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  • Backpacking the Dark Canyon Wilderness in Utah

    Wednesday, September 28, 2016   /   by Jeff Ross

    Backpacking the Dark Canyon Wilderness in Utah

    Our Destination, the Peavine Trail Head

    It was a great day in Flagstaff as we left early Wednesday morning for the Manti-La-Sal National Forest in Southeast Utah and to our final destination, the Dark Canyon Wilderness.

    As Deb, Jack and I read about our destination for this weeklong 42-mile backpack trip, we read we are headed into one of the hidden gems and seldom use wilderness areas of Utah and the Southwest.dark-canyon-may-2016-001

    We arrived at the Woodenshoe Canyon Trail Head close to noon after negotiating 13 mile of pretty good gravel road.

    Today’s plan is to find Cherry Canyon, the first reliable water source, we are each carrying around a gallon of water just in case.

    Right off, we saw 4 turkeys and two deer, both were a little too fast to get any pictures, but a pleasant treat after our long drive. We also say our only two people today for the rest of our trip.

    dsc00616After this, we had a pretty eventful day, and arrived at Cherry Creek, a very pretty wide open canyon, with nice meadows and beautiful views. This is a great camp with small stream running through it, which will be our water source for tomorrows 8 mile or so trek

    This trip brings out my newest addition to my tent collection, the Nemo Blaze 2-person tent,Dark Canyon Wilderness though calling it two-person is being generous. But at 2 lb. 4 oz., this ultra-light tent with a fly went up super slick.

    I was not being to weight conscious with my pack for the first day, it was short 4 miles and downhill
    hike, so I packed down 4 pieces of cold pepperoni pizza, and for breakfast tomorrow,
    Dog Haus breakfast burrito. Now if you have not had one of their award winning Breakfast Burritos, you are missing out. The rest of the trip will be other great meals but dehydrated.

    dsc00633Jack got a fire going for us and as the sun slipped below the western hills and the temps cooled off we reminisced about today and the excitement of 5 more days in an area we have never been to.

    Up early Thursday from a night that was calm and not too cold, but knowing that may change I brought my 15-degree Katabatic Quilt, not a sleeping bag as much as a quilt. Lighter and more down on top of you to keep you warmer. Not sure why I did not get one sooner, this is the second trip I have used and the quality of Katabatic is second to none.dsc00630

    As the sun started to show its fact up the eastern end of Cherry Canyon, and after my breakfast burrito, we are on our way.

    Today’s goal, someplace north, up the trail 8 or so miles. There is a weeping spring we will try to find, but first about a mile up the trail they are some great ruins we wanted to see, once there we dropped our packs and went exploring.

    We made it to camp mid-afternoon to a spring that is slowly weeping off the canyon wall, but we have plenty of time to collect water as we enjoy the peacefulness of the canyon.

    dark-canyon-may-2016-010 Dark Canyon Wilderness img_0988
    dsc00643 dsc00636 Dark Canyon Wilderness

    Today’s hike was another great day. As mentioned about a mile out of camp we found the ruins with the petroglyphs, extremely well preserved for being 800 plus years old.  We would guess the good condition because it is more than a day hike and the remoteness of Dark Canyon. The wood beams and roof were still in place as you could see.

    The rest of the hike was meandering though forest and meadows and as we lowered in elevation we came out of the trees and into the canyon bottom and more of a desert environment.

    Saw no one today, just the way we like it.

    Tonight dinner was Spanish Rice and a special treat, Raisin Cinnamon Bannock Bread. Freshly made bread cooked over Jacks fire, fresh, and warm.

    dark-canyon-may-2016-040Up Early to organized my pack, kind of a mess from pulling stuff out last night.

    Wind hollowed all night, the fine sand around us blew into the tent through the mosquito netting, but all was well.

    Breakfast this morning was a little of an experiment, had my standard oatmeal, but then added some Vanilla Infused Olive Oil, at 251 calories an ounce, a very high calorie count for the weight. I have found on my past trips I was not getting enough calories. Adds wonderful taste, but the jury is still out on the value. I also put some on my pita wrap PBJ sandwiches yesterday and for the remainder of the trip, so combined adds about 500 calories to the day.

    The hike today was interesting, first we had to find water, since our first planned camp site had none in sight. The overall trail was very good, we made good time not having to hike in the canyon bed.

    We also spotted some ruins, again well preserved and high in the cliffs, our second set of runs so far.

    We had hoped to camp at Trial Canyon, and from all accounts from the map and guide books a good spring, but alas it was dry. We are about 20 miles from our vehicle and 4 nights to go, the availability of water for the remainder of the hike was starting to be a concern to all.

    dark-canyon-may-2016-050The map showed another spring a little further up, but said no places to camp.
    If you look at the picture closely to the right, you will see a natural Bridge in the middle.

    Will we have to go find water and come back to this camp site? not the ideal situation.

    As continued up the trail we found the water source, not moving very fast at all, but water. We each have our water filters systems, mine being the UV SteriPen, which works great, this is my 4th year using.

    We actually did find a really good camp site up the hill from the water, plenty of room, but a little windy. Just a short distance off as we were exploring, we found a great rock outcrop that we watched the sun set for the night. Clouds were also starting to build; would we have rain tonight? Wind also picked up and temps have drop, so after watching the sunset from a rise not too far from camp, we are hitting the sack. The wind did die down about midnight and moon came out. We are close to full moon, so the tent was as bright as daylight.

    Up early, and after scrambled eggs/hash-browns for breakfast we are on our way. We are just not sure of where to? Water will be the driving force and concern, so we are carrying our max, maybe 5 liters each, which is a little more than 11 extra pounds in our packs.

    Light scattered clouds and light breeze will guide us along today. It is all uphill for the next 3 days.

    dark-canyon-may-2016-041dark-canyon-may-2016-046After hiking a couple hours, we are at Poison Canyon, no water in sight, the maps show we may have a spring about 1.5 miles as the crow flies up that canyon. But the maps have not been as accurate as we had hoped, so up to the confluence of Dark Canyon and Peavine Canyon.

    A small stream is coming out of Dark Canyon, but none out of Peavine. We decided to make camp here. We are headed up Peavine for 10 miles, and water supposed to at the 5-mile mark.

    So with a trickle of water in this stream, we decided not to press our luck and found a nice camp spot under some trees not too far from the water. Smart move, we did not find water the next day for 7 miles.

    The Al Scorup Cabin

    In camp early, we each split up, Jack to hunt for some ruins, Deb to do some exploring and I decide to hiked up Dark Canyon to White Canyon a 2.5 miles jaunt to see the Al  Scorup Cabin. (The attached is a great read about Al Scorup starting on Page 12 and his success as a Cattleman.) The cabin has a great view of this very secluded White Canyon valley.

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    dsc00673 Al Scorup Cabin dsc00653

    Dinner tonight, homemade spaghetti, made and dehydrated at home, add water, heat and just like out of the crock-pot at home on the trail.dark-canyon-may-2016-053

    As the Sun was setting and with the cold air flowing from up canyon, Jack got the fire going. With our dinners done, time to fix the best treat of the trip, my Pineapple/Coconut Bannock Bread. General consensus, a strong 10 across the board…. Fresh hot steaming Bread miles from any civilization.

    Dark Canyon WildernessThe next morning, we are greeted with a brisk 17 degrees, we thought when we hit the sack last night it may get cooler, but not this cold, See Jacks water Bottle he left out, frozen solid.

    Jack started the morning off right by getting the fire restarted, Thank You Jack.

    Sun hit our campsite at 6:45 while we were eating breakfast, so things may start too warm up.

    Out of camp a little late as we discuss our concern for finding water, when and where will we find the next resupply point will dictate our next camp?

    Dark Canyon dsc00680 Dark Canyon Wilderness

    As we climbed to over the 7000 feet mark, the terrain turned back to meadows with aspens and pines. The rough cliffs in the background made for some beautiful scenery.

    As it has been over the past 4 days, water is elusive, the first two spots indicated on the maps were dry. At this point our options were very limited, and concern growing.

    img_1041As our hopes were dimming, we find a spot with a large tank feed by a nearby spring, water looks clear so we stop and camped there,

    This will be our last camp.

    Nice evening, fire, dinner and some talk about our trip so far. The little valley we camped in was nice and grassy with aspens that are not budded yet.

    As we started our mornings, temp was all the way up to 25 degrees. A lot more dew that left a nice layer of frost on our tents. But a nice morning fire kept us warm as we waited for the tents to thaw some.

    We only have a ½ day hike back to the car today, and as we climbed through the forest, the stream we had hoped to find earlier started to peak out from beneath the rocks. As we climb to our 8500 ft. starting point we are in a full forest with a lot of undergrowth with meadows filled with spring flowers, and really a pretty way to end our hike.

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    It is surprising this gem of a canyon gets so little traffic. More than likely because of its seclusion, and the limited time you can hike this area. The hike is not hard, but the road to the hike is not maintained in the winter, so snow will close the road in mid to late fall and it will not open until late April or May. Then the summers are hot, the springs may dry up some, so anything after mid-June if the heat does not get you, the lack of water may. Maybe a hike in the fall, but only if the monsoons showered the area well.

    img_1018dark-canyon-may-2016-072I would recommend this hike to anyone, but be forewarned, you cannot let the ease of the hike lull you into a false sense of security. Though the lowest point is 5300 feet, it can get hot and you still need to find water, as we discovered water can be illusive.

    So plan carefully and with that enjoy one of the best secluded hikes in the Southwest.

     Darling Deb, Jumpin Jack Flash and Chef Jazzy Jeff,