestone canyons have quite a different feel to the sandstone canyons further east, such as the Escalante canyons, which have smoother sweeping walls of the Navajo and Wingate sandstones. Here the limestone is more broken, but equally colourful and full of variety as well as fossils.
As we climbed upcanyon it soon opened out and we split into another side canyon called Sowats- this had clear running water and was greener with cottonwoods now appearing.
The hiking was now mellower and we stopped to take water for overnight at the gushing ‘Mountain Sheep Spring’ and looked at some pictographs on a nearby wall. A cairned trail provided an easy exit out on the south side of the canyon and back onto the Esplanade terraces. We hunted around a bit for a good campsite away from the trail and on the sandstone slickrock before claiming a viewful spot perched on a rock ledge above a small overhanging rock.
Wednesday 17th October 2018 Great to see the return of the sun in the morning after a cloudy chilly day yesterday. We set out south on a clear path along the Esplanade to reach a clump of cottonwood trees marking our exit climb out of the Grand Canyon. It was cold as we climbed up the trail in the shade to the Jump Up Nail trailhead and we grabbed the chance to take a rest when the sun first hit us. Lots of fossils beside the path and expansive views back across the Esplanade to the other side of Kanab Canyon. At the trailhead we hit a dirt road for a few miles back on the rolling plateau and pinyon -juniper vegetation. To get back to the car we mostly cross countried southwards from here and luckily for us the going turned out to be easy and rather pleasant through open woodland crossing a few dry washes. We got hit by a couple of hail showers though which forced us to keep up a good pace to stay warm!
Back at the car, we didn’t hang around as snow started falling and we were keen to get through the initial jeep tracks before the snow started lying. It was a sprint but we made it back to the town of Kanab and the end of a fantastic mini-adventure!
Wednesday 10th October 2018 We camped inthe town of Tropic, and had more rain and then frezzing temperatures overnight. Looking at our options, we again decided on a short hike of 3 days to hedge our bets with the weather, thinking about the flood status of the rivers.
Driving east to our familiar town of Escalante the weather did seem to brighten and warm up a little. Our destination was Scorpion Gulch, a tributary of the main Escalante river and in an area we hadn’t visited before. It involves a 23 mile drive down the dirt track of ‘Hole in Rock’ road, which was mostly dry but with some quite muddy, sticky sections where the road dipped low. We turned off on ‘Early Weed’ dirt road for maybe 5 miles to stop short of a trailhead before a rougher section. This road was in much poorer condition and we were glad of our SUV with higher clearance and wide tyres! The road dropped into a few washes which had been eroded in recent rains. For many of these we got out the car and dug ramps with dirt and stones to ease the drop off for the car. This worked fine but we were both mighty glad to leave the car, gather the gear and start hiking!
Our route was across a wide open plateau called Scorpion bench following the excellent directions in Steve Allen’s Loop Hikes in Escalante guide book. The guide is getting old now (published in 1997) but it still is a fantastic resource.
The air was clear after the rains, and the panoramic views to the snowy Henry Mountains and back west to the escarpment of ‘Fifty Mile Mountain’ were grand. Our navigation points included a curious little arch sat on top of a broad ridge in the middle of nowhere. From there we wound our way over slabs and through sandy patches for a couple of hours before arriving at the head of Scorpion Gulch. This canyon has steep walled cliffs of the Navajo rock layer but there is a break formed by a huge sand dune that allowed easy access down to the canyon floor.
We headed down the dry sandy canyon marked by some cool alcoves and clambered over a 2nd sand dune that fills the Gulch from wall to wall. We were surprised to see another group here- they had come in by llama (!) from a more southerly trailhead (Red Well) and were exploring from a camp above Scorpion Gulch.
Soon after, we arrived at green cottonwood trees and the canyon changed character as we followed a faint sandy trail high up on the south bank (RDC). Further down we were able to hike along the wash on cool slickrock with pools and even some running water. The vegetation really thickens in the lower part of Scorpion and we donned some more clothes to scrape past some unavoidable patches of our old friend poison ivy.
The canyon blocked up at one point with a waterfall into a deep looking pool and we chose to scramble up the south bank again (RDC) and scrabble over and under some loose blocky rocks before being able to slither back into the canyon floor.
Finally we exited from the deep brush out to the bigger canyon and river of the Escalante River and we found a lovely little camp spot on the highest sand banks underneath the huge sandstone cliffs. The plan tomorrow is to wade down the Escalante River for an hour or so then to take a scenic route back on rocky ledges, high above the floor of Scorpion Gulch on the ‘Scorpion Horse trail’.
Thursday 11th October 2018 An eventful night- it started raining hard at about 11pm and continued all through the night! We stayed in the tent in the morning listening to the Escalante River roar louder and louder as the water volume swole up in the rain and the river spilled over its main banks onto a first sandbank thankfully beneath the level of our tent. We made a few forries out in the morning to look around and waterfalls had sprung up, pouring down the cliffs on all sides above us. It was a scary sight as we were now pretty much locked in by the river and the cliffs! Thankfully the rain started to subside around about midday and the waterfalls shrunk in size pretty quickly.
We looked at the Escalante though, and it had enlarged into a mighty brown torrent and there was no way we were heading downstream. We instead decided to have a go at retreating back out of Scorpion Gulch as the water flow had been pretty small yesterday and we only had to cross the river in a few places.
Packing the wet gear up quickly, we headed up for a good soaking through the now dripping deep brush of the lower section of Scorpion. But it wasn’t too hard and by the time we reached the slickrock and pools the sun had popped out, so we immediately spread all our damp gear out the rocks for a thorough drying session. Upper Scorpion Gulch was grand again and we stopped to watch a raven and its shadow gliding alongside the canyon walls. We hiked back up the sand dune exit and onto the plateau now dotted with pools in the slickrock. Time was getting on and we stopped to camp beside the low arch for another excellent scenic campsite view.
Friday 12th October 2018 Breakfast cooking and sitting on top of the arch was wonderful and we had an uneventful but fun short hike back to the car. What we feared now though was the drive back on the dirt road after the 12 hours of rain. It turned out to be heavy work stopping and digging ramps at about 7 or 8 washes to create a driving route through. However we made it and were glad to reach Escalante town for a shower to wipe all the mud off ourselves and our clothes. Another fine little adventure trip even though it wasn’t what we had planned!
Monday 8th October 2018 We sat out a day of rain in the town of Panguitch (rhymes with sandwich! and is an Indian word meaning ‘Big Fish’) with it’s cool brick built Mormon centre. The weather looked better further south around Zion National Park the next day so we headed down there intending to do a long version of the classic hike on Angels Landing. However there were massive crowds in the park- queues of cars, no parking available and then queues for the shuttle bus to take people to trailheads. We got ourselves out of there quickly as this was not our idea of fun! Finding a café, we pulled our maps out and came up with another 2 day hike outside the park to an area we had briefly visited last year – Canaan Wilderness. I turned out to be an excellent choice!
Parking near the hamlet of Rockville just south of the Virgin river, our aim was to walk south for 2 days over Canaan mountain and end up at the towns of Hilldale/Colorado City. This is a long way by road from our start point so the downside of the cunning plan was the need for a long hitch hike on two roads back round the mountain range to the car. Anyway, that was for later and we set off on a dirt road then a good trail through cactus, pinyon and juniper uphill to an area called Eagle Crags. There were clear, red rock views over the tree canopy north to Zion Valley and the steep enclosing mountains.
After Eagle Crags a fainter trail continued south marked by cairns but was slow going in and out of numerous gullies. The trail soon headed steeply up through a band of cliffs to pop out on a broad ridge. The markers disappeared here and we headed cross country south with a little scrambling down into and across a sage brush valley and then up slickrock on the other side before entering the ‘Sawmill Spring’ drainage with its beautiful slickrock dotted with ponderosa pines. Time was getting on and we were able to find a good campsite on the flat rocky slabs perched above the wash. With some large potholes full with water below us and grand views it was another great camping spot.
Tuesday 9th October 2018 After a frosty, still night we headed up ‘Sawmill Spring’ drainage again to scrabble up through thicker brush at the top past Sawmill Spring itself. We missed the spring but soon found a track heading along the slabby watershed. We were in Canaan Mountain Wilderness and vehicles are banned here, so it was disappointing to see fresh ATV tracks. Nevertheless it was grand country and a point of interest was an old desiccated wooden ‘Windlass’ used to winch logs down the 1000 foot sheer rock face to the plains of the Arizona Strip below. Peering out south here we could see the land rise to the North Rim of Grand Canyon many miles to the south.
The trail continued on a mix of sand and slickrock until we arrived at the ‘White Domes’- we had camped here last year but it was no hardship to visit this stunning series of rocky domes again, this time with the strong midday sun and deep blue sky adding to the scene.
We crossed more stunning slickrock before descending down into green, lush Squirrel Canyon and its running water. Last year at around the same time, the foliage was bright and autumnal but strangely this year everything was still green. Squirrel exits into the lower valley at Short Creek and we continued downstream next to the running water. All too soon we were on tarmac heading south for the town of Hilldale on the Arizona Border.
We had an amzing set of three hitch hikes in very quick succession (thanks everyone!) back to Rockville and learnt a fair bit about the history and changes in the Mormon township of Hilldale/Colorado City! We had time to visit the cemetary and Ghost town of Grafton – with some fame in that the bicycle scene in Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid was shot here.
Friday 5th October 2018 With a wet forecast for the next few days we again set off on a shortish trip carrying food for 3-4 days. Starting at noon at the Lower Muley Twist trailhead in the southern section of Capital Reef National Park, the weather was surprisingly bright with big puffy clouds. We had been here before in 2014 on our longer Hayduke hike and this time intended to repeat a hike of Lower Muley Twist canyon but then head off to explore different areas and to do a loop back to the car.
Muley Twist was superb last time and didn’t let us down this second time. Its mostly a wide twisting canyon for 12 miles or so with easy walking down the dry wash. The huge Navajo sandstone sidewalls with black water streaks are stunning but it’s the massive alcoves that are the standout. These must be some of the biggest caves or alcoves eroded out by the canyon wash we have ever seen. They are quite hard to capture on camera but it’s cool just to stand underneath looking up at the roofs.
Saw quite a few bats today in the daylight which was unusual too. The final alcove down canyon is known as Cowboy Alcove and contains some cool graffiti and artefacts from the early 1900’s. Muley Twist is normally dry but there were a few pools of water in the sandstone potholes from recent rain- the wet weather has had some benefits!
We explored a side canyon for a while heading west at the bottom. Jamal Green has used this one as a means of accessing the high plateau across to Silver Falls and Choprock Canyons. We took a look for about half and hour and enjoyed the wild, rough, bouldery scenery but chose to head back down Muley Twist and find a campsite near the certain water source at ‘Muley Tanks’ where we had camped in 2014.
We exited out of Muley Twist with a narrow final eastward slant into the wide Halls Creek. Camp was found just as it got dark at a serene stretch of slickrock leading to a side canyon to the west. On the way we came across an old midden of flint rock lying under a small cave. Excellent end to the day!
Saturday 6th October 2018 Dark skies as we awoke and had breakfast looking out across our side canyon and the main Halls Creek. We left the backpacks and headed into our side canyon by wading through a short pool section then into the scenic narrow canyon which ended all too soon. Picking up the backpacks we made our way to the big pools of water at Muley Tanks then headed up the slickrock slabs behind to a place called ‘Hamburger Rocks’. A cool series of red boulders sitting on top of smooth slabs. Easy slabs took us back into the dry wash of Halls Creek again and its wide open views.
Halls Creek Overlook Trail was taken east out of the main creek and it climbed quickly amidst varied colourful rock and boulders. Great views back to the rippled folding rock layers. Rain crept in from the south and we were soon getting wet hiking north now on vehicle tracks. With a long wet dirt road hike ahead of us, we caved in when a SUV passed by and we hitched a lift (thank you!) for about 5 miles to another hiking trailhead called ‘The Post’.
The Post trail heads west back over the folded rocks and into Muley Twist canyon again. This is another superb little trail although views were a bit limited with mist and rain rolling in. This trail could be used as an alternate to the Hayduke missing out the Burr Trail dirt road zig zags and the top 2 hours of Muley Twist. Maybe 50/50 as to which option would be better.
The rain worsened to a torrential downpour and we sped back up Muley Twist with sheets of water pouring down the canyon walls. It was a bit of a relief to reach the car and get out over the dirt road with rain banging off the windscreen. That said though this was another varied and scenic short trip!