Grand Gulch hike- Gary

Sorry for my inactivity on the blog. After we returned from our  Idaho trip last year I hit the ground running, doing work. I’ve been working all winter and our piggy bank isn’t looking quite so lean anymore. I hope to play the bulk of the summer so hopefully I’ll blog more.

I’ve been needing a solo trip, a trip, that would blow out the cobwebs, a trip that would push me- physically, mentally and emotionally, a trip where my wants and needs were the only ones I was concerned with.  This one was successful on all counts.

The photos are from my phone. Sorry for the poor quality.

Something is up with our wordpress program. I have the text below the photos when I edit but it changes. Sorry.

It was approaching 6:00 on my third day in the canyon. I had covered 17 miles since I stated walking before 7:00 AM. The last couple of hours had consisted of pushing through tangles of Tamarisk and Willows and searching for ways around rock slides and boulder jumbles. Any sign of a trail had disappeared hours ago. Then I came up to it. The slide. The volunteer ranger at Kane Gulch told me about, said he didn’t know of anyone that had gotten past it. The wind was gusting to what seemed like around 30 mph which added to the tension. After considering my options I thought I should go up to it and just see how it felt. I strapped my poles to my pack and inched my way up to it. I was surprised that it wasn’t as loose as it appeared. The slide probably happened last year so the dirt/rock conglomerate was firmer than it looked. So, very gradually and slowly, I tried it a bit farther. I promised myself I would not move a hand or foot until I was confident the other three had a solid hold. In probably three minutes I was past it. Then I realized how the adrenaline had been flowing… I had a shot of whiskey. This is playing for keeps. The term ‘no safety net’ crossed my mind.

The slope has given away right at the pour off. No way around. I made it around at the top of the photo, sort of an inverted 'V' route.
The slope has given away right at the pour off. No way around. I climbed across it towards the top of the photo.
The pour off that the slide had blocked the route. Ther's no frame of reference as to how big it is. It is big enough...
The pour off of the slide that had blocked the route around. There’s no frame of reference as to how big it is. It is big enough…

Some years back Patti , myself and two friends had been in the Gulch. We went in  Todie Canyon and exited at Collins Canyon. I told myself then that I wanted to hike the length of Grand Gulch one day, it’s 51 miles from the the Kane Ranger Station to the San Juan River.

A mile or so from the ranger station in Kane Gulch. This is a well used route.
A mile or so from the ranger station in Kane Gulch. This is a well used route.

 I worked out a route where I’d leave my truck at the top of Slickhorn Canyon, I’d ride my bike from there to Kane (around 14 miles), leave the bike there,  and do a loop.

It's great to be back in canyon country.
It’s great to be back in canyon country.

Officially the loop would be about 80 miles, not sure how they can measure miles in there. The BLM does virtually no trail maintenance, the upper canyons see enough use that there are cairns and well worn paths but down lower you may find footprints here and there but you shouldn’t assume they know where  they’re going any better than you.

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The upper canyons of Cedar Mesa are chock full of ruins. The lower canyons, not so much.
The upper canyons of Cedar Mesa are chock full of ruins. The lower canyons, not so much.
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It’s not often ruins are this low, usually they are higher up the slope.

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Room with a view.
Room with a view.

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Small hands. Broken thumb???
Small hands. Broken thumb???

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Grand Gulch 3-15 172Grand Gulch 3-15 180Grand Gulch 3-15 175

This arch in the lower Gulch was really impressive. It is massive.
This arch in the lower Gulch was really impressive. It is massive.

There is also lots and lots of sand, which makes for slow walking. And, all this changes every year as the flash floods rip every thing apart in the monsoon season. All this to say 20 miles is a very long day here.

One of many log jambs and rock slides to negotiate. This log jamb is 70-100' above the canyon floor! The fury of flooding, just imagine!
One of many log jambs and rock slides to negotiate. This log jamb is 70-100′ above the canyon floor! The fury of flooding, just imagine!

After I’d gotten over the slide I had about a mile to the River. It took close to an hour.

The San Juan.
The San Juan and camp for the night.

The next hurdle was beginning. There was only rumors that there actually was a route between the Gulch and Slickhorn. Was it still there? Could I find it? Was it navigable? Looking at the slope that evening made me feel a bit doubtful.

Sunrise. I'd been walking 1/2 hour here.
Sunrise. I’d been walking 1/2 hour here.
Grand Gulch is at the upper left of the photo.
Grand Gulch is at the upper left of the photo.

I did find my way through. In the beginning there were three huge rock slides, finding the route was hit or miss for the first couple of hours. Eventually the shelf grew wider and the trail was there more than not. I had a few minor slides but nothing major. Grand Gulch 3-15 198

Grand Gulch 3-15 197 Grand Gulch 3-15 195

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Some of the sites along the route.

I hope to learn the history of this trail, I’ll update the blog if I do. I suspect it was built originally to get cattle into the area. It  would take a lot of work to get it and keep it in condition that a cow could travel. It’s 3.5 river miles between the two canyons. It took 5 hours.

Surprisingly the trail didn’t drop me into Slickhon at river level but about a mile upstream above one of several pour offs. I still had some slides and bushwacking in the lower portion but once I made to Slickhorn #6 (a side canyon) things improved dramatically, I started seeing footprints and even some cairns.

Slickhorn in the morning.
Slickhorn in the morning.
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Almost out.

 

  There were still a few slides and a bit of bushwacking in the lower portion but once I made to Slickhorn #6 (a side canyon) things improved dramatically, I started seeing footprints and even some cairns. The last hours out were bittersweet. I was really sad my little adventure was coming to an end, but looking forward to being back with my sweetie.

I left Cedar Mesa feeling like I know it a little better, probably close to a dozen trips there… so far. It’s a special place. I left, too, feeling physically drained but my batteries are fully charged- it’s been a while.

Thanks to Patti for editing the photos, such as they are. I’ll try to do a gear post for the gear junkies soon.

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12 thoughts on “Grand Gulch hike- Gary

  1. Thanks Gary! I’ve only been to Grand Gulch once. What a great place. This makes me want to go back. I can’t imagine doing 20 miles in that terrain in a day.

    1. Thanks, Rebecca. Cedar Mesa is a special place. When we first started going there close to 20 years ago most people had never heard of it. It is definitely getting more popular.

  2. Gary, Fabulous. Nice work. Out of curiosity, have you ever sought out any of the sites Wetherill excavated or twinned any of Wetherill’s photos?

    1. Hey Dave! I read a book some years back- can’t even remember the title, about the Wetherills, their ranch near Mancos, and how the ruin excavation thing came about. If I’ve been to any sites he’s dug up (pilfered?) I’m not aware of it. The map of the lower section of Grand Gulch calls the trail “Wetherill” so I assume he’s done some digging there.

      1. Oh, Dave, I thought of you while down there. I remember you hiked part of the Gulch many years ago.

      2. Gary,
        Scott and I went in at Kane Creek, came out at Collins Canyon (? it was the one just beyond Dripping Canyon), and then over to Natural Bridges via passing along the shoulder of Moss Back Butte . And we took nowhere near enough food because of our large brains, I guess. I’m impressed by your loop. I’ll look through my books and see what I can find for Wetherill’s photos.

  3. Hey, Gary. Great photos and narrative! If that hike didn’t blow out the cobwebs, I don’t know what would. Thanks for posting it.

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