Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah has extensive backcountry routes that snake through remote canyons dotted with Ancestral Puebloan ruins. While spring is the most popular time to visit Cedar Mesa, fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador Jan and I enjoyed a winter hike in Kane Gulch during January after our Trail Ambassador trip to Moab. Because elevations are around 6000 feet, temperatures were colder and there was more ice and snow than there had been down at Comb Ridge.
|Descending into Kane Gulch.|
|Four layers of hats isn't excessive when it's 16 degrees|
|The footprints tapered off the further we got from the ranger station, and we didn’t see anyone all day.|
|South-facing slopes were free of snow.|
|Jan crossing the ice in her microspikes.|
|Reflections in ice.|
|This Jacal structure of unknown function gives Turkey Pen ruin its name.|
|Near the ruins.|
Tips for winter hiking
- Wear microspikes for traction over ice. Steep slickrock traverses and boulder scrambles are slippery and more dangerous when wet and icy or snow-covered.
- Carry plenty of water as there was none available even in campgrounds. Backcountry springs can be frozen into solid sheets of ice. We had to wait until the afternoon sun had melted the ice to collect water from a spring.
- Practice your routefinding skills. Trails are more difficult to follow when they are buried in snow. Check map and compass often. Both Jan and I downloaded topo maps onto our iPhones which we can use as GPS units without cell-service using various apps (I use Gaia GPS and Jan uses Trimble Outdoors). We traced our routes so we could always backtrack, and I carried a backup battery since this app uses extra power.
- Be self-sufficient. There are few if any other hikers out and ranger stations are closed so help is not readily available if you get in trouble. Wilderness first aid training, hiking with a partner, and carrying a SPOT provide some level of safety, but are not substitutes for maintaining good judgement and being cautious.
- Keep an eye on the weather. Check weather forecasts and watch the sky.
Trails Illustrated Map #706: Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa Plateau
A Hiking Guide to Cedar Mesa by Peter Francis Tassoni.
Covers more hikes in the region but with shorter descriptions that allow you do more of your own routefinding. Includes driving directions to trailheads, GPS coordinates of trailheads and key points.
WOW Guides Utah Canyon Country by Kathy and Craig Copeland.
Includes a broader geographic region with less depth but with more through descriptions.