Part Two- Burr Trail to Hite
~70 miles walked
49 degrees the low and still at daylight but the wind blew like hell again last night and the clouds were passing through all night, must be a front blowing in.
Easy walking up Swap canyon on the hard clay wash. The geology of Swap and Tarantula mesas is all very young rocks mostly shales and mudstones with some soft sandstones interleaved. We get to the springs and they run for a quarter mile or more and look quite clean as opposed to the reports of “manky” water.
They actually start flowing up a right hand/east fork that we take to get up into a sandstone rimmed amphitheater guarded by point 6064 that looked like some big temple and that in the end we would almost circumnavigate once up on Swap mesa.
We find the route up through to the top of the mesa. Marked by only a few cairns they really had to work to find this route over very narrow ridges and fins of sandstone. We work to stay on the high ridge looking for the faint mining track that is supposed to run out to this point.
After about a mile we do run across it and follow it for a good distance around the base of pt. 6040 and above the heads of drainages dropping east.
It eventually turns into one good cattle trail that leads us right down into the top of the drainage that runs SE down to a good spring. This spring also runs for a distance but has got quite a red algae bloom in it as it finally falls over a big pouroff.
We fill up with water to get us up to the base of the Henry Mtns. tomorrow afternoon. Lunch and then the route goes back up another drainage, north, to climb back up onto the top of Swap mesa. This section winds around the base of the cliffs below Tarantula mesa and above many side canyons that drop away in big pouroffs. You can see the pass in the Circle Cliffs (on the left) where we camped 3 days ago.
The route here follows many intertwined cow trails and we follow a prominent one down into a deep drainage and it peters out. We climb out the other side and begin looking for another main track. We end up a bit too far east and at a big pouroff. It seems as if the main route stays very close to the base of the Tarantula mesa cliffs. Slowly we work our way across the steep and loose hills to Muley Creek but not before being reminded of what could happen out here.
Up the Muley Creek wash to the wash coming from the west that leads to the base of the climb to the top of Tarantula mesa. We find where the climb starts (there is no cairn marking it) and set up camp on the only spot available. The crappiest campsite of the trip on a sloping piece of silty ground but staring at what we needed to do in the morning. ~12 miles today and this is now the most days in a row I have ever done.
Very windy again last night and 49 degrees this morning. Fast breakfast and an early start on the climb. First up the furthest right gully to the shadows and through a couple of 4 foot sandstone bands to the base of the top layers. Across to the left
and a step climb up the most exposed section where we handed the packs up.
A final scramble up through soft sandstone to the top, took us a half an hour to do the climb. There were a couple of cairns along the route but none at the top or bottom. At the top a great view of the Waterpocket Fold and the Circle Cliffs once again.
The route actually comes up to a narrow NE oriented point of this side arm of the mesa, we have to walk the high point of the ridge SW then turn NW through the junipers and almost sand dune like topography. It eventually goes through an area where the junipers have been chained, then an open sage brush area to the dirt road.
There is about 8 miles of walking on dirt roads across the top of Tarantula mesa towards the looming Henry Mtns. The route goes over the right hand ridge of the Henrys, the high point at 11,400’. There is a new solar powered water installation (for wildlife I guess).
Just as we are leaving a couple of backpackers come down the road going the other way. These are the first backpackers we have seen since Coyote Gulch and we haven’t even seen other foot prints since the Burr trail. Abby and Luke are from Alaska and doing the Hayduke east to west as far as Escalante. We compare notes and head on. Soon we come across another couple they had told us were behind them, Lillian and John from Oregon, they were also doing an Arches to Escalante section. Small world.
Mid-afternoon we leave the road and start up Sweetwater creek. No water in the creek so we drop packs at the first side canyon and go find the spring that is described in the book. Sure enough it is there but flowing very slowly and is very salt crusted. We have to have 4 quarts each to get us over the Henrys so go ahead and fill up.
Heavy packs again we decide to leave the route that goes up the Sweetwater creek drainage and its two pouroffs and instead climb up the ridge just to its west. I think much faster and in the end easier going despite the steep climbs at some points.
We hit the road at 8,000’ at 5:30 and walk east down it back to Sweetwater creek and look for a protected site in the junipers. We find one right off the road but it is well protected from the winds. We had not tasted the water yet and cooked dinner. Dinner was so well flavored that we didn’t notice how bad the water was until the after dinner hot drinks. OMG! We both poured our drinks out. An awesome sunset made us feel a bit better but we both spent the night thinking about what to do about the water situation. ~ 13 miles today.
In the middle of the night we both woke up to the sound of hooves on the road, twenty feet from our heads. As we asked each other “did you hear that?”, they clattered off. We did not see them but are sure it was a group of the free roaming buffalo that live in the Henry Mtns. In the morning the smallish hoof prints confirmed it.
37 degrees and clear. We have a fast breakfast and both had decided to walk the road a mile and a half back west to a spring marked on the map to get good water. Quickly over to Birch spring, which is fenced off from the cattle and buffalo we pour out the crap water we have and refill with a few quarts to get us to the other side of the mountains.
Instead of going back to the Hayduke route we climb the nearest ridge up to South Creek Ridge to intersect it. Very steep climb but clear going. We both think that it makes better sense to avoid the whole Sweetwater creek drainage and instead include a stop by Birch spring whether going east or west.
The clouds are beginning to build again over the peaks, including some lenticular clouds that indicate pretty high winds going over the ridge. We make the 1500’ climb to the next road at 9500’ and are facing another 2000’ of really steep climbing to get to the top. Between the changing weather and wondering if I have enough gas in the tank we decide to take the alternate route and walk the road around the south side of the mountain.
In the end it was a good decision, first as the winds picked up to over 50 mph as we rounded the south side and got to the high point of the trip at 9600’.
As we were finishing lunch it started to graupel on us! We hustled down the road before the weather got any crazier. As we neared the next good water in Crescent creek it really started to come down.
The Henry Mtns. are an igneous intrusion up through the sedimentary layers of the Colorado Plateau, like the La Sals and the Abajos further east (which you can see on the horizon). It was an interesting change to be walking on diorite rocks instead of sandstone.
We could see out to the north that we must be on the edge of some kind of frontal boundary as it was really gray and stormy looking. We proceeded to drop 3500’ down the side of the mountain and stopped on the edge of Butler Wash. Long day at ~ 17 miles but the skies were clearing, the wind dying and the temperature dropping fast.
25 degrees, the coldest of the trip but the sun hits camp early.
I spend some time working on the ball of my foot where I have been nursing a hot spot for the last few days. I try and get another Band-Aid blister block to stick on, difficult to do when it is this cold.
We head off down Butler Wash and miss the exit where a dirt road crosses it and go a mile or so too far. Instead of going back we climb out and head cross country back to where we should have been. Even that turns out not quite right as when we finally come out to Hwy. 95 we are 2 miles down the road from where we need to be, damn! I had looked at this section on Google Earth, knowing it was confusing because there are a lot of dirt roads in the area. We make a quick walk back north along the road to Poison Spring canyon and its road by 1:00.
We find a sheltered spot for lunch and I have a look at the foot as the mornings bandage had come off. It is now a full blister. I spend more time working on my shoe to try and relieve some pressure and then change over to some moleskin and waterproof tape. We get a couple of miles further down canyon and that comes off. We stop and use our only wound cleaning pad and another blister blocker and it seems to hold OK.
Poison Spring canyon is way beautiful and we are pleasantly surprised. The first four or five miles are dry with great sandstone and slickrock up above that. There is a road that runs right down the bottom of the wash though.
Water finally surfaces along with the cottonwoods but between the cows and the road I would not want to use the water unless I had too. It is also interesting that the rocks in the stream bed are not sandstone but diorite washed all the way down from the Henrys. One of those places that if they excluded the cows and vehicles it would be an astounding place. We are headed to a piped spring, 9 miles in, where we are sure to have good water.
A truck comes up canyon about 5:00 and they stop to visit. I almost ask for a ride out as the latest bandage has come off also and the foot is beginning to really bother me.
Just around the corner is the good walled and piped spring.
We find a nice campsite out of the wind on a bench across the wash from it. We wash socks and decide to try and patch the old foot again tonight as sometimes they stick better if they have the night to warm and bond to the skin instead of trying to put one on and then walk on it immediately. If it doesn’t hold again as we get going in the morning then we will have to make a decision. ~17 miles today.
4:00 a.m.- a truck comes driving down the canyon, WTF? About 8:00 some hunters come by on an ATV, neither group sees us up on the bench. 35 degrees but the sun hits camp fast and it is a really beautiful day.
The bandage is stuck on most of the way but there are some edges pulling up, we resort to trying to Krazy glue those edges back down before we head off.
We are looking at a 35 mile dry stretch over the next two days if we take the high water route instead of trying to slip our way down the Dirty Devil river canyon. We load up with 6 quarts of water each and start out down the canyon.
We go about a mile and the canyon is really starting to get big and deep. It reminded us of the lower Paria river canyon in its scale.
We stop to check on the bandage and it is coming off. While I could probably make it across the Red Benches and into Hite, it might not be pretty. We both decided it was time to turn back and walk the 10 miles to the highway instead.
On the way back out we did find some petroglyphs which we had missed on the way in.
As we are nearing the highway some desert bighorn sheep hunters drive by and ask if we are OK and I ask if they could give us a lift to the road. Sure they say and then even drive us 10 miles down the road to another intersection and drop us there.
We throw out our thumbs to the first car and it is a rafting company who slows down but goes on. A few minutes later he comes back up the road! He had to find a place to turn around with his trailer. He is going to Hite to pick up a trip and takes us right to the rangers station. He also offers to take us back to Moab, where they are headquartered and Lee’s car is parked, this is too good to be true!
The tiny convenience store is closed that is supposed to have our resupply box, hmmm? We go over to the ranger station and they have it there! We have a few hours to burn before our ride back to Moab so we find a picnic table around back and proceed to eat all of Lee’s salty snacks and wash it down with the good bourbon that is in our resupply box.
The trip was over, might as well enjoy ourselves. If this had been another long trail where we could have rested for a few days in a trail town to let the foot heal and maybe pick up some different first aid/blister materials, then we could have continued the walk but there was no such easy option here and all we would be doing is eating our food that we would need for the next section.
We call the girls and let them know we are done and then settle in and enjoy the amazing sights. Even though this is the upper reaches of Lake Powell, it is still striking.
The Dirty Devil river flows through the gap on the left and the Colorado river flows through Cataract canyon on the right. The Hayduke route comes through the Cutler Formation right in the center of the picture then crosses the Colorado via the highway bridge (not visible).
At 5:30 Justin swings his van in and says “You guys going to Moab?” and we jump in. By 8:30 we are back at Lee’s car and checked into a motel having showers. I call Betsy to see what she had found out about changing my plane flight and she surprises me with 10:30 in the morning!
We are up a 5:00 a.m. for the four hour drive up to Salt Lake City. By 8:00 p.m. I am back in North Carolina, barely 24 hours after hitting the highway, I feel like I have been beamed out of southern Utah!