Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thursday-Saturday October 23-25th 2008, Canyoneering in Utah

Little Wild Horse Canyon, Bell Canyon, Crack Canyon
San Rafael Swell near Goblin Valley
October 24-25th, 2008

(sorry for the jumble ahead, for some reason when I copy/paste it messes with the format :(

My dad is visiting for 10 days and since he had never been to Utah, I figured a trip to canyon country was in order. Looking for some easier canyons to hike that would still give him a good taste of slot canyoneering, I sent out an e-mail to a few friends where Jason Halladay immediately replied with the recommendations of LWH, Bell and Crack Canyons and provided the necessary web links (thanks Jason!).

Kevin Lund coincidentally had just recently taken a trip to LWH/Bell and he too provided some great beta and suggestions. We would also have Sierra along as well, so that immediately ruled out anything in National Parks and whatever we chose needed to be dad and doggie doable. These canyons sounded great, especially since I had never been to this specific area and the trip was set.We headed to Utah Thursday on a perfectly clear day and dad was quite impressed with the drive, as he had never been West of Frisco on I-70. The roads were a bit sloppy near the tunnel and on Vail Pass from the recent snowfall, but the snow really added to the beauty of the drive.Arriving at Goblin Valley shortly before 4pm, we quickly found an awesome campsite just outside the park on the way to the LWH/Bell TH and set up camp amongst the piles of solidified mud that resembled sandstone monoliths. After some exploring, dinner and a great campfire, we settled in for nearly 11 hours of sleep.Friday morning, we were in no huge hurry to get going as it was a bit cold and our nifty little campsite was slow to catch the morning rays. We moved on to the relatively warm and sunny trailhead to cook oatmeal and prepare for the hike, I was quite anxious to explore these canyons and show my dad what Utah was all about.The LWH/Bell Canyon loop is quite easy by canyoneering standards, is a great beginner route involving some very limited and minor scampering and is a very scenic and worthwhile representation of Utah’s slot canyons. We decided to do this loop counter clockwise as described on the website and as suggested by Kevin. It sounds like it is best to go this way if there are any standing pockets of water, but when dry, I am not sure it really matters one way or the other.LWH Canyon was enjoyably long and offered a variety of features ranging from “narrow” (slightly more then shoulder width) slot canyon, to wide open wash with towering, sheer sandstone walls. The only obstacles of note were two short up climbs toward the upper end of the canyon that I would have hardly noticed had it not been for having to lift Sierra through as they were a bit awkward and overhanging. No problem for any moderately fit/agile human, but a bit tricky for a dog.Route finding on this route is quite easy, as all of the key junctions are signed and it is quite well travelled as evidenced by the multitude of footprints and shoe scuffing throughout the canyon. The descent down Bell Canyon was a bit shorter than LWH and offered a few more obstacles. Again, they hardly would have been of note, but a few required giving Sierra some assistance and coaching. Several times, she pulled off some pretty amazing moves where dad and I were quite impressed with her agility and problem solving skills. We only saw a few people the entire day, but I was surprised to arrive back at the TH to find the lot full and cars parked up and down the road. As it turns out, there just happened to be an ultra race taking place on Saturday, so that may have had something to do with it. Learning of the race, I immediately drove to the park to inquire whether or not they were allowing late entries, but the race had filled, bummer.

After another great campfire and 10 hours of sleep, we got up with plenty of time to eat breakfast and watch/cheer on the race as it happened to go right by our camp. I did not recognize any of the runners, but it was really giving me the itch to race, or at least go for a killer run, but I did not want to ditch dad. I was amazed that although we watched the runners go by at what I estimated to only be the 4 mile mark, there was a 45 minute spread between the 1st runner and the last runner? (two races of varying distances both started at 8am).It was roughly a 15 mile drive from camp over to Crack Canyon on good roads and although the guidebook describes being able to drive a ways down the wash, it hardly seems worth it even with 4wd, so we just parked at the small, but signed TH next to the smooth 2wd road.This canyon seemed a bit different than LWH/Bell in character. Crack Canyon starts off very wide open with towering sandstone walls and slowly narrows. The sandstone has been carved out and pocked by wind and water over time creating what looks like vast cliff dwellings in miniature. Eventually, the canyon begins to “slot up” a bit and there are a few minor down climbs that can easily be bypassed. As the canyon continues, there is a short subway section and some not too narrow narrows along with more wide open canyon strolling. Soon we came to several obstacles that required some passing of packs, spotting and Sierra coaching. This was all fun, but dad was starting to feel it, yet Sierra was just hitting her stride. She was pulling all kinds of stemming moves and watching her problem solve was really amazing. Her leaping and ricocheting skills were a sight to behold.Unfortunately, we came to a 10+ foot sheer drop-off that had us a bit perplexed. It was smooth, slightly overhanging and although there were a few footholds, it would require some tricky moves to get up and down. I really wanted to go, but I knew this was beyond dad’s abilities and certainly more than I would allow Sierra to attempt, especially since I knew there would be no way to lift her over it on the return trip. We scouted briefly, but unfortunately found no reasonable alternative and had to turn around.This was just as well, as the physicality of the two days out was having a cumulative affect on my dad who struggles with ongoing ailments from a car accident a few years ago. I was impressed with how well he did both days all things considered and we had a great time and had perfect weather while we were there.



  1. Very cool. I think there was a 50K in Goblin Valley last weekend. Are you planning to do Basic Boulder?

  2. Thanks Justin. Yeah, I think there were 3 races, a 50k, a 10 (or 20 mile??) and a 5 mile or K? The details I got were vague from a hiker I met who is also an ultra runner (but also not running that weekend).

    I am running the basic, are you still planning on running part of it?