Notes for Potential Hikers
We strongly recommend that only people with significant canyon-country experience attempt to visit this remote region. As in previous posts, we repeat what Steve Allen said in one of his books: “If you have any doubts about your qualifications to do any of the routes, they are not for you. Those with enough miles under their feet and days under the rim know who they are.” Backpackers who do not have expertise in this region will find hikes suitable for a wide variety of skill levels described in Allen’s Canyoneering 3, Loop Hikes in Utah’s Escalante.
The track on our CalTopo map has been reduced in resolution to one track point per half-mile, thus it is not intended for navigational purposes. Publishing a detailed route map might lead others to rely on it to duplicate this trip. Travel in this area requires extreme micro navigation and route finding that no map can support. This terrain is very different from many other places and route-finding expertise in other regions may be irrelevant. In many places, there may be only a single obscure route that allows safe travel and there is currently no detailed written source of information on those passages. If you decide to go, you will need to have appropriate navigation and route-finding skills, and should not rely on our map to ensure a safe and usable route. You should be able to reverse your trip at any point if you are unable to safely proceed onward.
The map does not include several day hikes taken from various campsites.
Prior to this trip we researched and prepared our route map with an intended track plus numerous possible alternates. We used USGS topographic maps and Google Earth satellite imagery as source material. In the field, these maps proved to be generally useful, but as was expected, realities on the ground required constant adjustments to where we actually went.
We parked alongside the Notom-Bullfrog Road at the entrance to a currently closed dirt road leading to a GCNRA campsite. Once past the campsite, all travel was cross-country: there are no established trails or old roads on this route.
We first walked across the dry Bullfrog Bay, over the south end of Hall Mesa, and across the dry Halls Creek Bay. We then climbed the east slope of the Waterpocket Fold and walked across the Navajo slickrock domeland to the entrance into Rose Canyon. We explored portions of this canyon, including, in order to skirt some impassible pour-offs, repeatedly entering and exiting the canyon and traversing above its rim.
Leaving Rose, we headed toward Cow Canyon. Amy and James had explored this canyon on a trip in 2009, entering it from the Escalante River. There is no easy access to Cow Canyon from the rim. After heading Cow Canyon, we dropped into and crossed upper Fence Canyon and then walked south to the rim of Bowns Canyon. We located the horse step entrance route mentioned in Allen’s book, but decided that the long unprotectable descent was too risky for us.
We headed Bowns Canyon, found the east side entrance, and descended into the canyon. We spent the rest of the day exploring portions of Bowns. Next, we traversed from Bowns Canyon to Long Canyon on Wingate terraces and Kayenta slopes. A large pour-off prevents access into upper Long Canyon directly from the Colorado River.
The following morning, we day-hiked to the north end of Long Canyon. After lunch, we exited the canyon via Allen’s convoluted east side access route. On Halpern’s recommendation, our next stop was Kane, 5388’, where we had unobstructed and fabulous views of the entire region. After descending Kane, we walked south, first through easy terrain, and then via an extremely convoluted route across gorgeous domes and slots, culminating in the utterly grand walk down The Slope toward Lake Powell. Prior to reaching the Lake, we turned north and worked our way through an intricate region of bumps and weirdness. From there, we continued north for a day and a half back to the car, again crossing several miles of formerly lake-drowned terrain. We were able to cross two creeks with very deep muck banks using makeshift log bridges.
This trip had more extensive slickrock than any of our 16 prior southern Utah backpacking trips. Travel across the sandstone is a series of constant ups and downs over the old, petrified aeolian dunes. Most of the walking was on beautiful solid stone with little or no loose gravel or other hazards. The slickrock terrain ranges from level to vertical, and the slope often changes subtly and gradually; therefore careful route finding is required to connect one safely walkable friction slab to the next. We elected to use a rope once to lower packs and belay the group down a short vertical wall.
We had only a few miles of unconsolidated slopes with loose rock and no significant boulder fields to traverse. We never got our feet wet, and experienced only trivial amounts of vegetative obstacles. Overall, the walking was technically easier than on many of our other southern Utah hikes. However, unlike those trips where much of the travel was in canyons where navigation is relatively simple, finding a viable and safe route across the vast undulating open slickrock domelands required constant attention and sometimes extensive exploration. On several occasions, the only safe option was to retreat and try a different approach.
We did not encounter any Russian Olive and there was surprisingly little Tamarisk in the canyons. The former lake bottom-lands were heavily vegetated in places, but these areas could be easily bypassed and almost no thrashing was required to travel across them.
Except for the area near the car, there was no evidence of active cow grazing. The canyons we visited appear to have been cow free for decades, with lush grass, clean water, and stable creek banks. We found active beaver dams and a lodge in Bowns canyon.
We saw no other people on the entire trip and only a few sets of old footprints. We found no old fire rings.
The lake’s water level was 3525′ where we did the trip. Lake levels of 3600′ would require walking further north to bypass the water. Much higher levels would likely make it extremely difficult to access our route from the parking location we used. Lake levels can change rapidly during the spring and early summer when runoff levels are high.
Except in the canyon bottoms or at a few accessible points on Lake Powell, finding water on this route is not reliable except after recent rains. One month prior to our trip the region received about two inches of rain in a four-day storm, and that replenished all of the potholes; the medium and large potholes still held water. We also had 0.25” of rain on our third day, and that replenished some of the small potholes. Our water sources were at most a half day apart and while some of potholes were quite large, most were medium to small. By the end of the trip, many of the smaller potholes were drying out or were already empty.
If the weather has been dry, plan on carrying a lot of water and be certain of where your next source will be.
We had fabulous weather. Daytime temperatures were mostly pleasant, with only part of one day noticeably warm. Evening and nighttime temperatures were cool. The days were calm except for the expected springtime gusty evening winds. We had very light rain early one evening just as we were setting up tents and more light rain later that night, otherwise the weather was dry.
We observed about 40 species of birds, a count similar to previous trips. The number of individuals was much lower than expected; for instance, we found only three Canyon Wrens. Highlights included Chukar, a Mountain Bluebird, and a Townsend’s Solitaire.
We found cat tracks in Long Canyon which we believe were made by a young mountain lion.
We found one area with beautiful mortars, a basalt pestle, and numerous chert flakes, including one possible scraper. We did not find any rock art.