White Rim Trail and Beyond

14th November:  The White Rim Trail and Beyond

Finally after 3 weeks in Snomad we are actually becoming more efficient! On average it has taken us two hours to get up get dressed make breakfast, sandwiches, wash up, and pack down the camper – we can’t work how it takes us so long as we are constantly on the move, not sitting around!  However, this morning we banged everything out in an hour and were on the road by 8am – Gav & I were doing a lot of ‘high fives’, finally it appears, we are getting used to life in Snomad!

From the guides we had read, the trail out from Hardscrabble campground should be pretty easy, with a couple of minor switchbacks…they lied! Part of the roads had been washed away and were, like yesterday, only really suitable for lithe mountain goats! We negated the overhangs whilst I spotted in front and successfully got Snomad through unscathed, much to our relief! The rest of the journey out was pretty easy as the last 16 miles was suitable for 2WD (I drove this section!). Saying goodbye to the White Rim Trail was rather sad – it had been an adventure of the epic kind;

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White Rim Trail Part 2

White Rim Trail Part 2: White Crack Campsite to Hard Scrabble Campsite

Today can only be described as emotional. Partly because I had PMT, partly because sections of both  the Murphy Hogback and Hardscrabble Hill absolutely terrified me. Now, generally it takes quite a lot to put the fear in me – I’m quite happy to throw myself of aerial ski ramps, or perform double front somersaults in a gymnasium. However, driving up and along incredibly narrow dirt roads – no, not roads, make that mountain goat tracks – with a vertical wall on one side, a sheer drop on the other, and footnotes in a guide that says be aware of falling rocks, I am not feeling at my happiest!

Anyhow, we managed to accomplish both today, and when I wasn’t spotting and Gav wasn’t driving (ie we were stationary) we admired the incredible views that this part of the White Rim trail has to offer.  The buttes, hoodos, and arches are absolutely amazing, and changing from the Colorado River to the Green River is also exciting; as the name suggests, it is green!

To break up the driving (and to give my nerves a break) we stopped at Vertigo Void which is at mile 40 from the end of the Shafer switchback junction. Vertigo void is a huge overhang, and the fun thing to do apparently is to crawl along the ground so that your head is over the edge, and due to the overhang, you get an updraft in your face and it really does feel as if you are flying!

Another favourite was the slot canyon at the start of the Wilhite trail. Although it is not listed as a technical climb and one that the general public can do (by the way please read this as very few people as we saw absolutely no-one at all today), as a novice I found it pretty tough. It’s always well to remember that whatever you climb down, you also have to climb up, and trust me, climbing up smooth sandstone is not easy!

Shortly after leaving the slot canyon I decided it was about time I gave Gav a rest and took over the driving, with the idea being that we would switch again at the turning for Fort Bottom. Fortunately it was fairly smooth, until I realised that Hardscrabble Hill was before and not after the fort turning. I managed a couple of switchbacks with the sheer drops on my side until I handed back over to Gav for the tougher ascent. I was still pretty pleased as I am a novice at off-roading and it really helped with my confidence. However, we were both on the edge of our seats with this final ascent and relaxed a little at the top, only to find we were now on the narrow ‘goat’ path I mentioned earlier. About a mile along this we let out a huge sigh of relief as we saw the sign for our campsite – only it wasn’t our campsite, it was marking the turning for Fort Bottom ! I was almost in tears! So, another 2 miles along a crumbling goat track with falling rocks, and finally we start the descent towards Hardscrabble camp ground, which is actually situated along the edge of Green River. We got out of Snomad and our whoops of delight could be heard echoing around the canyons.

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The White Rim Trail Part 1

White Rim Trail Part 1: Potash Road to White Crack Campsite

Our built-in alarm clocks now seem to be set at about 6:20am, so as usual we were up with the dawn and preparing for our big 3 day trip into Canyonlands National Park to start the White Rim Trail. Unfortunately there seemed to have been a temperature inversion and it was actually colder inside Snomad than out, and as if to prove it I had to scrape ice of the INSIDE of the skylight above our bed!

At about 8:00am we were ready to get on our way to Potash Road to start the White Rim. The White Rim Trail was originally carved out by the Uranium miners in the 1950’s and follows the path of the Colorado River, and the Green River, creating 110 mile loop around the Island In The Sky district in Canyonlands. Normally people will start at the Shafer Trail and do the Shafer switchbacks which has fantastic views. However, due to the snowfall and wind over the weekend, the rangers had closed the switchbacks and the ice would have made it far too dangerous, so Potash Road it was. I was quite happy with this as there are plenty of well-preserved petroglyphs en-route which are worth stopping for. Being a big ‘Thelma & Louise’ fan we also stopped at Thelma & Louise Point, I absolutely understand why this canyon was chosen for the film – the view is outrageous! The rest of Potash Road was very scenic, however, be warned, if you do take this route, it does add an extra 90 minutes or so onto your timings.

The first 12 miles or so from the Shafer junction are absolutely incredible. The question is not what should you take photos of, but what (if anything) should you leave out? Gooseneck Overlook offers some spectacular views over stepped canyons and buttes, whilst Musselman Arch offers a natural bridge to walk over (when you are on it, you can see it’s fairly wide, but for the photographer it is really quite freaky!). We had loads of fun doing silly poses to put on this site and to send to our folks back home.

The rest of the trail to White Crack is relatively straight forward although you do end up suffering from de-ja-vou. Three times we went round a headland, and three times were were greeted with the same view including very similar hoodos at each point as well!

We made it round to White Crack campsite about 30 minutes before sunset and our expectations were high. Everything we had read or been told suggested that White Crack was the place to camp and if you are lucky enough to get a permit for the White Rim Trail at all, then the gods are certainly smiling on you if you get the option to stay at White Crack as well. We were incredibly fortunate, but I think that we were going two days after the first snowfall also helped.

Gav and I would certainly agree with everything we have read; the sunset we saw at White Crack was out of this world. In our ‘normal’ lives we are professional yacht crew and have some pretty crazy sunrises and sunsets at sea, but the colours in the one at White crack combined with incredible views including out to the Needle District definitely made this one of the most memorable sunsets for both of us.

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The Day the Wahweap Hoodoos Monopolised Us!

The Day the Wahweap Hoodoos Monopolised Us!

Our friend Rick also suggest we should visit the Wahweap Hoodos as they are supposed to be the best in North America outside of Bryce, and judging by the photos he showed us, he wasn’t wrong. The easiest way is to liken them to giant ‘stink cap’ mushrooms! We knew it would be a bit of a hike so we set of reasonably early, stopping at the BLM office in Big Water to pick up a topographical map with their locations marked. We were advised it would be a 7 mile hike up a dry river bed, maybe 8 if you ‘meander’ a little. Ours turned into a 9 mile explorathon! Unfortunately the saying “Only mad gogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” certainly applied to us. It took us 3 hours to reach the Hoodos (including a slight misadventure up a side tributary), but only 1 hour to get back (that just demonstrates how lost we got)! I would still argue it was worth it as the Wahweao Hoodos are an extraordinary site.

Finally making it back to Snomad 4 hours later and we pushed on to Page for a much needed beer!

Our original plan was to stay near the Hoodos for one night, doing Antelope Canyon the following day, but as we are on a shoestring budgets and the tours of Antelope Canyon fell outside of this we moved on and drove up to the Navajo Monument Valley campground; a fantastic free campground, well maintained within the monument. There are 3 trails within the monument, two of which take you to overlooks of Navajo canyon dwellings from circa 1250. Although the campground is free, donations are greatly appreciated.

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Walking with Dinsoaurs?

Walking with Dinosaurs?

Our first exploration into Escalante took us down Hole in the Wall Road, and Left Hand Collet Canyon where we parked up for the night in the shelter of some amazing sandstone. Before I get onto that however, let me give you a brief history lesson.

Between 1879-1880, an expedition of Mormon pioneers were 250 men, women, and children, plus 83 wagons and 1000 head of cattle who set out to settle at the mouth of Montezuma Creek, on the San Juan River. Hole in the Rock was just that; a hole fabricated by the pioneers in a canyon, allowing them to ascend almost 2000ft to the Colorado River to continue their travels, and yes, they did lower all of the wagons, and cattle as well as the pioneers!

Anyway, back to the sandstone, as this morning it was begging to be explored! It turned out that we had camped next to the Twenty Mile Wash Dinosaur Track Site – well it would have been rude not to right? I’ve only ever seen casts of dinosaur tracks and they were in museums!

We set off with our enthusiasm leading the way. However, it soon became pretty clear that our imaginations and reality were not running on the same path (or dinosaur tracks). The info we read had promised hundreds of tracks criss-crossing over the sandstone… Gav and I just found lots of faded circles which we couldn’t decide whether they were faded dino tracks or just forms of erosion. On the plus side I did find these (if you look closely you can see the toe and pad imprints). Either way, the scenery was stunning and the fact we even had an opportunity to see original dinosaur tracks instead of casts in a museum made it worth while.

Arriving back at Snomad, we packed down and followed Left Hand Collet Canyon onto Smoky Mountain Road, fantastic off-roading at an easy-moderate level with great views and switchbacks over Kellys Grade. Originally we had planned to exit Smoky and head straight to the Town of Big Water, then on to Page. However, thanks to Rick who we met in Bryce, we decided to take a detour to Alstrom Point; an off-road overlook of Lake Powell, 5 miles up another dead-end dirt road. We figured it had to be good if you are going to make that kind of effort to get there… and it was! We ended up staying 2 nights and saw the most amazing sunrises and sunsets over absolutely stunning canyons and butes. This location is not shouted about. It is not marked on any maps. However, if you do make it to the 5 mile starting point you are greeted by an ‘official’ brown sign. I totally understand why people don’t shout about it, if you would like directions; please feel free to message me. For outrageously beautiful pic (the scenery that is not my photos!) click here.

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Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park – there really isn’t much else other to say than Wow!!!

Despite the fact we had the potential of an extra hour in bed as the clocks went back, Gav and I decide in our infinite wisdom to get up at 5am and drive the 40 odd miles to Bryce Canyon to watch the sun rise. G had in fact done this 13 years ago at the tender age of 21 and remembered that it was worth it – my gosh he was not wrong! We arrived at the park with 10 minutes to spare. Normally the parks charge a $25 entry fee per vehicle but at 6:10am unsurprisingly the range huts are closed. They obviously think that if you are prepared to arrive that early – then fair play! As it happens we have an annual pass that’s good for all parks so I didn’t feel as smug/guilty as I may have liked!

We watched the sun rise from far view point, which, as the name suggests provides a view across the whole park. From there we headed for Inspiration point (they really chose great names!). This looks out over the pinnacles and hoodies known as Wall Street, the light was perfect  and literally danced across the sandstone – you can check out more photos here.

After freezing our bits off (outside temp was 31f, about 0c) we headed for Bryce Canyon lodge to warm up, drink their coffee, and use their wifi! We met a great guy there – Rick (who was doing the same as us!) and he gave us heaps of tips for the next part of our adventure. He also gave me some advice on my photography (he is a semi-pro photographer and has some amazing pictures at www.5500degreestudio.com).

Still exhausted from yesterday’s 10 mile river hike we decided a bit of off-roading was in order for the afternoon, so we packed up and headed for the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument to see where that would take us.

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36f Wade In AQ River Anybody?

36f wade in a river anybody?

After a slightly restless and rather cold night we got up early doors (again!) and drove to Zion National Park – our mission today was to go hiking, but hiking on dry land is boring right? We figured that to make it more interesting we would hike The Narrows which requires neoprene socks, boots, drysuit trousers and a shoulder height wooden pole! The Narrows is basically a canyon with a river running through it which requires the concentration of a Mastermind contestant combined with the agility and grace of a gazelle (sort of!). With enthusiasm by the bucketload we stopped at an adventure rental place in Zion to pick up the gear and made our way into the park. The great thing about visiting Zion at this time of year is that the Scenic Highway is open to private vehicles. In the summer months visitors are required to park near the visitor centre and use the free shuttle service. We were fortunate enough to drive the route in Snomad and as the name suggests, it is a very scenic highway stretching 6 miles. The views are simply stunning, and the autumn foliage of yellows, russets and reds really enhances it.

We arrived at the Temple of Sinawava car park, put on our river gear, and confidently carried our long wooden poles to the start of the trail … only to find that we then had a 20 minute walk to the river section. As we marched past hoards of t-shirt clad people strolling on the lovely paved trail and admiring the beautiful autumnal scenery, I couldn’t decide if I felt like a hardcore adventurer or a bit of a wally Anyhow, we nimbly jumped into the river to begin our hike, and what a hike it was! Although the views from the top of canyons are astounding, the ones from the bottom up are equally as beautiful. In fact we had this thought verified throughout the hike based on the sheer number of people we saw lugging full-size tri-pods with them  – now that is hardcore!

Due to time constraints we turned our hike around about 30 minutes before Big Springs. However, we did make a diversion into the Orderville side canyon which was equally as stunning. The Orderville canyon is meant to be a descent, not accent as we were treating it, so we had to turn round by the third waterfall as it was getting a little precarious for us. Continuously traversing a river is pretty tough going, and in places it was thigh deep, but the right gear and the pole really helped and made it thoroughly enjoyable. We saw a scattering of people who were wading in shorts and sandals which I thought were brave and yet a little crazy in equal portions. We passed one group of high school boys with their teachers  who were completing the ascent in the side canyon bare-chested and in shorts and trainers. One of the boys turned to me and asked if I was enjoying the hike – “oh yes, it’s amazing” I said. He looked pretty miserable and replied that he wasn’t; mind you I probably wouldn’t have if I had been wearing any less clothes!

Safely back at Snomad we peeled off our wet apparel and jumped in to drive back to the rental shop. An absolutely awesome experience and I would recommend The Narrows to anyone who is fairly fit and has a penchant for adventure. As it was November the route wasn’t too crowded but I can imagine in the height of summer it could be heaving so I would choose your time carefully if you want to be able to enjoy a little singularity as well.

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