Old, New, Borrowed And Blue In Canyon Country
For spring break this year, we decided to put a spin on our usual “let’s see how hard core we can get backpacking with a kid.” Instead of testing the limits of Kieran’s endurance on a multi-day wilderness trip (and the limits of construction our packs by stuffing them to the brim with pokey expedition gear) we went another route.
Last year we went on a weeklong backpacking trip through Grand Gulch, Utah. This year, we returned to canyon country in Utah (“something old”) but car camped on Cedar Mesa and spent each day exploring a different canyon, from the wide and jaunty to the tight and squeezy (“something new”). We asked a friend for a technical canyon guide book (“something borrowed”) and tossed our new Deuter packs — a Fox 40 for Kieran and an Aircontact 70 + 10 SL for me — into our truck for the long drive (“something blue” — both packs are very blue).
A 13-hour drive from wintery Bozeman led us to the decidedly less wintery desert of southern Utah. Each night, we slept in “cozy land” in the bed of our truck after cooking great meals with “freshies” (something we couldn’t bring on a backpacking trip -- fresh onions are so much better than dried onion flakes). Each day, we stuffed our technical climbing gear, snacks, and food into our Deuter packs and headed to a different canyon.
Quick report for families interested in a canyon trip:
- Little Horse Tanks Canyon: We camped on a BLM road that heads off highway 95 soon after you cross the Colorado River and White Canyon. To drop this canyon, we had to rappel twice, once onto a nice dry sandstone slab and the second time into a cold pool of water. It was a little epic for us because by the time we scrambled out of the canyon and walked across the mesa back to our car, we had hiked over eight miles. Kieran’s highlight: his first rappel!
- Upper Gravel Canyon: We camped about 12 miles down Cheesebox Road from Gravel Crossing. The most epic part of this day was figuring out how to scramble down into the canyon. After lots of reconnoitering and a three-hour long third class scramble, the hike was easy. Though there were some spots where you could rappel into slots, we easily skirted these spots by walking around them on slick rock. Kieran’s highlight: navigating his way through a boulder field by sliding under a rock that neither of his parents could fit under (“Kieran! Where are you? Kieran??? Don’t move! We can’t get through!”)
- Shillelagh Canyon: This is one of numerous small canyons right off of highway 95 north of the Colorado River. We thought it would be an easy day. And it was . . . mostly. We hiked two kilometers on a mesa to the end of the canyon, dropped into it, and rappelled three times on the way back down. By all accounts, it should have been the best day. Perfect temps. Easy hike out. Great rappels with good protection. But at the very end of our day, a hundred yards or so from the highway, we found ourselves in a quandary. Two cows had managed to get themselves stuck in a narrow part of the canyon and sadly died, days earlier by all accounts. And we were tasked with figuring out how to cross over 15 feet of dead and decaying cows. I’ll leave out the details, suffice to say we couldn’t turn back because we had rappelled into a narrow slot. Kieran’s highlight: Showering the “dead cow smell” off of us in the hotel that night and watching basketball.