White Canyon, Utah
May 31, 2013
What is it they say about the best laid plans? I realize that nothing really goes according to plan when we plan anything. But our three hour canyoneering foray into White Canyon at the northern end of Lake Powell seems a bit over the top in retrospect.
I mean, opting to go "canyoneering" in the middle of 100 degree heat, in the middle of nowhere, with no cell reception... with KIDS... and TWO DOGS... in hindsight, seems ripe for going astray. But I'm jumping ahead.
We'd left Moab/Canyonlands area to head someplace new, in the hopes of getting some climbing in. Our destination for the remainder of our vacation was Comb Ridge, most of the way to Monument Valley from Moab. Climbing, doing some exploration of ruins, seeing some pictographs... added bonus. It did not go to plan. We lasted a grand total of 10 minutes, before beating a hasty retreat from our planned destination after exiting the car and getting bombarded by no-see-ums. We managed to leave so fast that we left Cullen's Pooh Bear behind. Great sadness ensued, but we perservered and opted to head to Lake Powell to check out some slot canyons.
We found a BLM road just inside the park, and wandered in about a mile, ending up on a wash that dumped right into White Canyon, which is the canyon that is responsible for Natural Bridges National Park about 30 miles east. Setting up camp for the night, we planned on doing a short hike during the heat of the day to explore some of the canyon, hoping for cooler temps lower down.
This turned out to be epic.
We followed a wash about a half mile, to an easy slot canyon that dropped us down about 50 feet after an easy scramble. Beautiful ribbons of orange, brown and red, about 5 feet wide extended for another quarter mile, and we exited onto a shelf created by many washes from flash floods. The shelf wrapped around in a nearly 180 degree crescent, with about 25 feet down to the next shelf, which banked around a hard left and disappeared into another slot.
How to get down?
We wandered back and forth, looking for a way down. People being there was apparently unfamiliar enough that a mother owl (great horned?) got a bit restless and hopped out of her nest above us. That made the babies go nuts, crying. Which made her go nuts. She spent 15 minutes dive-bombing us and the dogs, trying to get rid of us.
We finally found another narrow channel down, and scrambled a thin, steep embankment down one more level. This left us about a hundred feet lower, with another 80 feet to go to the canyon floor. We found a wicked slide; half slot, half slope, with a series of little washes progressing down to the base of the wall. Scooting and pushing the kids and dogs down, we landed on the ground, about an hour and a half in.
After a quick lunch, we began wandering [insert some direction here, I have no idea] towards Lake Powell. We knew it was at least 4 miles. It turned out to be at least 8; we didn't make it all the way, and were about 5 miles in before we turned around. If that seems excessive, it is, but sometime during our slog, we figured out that getting the dogs back up the slide was damn near impossible, so we kept trekking, trying to find a way out at the other end.
To put it bluntly, we did not find a way out at the other end. By the time we opted to turn around, it was after 4. Our 3-hour hike was at 5 hours, and we were really at the midway point. By the time we got back to the slide, it was almost 7 at night. That slide was a no-go, garnering outright refusal from both dogs to participate in the sketchy climb up the slippery inclines. It was quite a din, with the dogs carrying on in hound fashion, adding to the cacophony of sheep bleats coming from the top of the slide. Our second tier, the one where the owl bombarded us, was a Bighorn sheep nesting area. All the babies were going crazy with the approaching nightfall and the smell of dogs.
It was a feeling of hopelessness to have to turn up canyon to find another way out. We set out with sore feet, wandering a couple miles of up the other way; our only foreseeable outlet was a long trail up the south side of the canyon. Our camp was on the north side, and we knew it was a good 10 miles to go out the other side, find a bridge, then head back to camp. Every wash we saw in that stretch we checked out, but they only got us about 200 feet up the 400 we needed to get to the top. We were pretty sure it was going to be an uncomfortable night at the bottom of the canyon. Our last, best shot, was a tall wash that disappeared out of sight from our vantage at ground level. We decided to scramble up to the somewhat promising ledge only to hit a literal wall. Turning around in dismay, we spied a choss-filled narrow slot/incline, tucked behind a tree, with only a 10-foot slab to navigate to the next shelf. It was a piece of cake to climb with us and the boys. But the dogs? Yipe.
Sean headed up to suss it out. After what seemed like endless minutes, he came down - we had our way out. And just in time, the sun was setting, 9 at night. 10 hours into our adventure - success?
The dogs refused to participate in this as well. We had to tie leashes around their chests and dead-haul them up the slab. Poncho added an extra level of challenge in that he refused to do the scramble. I am not exaggerating when I say that they were drug like dead bodies. Limp dishrags. Whatever. They were so over it. But they totally returned to life once their feet hit the top of that wall.
Once we got up the shelf, we scrambled across a small ledge into this huge wash, nearly a full circle, with 50 foot walls. Staring into it, it looked like no way out. Sean's scouting had done well, tho, there was a narrow sheep path tucked around the corner. A short scramble took us to the top of the plateau, right at dark - aaaannnndd still two miles from camp.
It was a late dinner that night.