Bryce Canyon and Zion Parks

This post covers covers two day trips to famous National Parks in southern Utah; Bryce Canyon and Zion.

In Bryce we simply followed a few of the popular trails on a great crisp clear day with big rolling clouds.

In Zion we were looking for something to do on our last day of the holiday that avoiding the crowds. We succeeded as we didn’t see anyone else all day! Also we had a splendid day of slickrock, bushwacking, scrambling and a trail to the Deer Trap Mountain with great views down to Zion Valley.

See our photos from both trips here

 

Grand Canyon Northern Loop

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.

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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!

More photos here

 

Scorpion Gulch

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!

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Early Weed TH with the Henry Mountains in the distance

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!

Canaan Mountain traverse

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.

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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.

Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek

 

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’.

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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!

 

 

 

 

Bighorn Canyon, Harris Wash and the ‘Cosmic Navel’

A splendid short scrambling backpack past some amazing sights in the Escalante catchment.

Wednesday 3rd October 2018 With wet weather over the last few days and more forecast, we decided to cut down our ambitious plans for a week long hike in the Escalante catchment and instead go for a 2 or 3 day loop down into the Upper Harris Wash area of Escalante.

We parked on the Sheffield Road a few miles off Highway 12 east of Escalante with an eery mist hanging over the canyons. The sun soon broke through though and we started off down into the slickrock of Bighorn Canyon. This is a tremendously colourful place with generally easy hiking broken up by some interesting scrambling down slots and bypasses round the trickier drops. We left the backpacks at the junction with the west fork of Bighorn and explored it’s narrow slot for a while past some surreal swirling rock layers.

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All too soon we arrived at the junction with the larger more open canyon of Upper Harris Wash. The temperature was still cool and this was an enjoyable hike with wide views out to the canyon walls and puffy clouds studding the deep blue sky.

We stopped beside a shady wall for a late lunch before continuing down the dry streambed seeing some people heading for Zebra and Tunnel Canyons. Soon after that Harris narrowed and a trickling stream appeared running down a mellow green avenue of cottonwoods. We noticed lots of woodpeckers along with coyote and turkey footprints in the muddy wash.

Just as the canyon widened a little we scrambled up onto the southern slickrock slopes and set up camp on flat rock overlooking the canyon in a lovely spot. We have been prefering camping on rock out here in Utah where possible as we make very little impact compared with camping on soil or sand. Our freestanding tent and inflatable sleeping mats make it easy too and it opens up the option of more interesting and often viewful sites.

Thursday 4th October 2018 Massive pyrotechnics last night as thunderstorms gradually came closer accompanied by torrential rain. So glad we pitched the tent above the canyon floor!

In the morning Harris Wash had flooded from a trickle of clear water to a muddy torrent about 15 meters wide. Crossing the river now looked impossible but at least the rain had stopped and the sun was out again.

[Click here or the image below for a short video clip]

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After a pleasant breakfast in the sun we scrambled out of the canyon to the south and followed slabs pitted with fresh pools of water to then descend back to Harris at the 2WD trailhead. The river is wider here and levels appeared to have dropped allowing us to wade across to the north side fairly easily. Cattle trails gave quick progress along beside the line of cottonwoods but the cows have grazed heavily and the vegetation looked pretty damaged.

Soon enough past Red Breaks canyon we picked up a jeep track heading northwards under a lovely clear sky and cumulus clouds. Our target was a geological oddity and wonderful sight given various names such as the Cosmic Navel or Volcano.

A cold southerly wind at our backs assisted us up to the volcano sitting near the top of a slickrock hill. Wow! -a huge hole in the rock filled with red sand and a rock island sitting inside. Its not really a volcano but is believed to be an old river meander or abandoned meandor (rincon) raised up through time to the top of the hill.

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After exploring around the volcano we headed north over a beautiful undulating sea of slickrock before reluctantly descending to Big Spencer Flats and picking up a dirt road. This was a long walk back to the car but the clear air and panoramic views made up for it to round off a superb hike!

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Buckskin Gulch and slickrock

Saturday 29th September 2018 We drove our rental car today from Las Vegas eastward towards Utah and the colorado plateau. Made it to the town of Kanab – familiar to us from previous visits as well as being famous for its movie history – and then onwards to the dirt road over to Buckskin Gulch Trailhead for about 16:30pm.

Our intention as our warm up for this holiday was to hike down Buckskin to the Paria river and then do a cross country loop back north and west to the car via Long Canyon over 2-3 days. Buckskin is one of the best and most famous canyon hikes around being about 14 miles of pure beautiful narrow canyon before reaching the equally lovely but wider Paria canyon. We didn’t have a permit for camping in the canyons so that limited our overnight options somewhat to either camping short before the Buckskin narrows to a slot canyon or camping half way along Buckskin on the canyon rim scrambling up at a place called Middle Trail.  Time was against us for the latter so we set off for a relaxed evening hike down the initial part of Buckskin Gulch.

The evening light made for a mellow hike to help stave off our jetlag – down the sandy wash of Buckskin Gulch surrounded by swirling sandstone slopes. We left the canyon floor about 18:00 and climbed up to the east over some slickrock to find a great pitch for the tent. There was just enough time to explore the rocky slopes further above the tent before the sun set and it was dark quickly by about 19:30.

Fantastic pillow rock shapes in the sandstone as the sun set……

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Sunday 30th September 2018 We had a broken first night’s sleep still suffering from some jetlag. But it was a beautiful night with a bright moon lightening up the tent in the night and a stunning silence over the canyon. This was only broken by what I thought was a harley davidson buzzing by my head….it turned out to be a manic moth!

We hiked further down Buckskin Gulch in the morning and it soon closed in on us with lovely scooped red walls. Muddy marks about 3 meters high were signs of the last flood sweeping through here. The gully bed was surprisingly muddy too and we soon hit the first of many unavoidable dark pools. The confluence of canyons at Wire Pass gave us a bright sunny interlude before continuing down. But we were forced to wade muddy pool after pool with slippy silty slopes unseen under the water. We had visited this part of the canyon in 2014 and had a simple hike in dry conditions able to enjoy the fantastic scenery of the steep walled narrow canyon. This time was different with constant wading and mud…..so we turned around after about an hour and headed back to the open area where we had camped.

To save the day we chose to climb up the slickrock slopes to the east to the plateau above Buckskin Gulch and then head north through pinyon juniper forest to scramble back into Buckskin down some gullies. It was a fantastic little trip….

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Ötztal Alps

Monday 16th July 2018 Obergurgl to the Ramol Haus We took the train and bus from Innsbruck to Obergurgl in the Ötztal mountains. After a visit for lunch to the Backerei we set off up the north slopes of the valley gradually ascending on more good trail. We had sun, cloud and a little hail, but mostly nice viewful conditions. The scenery improved all the way to the Ramol Haus at 3000m set on a pedestal looking down south across glaciers.

This may be the best hut of our trip and we had a newly fitted wood dorm room to ourselves. We hiked uphill for about 5 minutes with the cooking gear and had a splendid dinner admiring the panorama set out around us.

Tuesday 17th july 2018 Ramol Haus to Martin Busch Hutte  Swirling cloud in the morning added to the atmosphere as we hiked up a short distance then over the Ramoljoch  3186m. The descent was down beside a nice sweeping glacier field followed by boulders then a high traverse southwards on an unusually easy path. We stopped for a brew outside the small ‘Schafferhutte’ once on a bigger trail, then followed it up to the large Martin Busch Hutte.

We headed past the hut for a pass on the Italian border occupied by the private Similaun Hutte. We had intended to overnight here and go and look for the site where Otztal Man was found. ‘Otzi’ was a well preserved, frozen mummified man dating from about 3100 BC. However the weather was a bit grim and we needed to find somewhere else to stay, so we retreated back to the also busy Martin Busch Hutte and got beds in the dorm.

Wednesday 18th July Martin Busch Hutte, Saykogel, Vent Up at 5.45am for the 6am breakfast buffet then off early on a steady climb to Saykogel- at 3350m our highest peak of the trip. Nice trail with some scrambling at the top and we met a solo woman working at the hut who was out for a morning jaunt up the peak.

This was another lovely summit with glaciated summits all round. The descent scrambled down a rocky ridge between snowfields before trail took us into a stoney valley and down to Hochjoch Haus at about 2500m. This was to be our final hut so we had a farewell pancake and soaked up the surroundings before descending down valley on an interesting trail above a gorge to the hamlet of Vent.

We were able to pick up a bus here down valley and eventually work our way back to Innsbruck and Munich for some city sightseeing. This has been a excellent hike in the Austrian Alps and wetted our appetite to return again!

Stubai Alps

Thursday 12th July 2018 To the Brenner Hut We caught a bus out of Steinbach to a trailhead at the small rural village of Gschnitz allowing us to meet up with the Stubai Rucksack Route.

(I guess it would be easy and pleasant to connect our hiking steps into one continuous ‘thru-hike’ and avoid the bus, but we had limited time and were keen to go straight up to the high routes rather than use a connecting trail in the valley).

The Gschnitztal valley is idyllic picture postcard Austria with lush green fields, hay bales and cows dotted between small villages. We exited the bus at the end of the road and hiked up the valley gently at first before climbing steeply up hot trail through forest. A beautiful flower meadow surrounded by steep peaks and bubbling streams was an excuse for a stop before the final push up to the small Bremer Hut. This was possibly our favourite hut so far, being small and next to a tarn with grand mountain views.

After checking in to the hut, we decided to climb the nearby peak- Innere Wetter Spitze, which rises steeply about 700m right from the hut – ‘Weather Top’! Some great exposed scrambling with a little via ferrata took us to the sharp summit with panoramic views with no one else around.

A fantastic day and maybe the best yet.

Friday 13th July 2018 Bremer Hut to Dresdner Hut We started with another steep climb to the first pass of the day with a cool border patrol hut right at the top of a sharp ridge. We hit some rock hard snow slopes descending the far side and had our ice axes out with Brian pulling out a set of microspikes (mini crampons) providing additional grip for the running shoes. Below, the trail wound its way through some lush alpine meadows and streams before dropping through a rock band aided by cables. A mellow hike took us to the Nuernberger Hut nestled in another great spot.

From here another short climb took us up to the Niederl col opening up views to more and more peaks and glaciers to the west. The descent down passed some surreal blue lakes then onto glacier moraine ridges to the Sulzenau Hut. This one was bustling and must be within easy reach of the road as it was mobbed with people soaking up the sun and enjoying the good food and drink!

We happily exited from here for the last pass of the day, the Peiljoch, hiking up past a tremendous zone of glaciers dropping from the ‘Zuckerhuetl’ mountain range. It was late afternoon and we had this trail to ourselves as we descended steeply to our final hut for the day, the Dresdner Hut. This is situated within a ski area and is connected by road so is a bit more hotel like than the other huts, but the food was excellent and we had a great night there.

Saturday 14th July Dresdner Hut to Franz Senn Hut We are both feeling a bit fatigued after 7 long days but are soon fortified by the buffet breakfast- we are consuming a lot of calories on this trip! Our route turned northwards today on another scenic balcony trail, roughly contouring round the sides of the mountains. We cross a steep pass, Grawagrubennieder 2888m, and have the ice axes out again dropping down snow the other side to a rubbly boulder field before reaching trail again. From there we head pleasantly down a wide glaciated valley to the Neue Regensburger Hut, known for its home baked cakes which we had to sample!

Our first pass of the afternoon was the Besslerjoch, which was almost blocked by snow but we sneaked past. The descent is rocky and gets a bit slippery with some afternoon rain.

We are both happy to see the Franz Senn hut in the distance but find it to be mobbed when we arrive at 18:10. Our tactic this trip has been to avoid booking any huts in advance- unlike everyone else- but this gives us the flexibility to change plans and double or even treble up hut to hut days. This time though we have to wait until 20:00 to find out if we can get a bed but hoorah, luck out in that yes there are beds and that we have got a place in the overflow basement ski room. The good thing here is that it is quiet and has a door so that we can have fresh air through the night!

Sunday 15th July Franz Senn Hut to Innsbruck It rained hard through the night and the in the morning. We are a day away from connecting with our next mountain range, the Otztal but have some high passes to go over. We decide to hike down the valley instead and get buses to Innsbruck and dry out. The hike works out fine and once we reach the road, we actually get a lift from a couple also descending from the hut. They drop us off at the small town of Neustift and we catch a bus easily into Innsbruck from there.

Next Ötztal Alps

Zillertal Alps

Saturday 7th July 2018  Edel Hut and Ahornspitze After some shopping in Innsbruck we had a pleasant ride on two trains up to the ski resort of Mayrhofen, past lush green valleys and steep hills rising all around. We sat around with fresh bread and cheese for lunch in the busy village centre  before starting with the helping hand of the Ahorn cable car to 2000m and then strike off on trail!

We climbed on a good trail for about 1.5 hours up to the Edel hut and checked in quickly before heading for an afternoon ascent of Ahornspitze- a nearby mountain with a good trail leading to a scramble at the top. With lots of cloud around we had the occasional view of jaggy peaks and enjoyed some nice steep scrabbling up to the sharp summit at just under 3000m.

Sunday 8th July 2018 Kasseler Hut We were off at 7.45 for the hike to the Kasseler Hut traversing the west side of a mountain ridge and crossing over 7 passes on the way. Much of the time the way wound its way through boulder fields of granites and platey schists making for slow but interesting going including some cool scrambling and via ferrata over the sharp ridges.We hear marmots, see some ravens and meet a flock of large black sheep that take an uncanny interest in us. Martina pats one and they follow us for about 20 minutes showing a stealthy ability to navigate the boulders!

It’s cloudy and chilly all day and we had a welcome brew up at a ‘bivvy hut’ as marked on the map but actually a rather wonderful wooden cabin with 4 bunks and 5 euro overnight charge. We reached the Kasseler hut mid afternoon before some rain set in. A good day over rough trails!

Monday 9th July 2018 To the Berlinner Hut via the Greizer Hut After finishing early-ish yesterday we decided to stretch out a bit and cover two guide book days to the Berlinner Hut.

From the Kasseler Hut we contoured round a steep valley generally westward crossing numerous glacial rivers and snowfields. The sun came out mid morning to brighten up the atmospheric scene around us. There was one exciting crossing of a steep gully filled with a snow tongue which involved hanging down the edge of the snow with our ice axe to reach the other side.

After meeting more friendly sheep we climbed steeply up about 700m to the Lapen Scharte pass at 2701m to great views with puffy clouds, peaks and glaciers. A steady descent took us down to the Greizer Hut around lunchtime. Being well ahead of our guidebook times we decided to stop for lunch then continue the plan to head to the next hut in the afternoon.

Snow slopes in the morning

We sat outside the hut admiring the beautiful glacier views with two hut horses for company. To be honest, everyone was friendly here and the hut terrace was a great place to hang out so this would have made a good overnight stop.

But..fuelled by some Apfelkuchen and 2 cokes we descended steeply to the valley bottom crossing a deafening loud glacial river with a tricky loose gravelly slope. Then it was up 1200m to the next pass- Moerchen Scharte, firstly by some cool ladders and via ferrata to assist the way through an initial rock band, then steep zig-zags up a ridge. We were both ‘firing on all cylinders’ so made light work of the climb with a final snow covered push to the col. More great views!

The descent was stunning over snow patches then past some lakes including the Schwarzersee to the huge gothic Berlinner Hut at 2000m. What a atmospheric hut both inside and out and a fab day!

Tuesday 10th July 2018 Berlinner Hut to Dominikus Hut After a pleasant breakfast on the hut veranda in the sun we set off steeply uphill with more great views of peaks and snowfields. We were following a busier trail here as hikers use it to climb from the hut to the nearby peak ‘Schoenbichler Horn 3133m’. Higher up there was some steep scrambling with cables to the top of the peak with spectacular alpine views.

Leaving the other hikers we descended down steep rock, then onto a snowfield before hitting easier trails to the Furtschagel Haus. Another grandly positioned hut where we enjoyed lunch with ‘knudel spinach’ dough balls. More steep zig-zags in the afternoon took us down to a low wide valley and past the Schlegeisspeicher Reservoir and the now unusual experience of walking along flat trails! The rain came on heavy though and we dashed for cover to a cafe when we reached a road. After a chat with the cafe owner who had lived in the UK for 20 years we headed out into the torrential rain and decided to stay in a bunk room at the nearby roadside Dominik Hut.

Wednesday 11th July 2018 Domikus Hut to Brenner Pass and Steinach It was ‘socked in’ grey and misty in the morning with heavy rain. We decided to set off anyway and cross a slightly lower than intended first pass (the Pfitscherjoch) into Italy then climb higher from there in the hope that the weather would clear!

We headed south, gradually ascending a valley- and lo! – the cloud lifted to reveal some views and the rain stopped at least. It was rather pleasant, relaxed hiking up to the pass into Italy. We then took a balcony trail winding its way grandly round the side of mountains high above the Italian valleys heading towards the Landshutte at 2700m. Here we stopped for a drink and to escape the damp cloud that had now set in again. Another fine hut both inside and potential views outside (when clear!).

A long steep descent now followed to the main road crossing the alps at Brenner Pass – 1350m. The trail was good and the weather cleared as we dropped way down into tree lined hillside and eventually to fields in the valley floor. We had completed our traverse of the first range, the Zillertal Alps, and to save us some road walking to start our next stage, we took transport to the town of Steinach for the night. A superb 5 day hike!

Next- Stubai Alps