Nov. 11-17, 2010
~50-54 miles with pack, plus 28 miles in dayhikes/side trips
Gear List (I started out under 30# with a weeks food!)
After last years incredible Lower Paria River hike we just had to go back and explore the upper Paria river area. Less known and traveled than the famous Buckskin Gulch and lower Paria River walk, this area has just as many attractions but not the really big walls that the lower canyon has. This area is in the most southwest portion of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), which is 1.9 million acres in total.
The inspiration for the loop came from a section of the Hayduke trail, which drops down from Bryce Canyon N.P. to the west, through Willis Creek and it’s narrows to Sheep Creek which runs into the Paria. It then goes down the Paria for about 17 miles where it turns up Cottonwood wash. After a few miles the route then turns up Hackberry Canyon and follows it for 16 miles to Round Valley Draw (one of the premier non-technical slots on the Colorado Plateau) and follows it east.
Looking at the map the Hayduke route forms a narrow V with the Paria and Hackberry almost parallel to each other. I kept looking at it, trying to make a loop out of it. In the end I realized one could go, counter clockwise, down Rock Springs Creek canyon to the Paria and then follow the Hayduke route as described above. Instead of exiting out Round Valley Draw one could continue on up Hackberry canyon and then cut cross country back to the start.
This is the full route, in blue, with short side trips in red. You can click on it to make it larger (click on it and then click again and it will be in full 7.5 minute size).
We had to push the trip back to mid November because of other scheduling conflicts and we were rolling the dice weatherwise. Anything after the first of November is asking for trouble. The week before we went in it was in the 70’s and beautiful. The forecast for our week was to be 20’s and 50’s with maybe a few nights in the teens, this was following some light snow the days before we arrived. Not too bad but on the edge of comfort especially when lots of wading is in order.
Scott and I flew in to Las Vegas at 12:30 (pacific time), where Lee was waiting for us. Rental car, off to REI for gas canisters and last minute needs, then the grocery store for a few items and on the road by 3:00 (mountain time) for the 270 miles to Tropic, Utah. As we headed north we could see storm clouds on the horizon. As we got near Cedar City, at dark, snow flurries began flying. We had to go over two passes near 8000’ and had snow flying on both but the roads were passible. We got to the motel by 7:20, no snow down at 6000’ feet! Dinner, packing, pass out from exhaustion.
We awoke to a brilliant morning with clouds moving out fast and 24 degrees. On the road to the Cannonville visitor center for the GSENM for our permit (free but required, no reservations or limits on entry like the lower Paria) and they were closed for Veterans Day even though I had called to make sure they would be open! Screw them we were going in anyway, permitless. We drove on south past Kodachrome Basin State park and then about 3 miles down dirt roads to Rock Springs Creek. The Chevy Cobalt handled the dry roads well, we parked next to an old corral and headed down canyon just after 9:00.
Snow on the ground, in the shade, and ice on the water in the creek which ran almost from the start to near its confluence with the Paria. Fortunately it was small enough we could hop across it and keep our feet dry in the cold, windy conditions.
We made it to the Paria by noon and found a sunny place out of the wind for lunch. The first of the many petroglyphs we would see were on the face of the butte at the mouth of the canyon.
The Paria was flowing deep enough that avoiding wading was not a possibility so on went the neoprene socks. Unlike the lower canyon, it is not a constant wading situation but short crossings between the long meanders. Not horrible and temperatures were now near 50 degrees.
One of the big differences between the upper and lower Paria river canyons is the upper canyons are dominated by white Navajo sandstone with some lower red layers showing up from time to time. The lower canyons are almost all huge red Navajo walls. Here you can see the junction of the two near the mouth of Sheep Creek.
We made it surprisingly quickly down to the mouth of Sheep Creek by 1:00. We turned up canyon and began looking for a good campsite out of the howling winds. We found a great one high up on a bench, on the right hand side going up canyon. Much warmer than right down near the creek. About 7.5 miles today.
We have time so we go to check out a short slot canyon just up stream from camp. Very beautiful white Navajo sandstone with some cowboy glyphs. Back to camp and into the bags to warm up the very cold feet.
The second day dawns clear and 26 degrees. Light at 6:30 and the camp gets sun by 8:00, perfect. We load up the daypacks and head out for the long Bull Valley Gorge/Willis Creek loop. Sheep Creek stops running just before the subway like mouth of Bull Valley Gorge (BVG), seen here on the left.
The walk up lower BVG is nice, mostly open with a few narrow spots and the sun was working with us as there was still snow in places.
Easy walking with no climbs until it gets really narrow, near the dirt bridge over the gorge where the 1950’s truck is wedged in the top of the slot. The story is three guys were killed when their truck slid off the road when going over the bridge. They retrieved the bodies but left the truck.
Then the fun began, the only climbs are in the last quarter mile, between the bridge and the top of the narrows.
The hardest one was about an 8-10’ climb around a chock stone. Lee was able to get up it enough to tie some webbing with a foot loop. Once up he reset the webbing with more loops and Scott and I were able to struggle up and over. One more climb right at the end and we were out.
We ran into two sets of day hikers (the cars in the bridge picture) who would be the only people we would see in seven days! We did the mile and half road walk, with great views of Bryce Canyon N.P. in the distance,
over the top to Willis Creek and then headed down it’s beautiful narrows.
Easy to jump over the stream and so we could have dry feet for the whole day. At the confluence with Sheep Creek there is a huge set of petroglyphs, cowboyglyphs and dickhead glyphs.
We slog on down the now dry Sheep Creek, with beautiful high walls, back towards camp. It has been a long day, somewhere around 15-16 miles today.
Click on 2 below for the next two days.