‘Mindblowing’ describes this 3-night backpacking trip to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park, UT. The views were over the top (literally) and the terrain and scenery were completely varied- a surprise around every corner. We’d start our days leaping across desert creeks and then we’d climb up to dizzying heights and cling to the edges of cliffs, hearts pounding. I didn't want to leave.
|Ah what a view!|
|Going for it on the uphills. Photo by Renee.|
|This part was fun/scary cause there were dropoffs on both sides. Photo by Renee.|
|Renee walking on the side of a rock.|
And if the terrain wasn't enough of a thrill, new regulations required bear canisters for our campsite in the upper Salt Creek Canyon and human waste disposal bags for our two other campsites. So we were carrying all the extra weight of bear cans and our poop as we clung to the edges of cliffs or squeezed through tights spots in the rocks. Whenever a spot felt too difficult, we’d take off our packs and hand them over the ravine or down the inclines to one another- these trails were much, much easier without full packs and I *almost* envied the dayhikers— but not really because I loved spending so much time out there, plus I sure felt strong carrying that darn heavy pack and getting in an awesome core workout.
|Look I’m carrying my own poop in this special bag! Photo by Renee.|
Lessons from the Red Layer
We quickly noticed that one of the rock layers was much easier to travel over than the other. Geologists that we are… NOT… we called the smooth, rounded layer that was easy to walk over the 'white layer' and the upper, more sheer vertical layer the ‘red layer.’ (We later found out at the visitor’s center that this Cedar Mesa sandstone was deposited during the Permian- the white layers are the nearshore dunes, while the red are the river and lake deposits that eroded from huge mountains.)
|Grateful to be on the “nice, gentle" white rock layer. I felt like I could soar across. Photo by Renee.|
|Pointing to my scary spot on the red layer- that horizontal traverse out past the green bushes. Photo by Renee.|
That evening, looking at the map, I realized that there was an alternate route back to the trailhead, that I didn’t NEED to go over that steep drop-off spot again. There was a choice- go over the red layer again vs. take the dirt road. That’s when Renee and I reviewed what we’d learn from the red layer— crossing over the red layer made us grow as hikers; the red layer made us stay present and in the moment; we could see far and have better perspective from the red layer; it allowed us to appreciate the safety and ease of the white layer. Of course, we went back over the red layer on our last day! And it was FUN!
|Playing at "stepping off the end of the world" on the red layer on the last day. Photo by Renee.|
I was thrilled with the scenery at Canyonlands, and also that the arid environment provided excellent opportunities to learn how to be adaptable in different and ever-changing environments. It really hit home how "routine" my backpacking has become back in Georgia. In contrast, I was challenged and constantly learning on this trip and that was really satisfying. I'm looking forward to this continuing on the PCT.
I found hang sites within the “campsite boundary” signs every night but these hangs really made me get creative! I had my shortest hang ever- (the trees were so closely spaced that I had to bypass the whoopie slings altogether, and put the continuous loop on the end of the hammock directly over the marlin spike hitch- had never done this but it worked just fine), followed my longest hang (where I had to use my hiking poles to push the tree straps high enough to not drag the underquilt in the sand.) The last night, the trees were the biggest I’d ever used- I had about an inch to spare on one tree strap!
|Hanging from lovely giant cottonwoods. Unrolling the tarp for extra warmth. Photo by Renee.|
|A tight hang over a rock between two closely-spaced trees/ shrubs. Photo by Renee.|
Contending with the sand (and the dryness) was also a new thing for me. Sand had to be dumped out of shoes on breaks, and at night it would take an entire wet one just to get the sand out from between toes (even with dirty girl gaiters). Backpacking in the southeast, I hardly ever use any lotions and I'd repackaged my lotion into teeny tiny containers that seemed laughable out West- where I was lathering on the sunscreen every 2 hours (more than that and I’d burn), and slopping on the lotion to keep my hands and feet from cracking. SO different from Georgia!
|Why they make canyoneering packs that are tall and narrow.|
We got dropped off at the Elephant Hill trailhead, hiked out to EC3 (gorgeous site!) and set up camp, then did an out and back hike to Druid Arch in the afternoon. Elephant Canyon had a lot of dayhikers. On day 2, we hiked down Squaw Canyon (lovely riparian area) then up over to LC1 (another gorgeous site, and more wooded). Then an afternoon out and back up Lost Canyon- this part of the park was more remote and beautiful and we only saw three other people. On day 3, we climbed up and over to Peekaboo, and then into Salt Creek- doing an out and back further into the canyon- just one other group encountered and it was cool because they showed us some pictographs we’d have otherwise missed. On the last day, we went out to Squaw Flat campground where my folks picked us up. What an excellent trip- I only wish we'd have stayed out a few more nights!
|Dad meets us at the trailhead with refreshments- he's really getting the hang of being a trail angel!|
-We made reservations for our campsites well in advance so we got our choice of campsites. Note to fellow hammock hangers that there were only one good hang site within the designated camping boundary markers (and we peeked at a few sites with no hangable spots), and it is not permitted to camp outside the bounds- if you have more than one hammock per group, consider Salt Creek where camping is "at large."
-Secure your food at all times. We saw where animals had gotten into someone’s unattended pack that had been stashed at a trail junction. DON’T leave your food out! We carried a bear canister (required for some areas)- you can rent these at the ranger station.
-This time of year, early March, nights were cold/ below freezing- there was frost on tarps, ice on water (and on rock in a few places), and the bear canister was frozen shut in the morning (side note: does anyone else have this problem where the top of the bear can is frozen due to frost?)
-Water sources are seasonal and intermittent. Check at the ranger station before you head out. We lucked out and there was plenty of water in all the canyons. Other times of year, you need to pack your own water and be especially careful to leave water for wildlife. Water is precious in this area, so don't camp or pee near the water and certainly never wash in the water.
Check out Renee's trip report on her blog, Pathfinder on the PCT.