Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Kayaking the San Rafael River in Central Utah

2019 is turning out to be an excellent water year for southern Utah. Something we haven't had consistently for more than a decade. As a "river runner" that has been frustrating at times.

I've learned to pay closer attention to the daily water levels on many of the rivers and streams in Utah in order not to miss an opportunity to raft or kayak a stream that has enough water.

My favorite small river/stream to run lately is Muddy Creek in the San Rafael Swell region of central Utah. The significant snow pack this year has me very optimistic that there will be multiple opportunities to run it this year.

But so far, the water measurements have been too low to go down Muddy Creek. Interestingly though, the San Rafael River to the north has been running strong for a couple of weeks now. Usually running under 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) the San Rafael has been above 300 cfs consistently for the last few weeks.

So along with other family members, we took off for a kayak trip down the San Rafael on Saturday, May 11th anticipating a flow of around 400 cfs.

We camped at the Wedge Overlook on a chilly Friday night once the sun went down. The roads out to the "The Wedge" were wet from an earlier rain storm. They were a little muddy, but well maintained and in great condition.

On Saturday morning we packed up quickly and headed out to Fuller Bottom where we rigged our kayaks and a small (13ft bucket boat) oar powered raft.

Research indicates that a flow of 150 - 300 cfs is ideal. Personally, I think anything less than 200 cfs would be possible, but a lot of work.

We were happy to see a flow of approximately 430 cfs when we launched at 11:00am on Saturday.

The current was swift but very manageable. I didn't feel at any point in the trip the oar boat would have a problem and the kayaks easily navigated the river, even through the occasional braided channel.

Floating past the Wedge Overlook is approximately the half way point. The canyon features through The Wedge are simply stunning and reminded me a lot of the Yampa River through Dinosaur Nat'l Monument as well as parts of the Escalante region.

Including a 30min lunch stop, we spent 5 hours floating all the way to Swinging Bridge. There are a couple of spots upstream to take out that are easier, but I didn't see what the road conditions were like getting to those take out areas.

Taking out just under the bridge is excellent for access to vehicles, but it is swift water only and a bit of a challenge making the stop. Anyone with some experience kayaking can do it and then assist the ones with less experience.

If the water level is lower than 400 cfs, anticipate a longer trip than 5 hours. I've heard of others spending up to 8 hours on the river. So give yourself plenty of time to complete the float, and enjoy a really peaceful and scenic trip.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Druid Arch - Canyonlands National Park

The day after Thanksgiving Day in November of 2010 my son Rob and I hiked to Druid Arch in Canyonlands Nat’l Park for the first time. Since the early 2000’s we had been all around that area by Jeep, but we had never made the hike to Druid Arch.

Late November 2010 was very cold, but the weather was clear and sunny during the day. There was snow on the ground and all water sources were solid ice from the Elephant Hill Trail Head to Druid Arch.

Upon returning to Druid Arch in November 2013, we found a different set of circumstances, but we loved the contrasting weather. This time there was still snow on the ground, but it was warmer than the 2010 experience. What was so different this time in addition to the temperature difference, we now had low clouds and fog.
We love doing the hike to Druid Arch in the winter because we’re unsure of any consistent water sources and with an 11 mile round trip (10.8 miles) hike, you could end up carrying a lot of water if you hiked in warmer temperatures.  This time there was plenty of pools of water in Elephant Canyon to filter. But because of the cool temps, we each used less than 2 liters per person and didn’t need any extra water beyond what we started out with.

The trail to Druid Arch is well signed and easy to follow. There are four different trail junctions on the way to Druid Arch. The only potential trouble is on the way back from the arch the junction that takes you out of Elephant Canyon can be easily missed and take you to EC 1 camp instead.
We like to start from the Elephant Hill Trail Head because it is the shortest distance unless you drive over Elephant Hill back to the Joint Trail. Even then you only cut off 4 tenths of a mile each way.

From the trailhead you work your way up to the next rock formation level, and you’ll stay at that level for a while, with some minor ups and downs.  The first two miles of the hike take you through a couple of sections of high rock formations by short-cutting through some narrow sections.

At the 1.5 mile mark you’ll reach the first junction in the trail. A turn east would take you back to the Squaw Flats Campground.  We turn west and head in the direction of Chesler Park .

We pass through another narrow section and head down a steep section and in to Elephant Canyon. On your way down look across the canyon to the north and you can see a nice sized hiker’s camp. That is EC1.

 Once you reach Elephant Canyon you are at the next junction. You can keep going west if you want to go to Chelser Park. But to get to Druid Arch you will stay in this canyon from now on.

Most of the way is along the canyon floor, but occasionally you’ll need to follow the trail up and around obstacles. We found that following the trails up was always a good choice. The only exception would be the spur trails to the camps, EC 2 and EC 3.
Side canyons appear on occasion but it’s easy to stay in the main canyon and find your way.

Periodically another junction will be reached, but just stay in Elephant Canyon and keep going.

At one point, if you know what you are looking at you can see Druid Arch from its north facing side view. That means in just a few bends you’ll climb out of the canyon to your left and start working your way up to the level of the base of the arch.

Eventually you’ll use a permanently attached ladder and metal pole to cross a big boulder. This can be tricky if there is snow accumulation as it’s sheltered from the sun in the winter time and metal bar can be very slippery when wet.
Then it’s up a rock fall to an awesome view of Druid Arch.

With the low clouds and fog made for some really nice photos of the arch and views down Elephant Canyon.

 If you go left at the top of the rock fall instead of the popular access point to the right, you can get some nice shots of the arch from a distance that is further away.

We like to stop for lunch and rest awhile near the arch. But we make sure we get back on the trail with enough time for the return trip as the daylight is short in the wintertime. Not being a huge hurry, we took about 2.5 hours to hike to the arch, and about 2 hours to hike back, with a stop of about an hour at the arch.

Back Country Camping: Camps EC2 and EC3 are found in Elephant Canyon and are very nice backpacking camps. EC2 is a bit of climb up while EC3 is not too far from the streambed.

Druid Arch November 2010

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Be Still

One of my favorite activities is to spend time in southern Utah with my family camping, Jeeping, hiking, or rafting. One of my other favorite activities is to study from and grow my library of personal development and business books. Recently I found a book entitled, “The Wisdom of Wilderness” by Gerald G. May. The author recounts many of the lessons learned while camping alone.

That got me thinking. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been camping alone, if ever. So I decided to give it a shot. I told my family I was going to go to Moab to do some camping, but this time I was going alone.

So I packed the Jeep and headed to Moab for a long fall weekend. When I arrived in Moab I bought a couple of bundles of wood in case the evenings got cold, made sure I had a full tank of gas, and called my wife to let her know the general area I planned to go and promised to call after two days since I would be out of cell phone coverage until I was back in Moab.

I picked a camping area about 20 miles from the nearest paved road at the base of the La Sal Mountains in a valley seldom visited by most people exploring around Moab. During the two days I spent there I never heard another vehicle or saw another person. The only noise was the noise I made or what nature created.

I learned some very interesting lessons in my exceptionally quiet time alone. I’ll share a couple of them here.

I was actually quite surprised how hard it was to get used to the silence. It took me almost a full 24 hours just to settle down and be comfortable in all that silence and stillness. I love the tranquility of the desert southwest, but rarely take the time to be still and just think for long periods of time.

After finally settling down I pulled out a tote full of books and began to browse through whatever caught my interest. I eventually started thinking about goal setting and personal achievement.

As I considered the value of setting goals I also thought about an idea I had been considering regarding the potential “let down” once a goal is achieved. Of course it makes sense to make sure we always set additional goals to avoid any kind of let down.

The challenge I was considering was the feeling of never being able to “arrive” since we always have additional goals identified and ready to pursue. As I thought about that idea, here’s what came to mind in the quiet of that valley far away from anyone else. I wrote the following in my notebook:

“Life is best lived in the gap—the gap between your plans and dreams and their ultimate achievement. There is joy in the journey.”

I realized that I can be at peace with living in-between my accomplishments and additional goals, as long as I’m continually moving forward and improving. And because I’m okay with living in “the gap” I can acknowledge each success and lessons learned from each mistake and have joy in this journey we call life.

Would I have come to that realization if I had never decided to go alone into the stillness of the desert? I don’t know. Was it worth going anyway? Absolutely! Learning to be still and living in the gap were just two of many lessons learned while on this particular adventure.

The question for you is when will you take your opportunities to be still and contemplate what matters most in your life? In today’s world of multiple sources of media bombardment, quiet time must be planned or it just won’t happen. You don’t have to go off into the middle of nowhere, but occasionally total silence from man-made noise can be very beneficial.

(C) DTE Consulting “Helping you Do The Extraordinary!”

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Golden Cathedral and Fence Canyon

March of 2013 was an excellent time to backpack in the Grand Staircase area in the Hole-in-the Rock (HITR) region. We planned two backpacking trips and a day hike for the week.

On Monday afternoon after picking up lunch at the Subway in Escalante, we headed out the HITR road to Egypt Bench. The trail head is approximately 10 miles due east off the HITR with the last short stretch pretty challenging if your vehicle doesn’t have high clearance. In fact we saw a few vehicles parked at the beginning of this last stretch I assume to hike to Egypt Bench from there or to access some of the technical slots nearby.

In the early afternoon after getting our backpacks ready and eating lunch we headed off of Egypt Bench towards Fence Canyon. The first section is quite steep and even has places where the pack guides of the past cut grooves in the sandstone to make it easier for the pack animals to make the decent and accent.

To access Fence Canyon after coming off the steep bench it’s important to head northeast so that you end up in-between the two canyons that eventually make up Fence Canyon.

The biggest challenge we found was that there are multiple ways to come off the rim of the canyon and really no clear trail and cairns marking multiple ways down. So we picked our way down the south side of the point that separates the two canyons, but making sure way stayed off the floor of the south canyon until we were at the confluence of the two canyons that make up Fence. At this point the trail is very obvious.

It was still early in the year so there was still ice on the streams and some snow patches still left to cross occasionally.

Not far from the confluence of the two small canyons that make up Fence Canyon we reached the Escalante River. There is great camping on the south side of the stream as well as a high bench on the north side of the Fence Canyon stream right before it reaches the Escalante.
We decided to set up our camp on the south side of Fence Canyon about 100 feet from the Escalante River.

We were surprised that the river was running high. The two weeks before our arrival there had been some good storms that rolled through the southern half of the state and it looked like the snow that was left behind was melting and running off earlier than usual.
I was planning on coming back in May to attempt a kayaking trip from either Calf Creek or Fence Canyon to Coyote Gulch. This was the main reason for doing this hike was to see if it would be a viable put-in for a kayak trip if there was a concern about the upper half of the trip not having enough water to float.

Well, judging by the amount of water in the river now, it would have been possible to run it at this time in early March. But that wasn’t what we prepared for, so we dropped our packs and headed about a mile downstream to Neon Canyon.
The second reason for trip was to explore Neon Canyon and see the Golden Cathedral.

With the river running high it was an interesting experience to find decent river crossings. With the way the river winds through the canyon we had to make approximately 5 crossings to reach Neon Canyon.

We didn’t pick our second crossing very well and ended up in a pretty deep section of river that was a bit more challenging to cross as there were no shallow sections to choose from. But by standing on some submerged tamarisk we were able to make the crossing by probing with our walking sticks and getting wet about half way up our thighs.
On the way back we found a much better crossing further upstream. So if the water level is high, once you reach the first left turn (east) in the river after Fence stay on the right hand side of the river, but stay close to the river and follow it until just before the river turns right (south). Then cut across to the place where the river starts to turn right again (west) and that is the best place to cross in high water.
It was late in the afternoon as we heading down the river so we were aware that we wouldn’t be able to spend a long time in search of the Golden Cathedral, but we also enjoyed the afternoon light along the Escalante River.

At the mouth of Neon Canyon there is a really nice area to camp in case your plans would be to take the slot canyon route and rappel down into the Golden Cathedral, or if you were floating down from Calf Creek the camp isn’t far from the river bank.

The walk up Neon Canyon was very nice and the Golden Cathedral is spectacular. I suspect the pool below the double bridge is always changing and can be quite different depending on the amount of water flowing through the canyon each year.

Working our way back to camp was much easier since we were able to spot better river crossings and surprised to discover the very best route right before Fence Canyon is actually against the sandstone wall on the west side of the river. Being a whitewater rafter it’s usually the opposite. The deep water is usually along the outside edge of the river, especially in the curves.

We set up camp on the south side where we set down our packs earlier and by the time we had returned we had company on the north side up on the high bank on the opposite side of the stream. But the privacy is still pretty good, but I would expect that after two groups it would get a lot harder to avoid one another.

In the morning the temperatures were low and the water bucket used for filtering was iced over. I use this bucket to settle water prior to filtering to avoid having paper filters clog too quickly or having to clean the ceramic filter of my Katadyn Pocket too frequently.

I liked this south side camp this time of year because the sun hit our camp pretty early and it was helpful in warming us up as well as drying our gear off from the evening dew.

The hike out was a lot of uphill and I was glad we got a pretty early start because it did warm up quite a bit and the sun in the morning shines right down on the trail the whole way to the vehicles.

It was still a challenge to find a good defined trail up and out of Fence Canyon. But once you’re up on the rim of Fence it really doesn’t matter where you hike as long as you work your way southwest towards the last climb out. Keeping in mind that it doesn’t really matter where you hike as long as you are on the slick rock mainly and not creating new trials unnecessarily, and of course never stepping on the “kypto” soil.
We met a large group of what looked like college aged people about ½ way up as they were heading in. I counted 24 people. Let’s hope it was two separate groups of 12 (the maximum number allowed) and it was just a coincidence they were all together. (I really doubt it.) Large groups can be really tough on the fragile desert and when I see a disregard for the regulations I start to wonder how long it will be before we have to deal with a permit system that doesn’t allow for a spontaneous trip into the region.

The last leg of the hike out is the steepest and being the most out of shape of the three of us, it took me a bit longer to reach the top, but it was a great hike. The weather was perfect and this year March was a great time to be in the HITR region.

Additional Photos: