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Moab hike/bike Nov. 6-11

Thu, 2014-11-06
Bill Priedhorsky

Behind the Rocks, a maze of fins and canyons just over the hill from Moab, is in my experience about as spectacular as any part of the canyon country. See here and here for trip reports.
Update Feb. 27: Room is still available on this trip.
Dear Mountaineers,
I would like to announce the sixth edition of our very successful trips to Moab. We didn’t go in November 2013, and I missed it, even thought I was on a great adventure in Antarctica. So I look forward to returning in November 2014 after a year’s hiatus.
As before, we will establish a base in a large, comfortable house in Moab, and from there mountain bike, hike, and scramble in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and the wild country immediately around Moab like Behind the Rocks. Some of our most rugged adventures takes us no more than two miles from home, yet lies deep in the wilderness. A report of the 2010 trip can be found at: ,
The activity level can be moderately strenuous and includes optional semi-technical activities, up to low-angle rope work, but there will be less strenuous and non-technical options also. Not to mention the mountain bikers thrashing themselves, but that is up to them.
The trip will run from Thursday Nov. 6 through Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, getting away on Thursday at times that will vary car to car. The drive from Los Alamos is about 6 1/2 hours driving straight through.The 11th is a Lab holiday, and Friday the 7th is a "B" day off (trade your Friday?). 
After the daytime adventuring, we will socialize in the evening with dinners together, either potluck or hitting the town. We will carpool to Moab to minimize driving expenses and not overstrain the parking.
The lodging is called the Moab Retreat House, and details can be found at  I have rented both sides of the house, north and south, with five bedrooms each.
Please let me know if you are interested in this outing. To hold a spot, please send me a deposit of $75 per person. Early signups will get preferred bedroom spots. Final payment will be due by August 1. Depending on the quality of accommodation and just how full we fill the house, costs should be between $100 and $200 per person for the 5 nights (generally no discount for shorter stays, and why would you want to miss the fun anyway?). 
Regards, Bill


For the sixth time, the Los Alamos Mountaineers returned to Moab for several days of biking and hiking, taking advantage of the Veteran’s Day holiday for an extra long weekend. Despite all of our previous visits, we found new and remarkable places to explore. What is unique about Moab is the fin country – sandstone that is split by a series of parallel cracks that erode away to form long fins, arches, bridges, and mazes.
We filled the Moab Retreat House, a 10 bedroom duplex, with other participants staying in motels nearby and a house in the neighborhood. Participants included trip leader Bill Priedhorsky, Melissa Bartlett, Karen Grace, Kevin Grace, Judy Follmar, Toni Taylor, Stuart Trugman, Patti Walls, Larry Johnson, Ross and Nancy Lemons, Ron Morgan, Rachel Cowan, Kathleen Gruetzmacher, Elena Brown, Bob Williams, Judy Buckingham, Jill Holbert, Dennis Brandt, Jan Studebaker, Mary Thompson, and Bryan Bonser and family, including 3-year old Millie.
The drive to Moab from Los Alamos takes about 6 1/2 hours plus stops. Most folks drove on Thursday the 6th, with one car following on the 7th. Patti, Larry, and I left at 8 AM, which left us enough time upon arrival at Moab for a short hike. We drove about 0.6 miles onto the Behind the Rocks dirt road; pushing past a rocky section, we could have driven Patti’s SUV a mile further, nearly to the turn at the south end of the rocks. We hiked into the southernmost tip of the Behind the Rocks fin formation, scrambling about for a couple of hours until dark was imminent. A return trip would be worthwhile, letting us explore as many fins as we could hike to in a day.

Fearless leader on the first day out
The routine for the trip involved an 8:30 AM departure, with biking and hiking trips heading out in all directions. The early start (for this bunch) was because of the short November days, with a 5:10 PM sunset requiring a 4 PM target return to the cars. On most days, some participants headed out in pairs for bike riding and other touring. I led a large group on a hike each day.
On the first day, with 18 participants in town, 14 of us headed up Sand Flat Road for a meandering explore of the fins country north of the North Fork of Mill Creek. We started on “The Fins” route in the Barnes’ book “Hiking in the Sand Flats Recreational Area”, but were not able to follow the complicated instructions beyond the first landmark, a high fin with a wonderful view of the whole terrain. From there we worked north, cross-cutting the fins, which was far slower than traveling with the grain, but interesting as we found ways to scramble up and down the fins. Moving to the northeast, we reached a high and steep view over the North Fork. This was a large group to keep together on a trailless, route-finding day.

The Fins country, with a trailhead just 5 miles from home
The next day, a contingent of about 10 headed to the Fiery Furnace, and another 10, led by Bill, headed towards the sandstone mass of the Whale Formation, reaching it 3.2 miles down the 4 wheel drive road east of Balanced Rock in Arches National Park, then hiking north into its tributaries and mazes. This formation is about a mile in diameter, with the layers rising from south to north. Taking a major braching to the right, we found a broad ramp that we could hike to the northern rim of the formation, and from there worked our way to the summit, with views of the whole National Park. Baby Millie enjoyed the adventure, including being handed from person to person in a bucket brigade down steep sections. We explored the northern rim to the west and then to the east, dropping off the formation to see the Eye of the Whale arch, backlit by golden light. We re-entered the formation for the hike home, but were blocked by the intricate network of tributaries. On the verge of backtracking to the Eye of the Whale, we found a crevice in a rock wall, and emerged into the open slickrock and out for the hike to the car. We tried driving west towards highway 191, but the road became rough enough that we turned back for the drive home through the park. We more-or-less covered the Whale, but it is well worth a return visit.

The expedition on its way back through the Whale - big sandstone!
The third day, Sunday, Bryan led Jan, Mary, Toni, Stuart, Larry, and Patti on a technical canyoneering trip, leaving the Sand Flat area towards Negro Bill Canyon, entering the canyon via a rappel off Morning Glory Arch, finishing up with a 2.5 mile hike down canyon. The trip involved two two-rope rappels, the first one into a muddy pool, the second, near the arch, was about 100 feet finished by a free drop. A younger party on the same route descended from the arch itself, rappelling in tandem off the two sides of the arch.

Patti coming down (a long way down) next to Morning Glory Arch
A party of 7 (Melissa, Kevin, Judy, Jill, Bob, and Judy, with Bill leading), re-entered Arches National Park and drove the 7 dirt miles (easily passable by a rental Hyundai sedan) to the Tower Arch area. We parked at the more accessible of the two trailheads, hiked past the Marching Men the 1.7 miles to the arch, then explored north into the Tower Maze, a mass of red and white sandstone that was worth more time than the couple hours that we had available.

Tower Arch
Monday was our last full day. The largest outing was a party of seven (Toni, Stuart, Patti, Larry, Dennis, and Karen, with Bill leading), who climbed from the high point just past the Amasa Back trailhead to the plateau between Pritchett and Hunter Creeks. This was a long day that started with a climb up a steep chute, then up a steep exposed fin with the help of a steel cable permanently affixed at the top of the fin. Dennis led with only the help of the cable, and Larry finished the same way, but the rest of us accepted a belay from Dennis. Our ascent was interrupted for a while by 50 mph wind gusts, so the ascent took us 90 minutes. Our feeling of toughness was punctured when a couple from Colorado asked to pass, flashed up the cable, scouted the top and returned down the cable while we were still belaying folks one at a time.

Patti coming up the fin cable route
On top, we pushed hard because the day was getting away from us, and skirted the edge of a big bay above Hunter Creek before heading east, to the tip of a canyon running into Pritchett Creek, for a lunch with huge views including an arch just around the corner. We then climbed the large sandstone formation at the southeast corner of the plateau, took a quick look around Pritchett Natural Bridge (no way down), tried a route down the southeastern fin of the large mass (maybe a way down, but the troops were too cold and impatient to let Dennis and me set it up, then dropped off the mass to the ground to the west and hiked cross country to the south. This left us one cliff band above the Hunter Canyon Rim Trail road; in a stroke of luck, we tried the rim to the east, in the opposite direction to our destination, and found a BLM trail to Pritchett Arch that descended the cliff. Once on the road, we hiked to a 4-way road junction, then about 5 miles down the Rim Trail road and the trail itself, arriving at the main Kane Creek road at about 5:30, as light was fading fast. It was a scenic but strenuous day; on our next visit, it would be nice to spend more time in the fin country, which would require us to go up and down the cable route, rather than do a big traverse like ours.

Larry atop Pritchett Arch
This was an adventuresome and congenial trip. Dinners were served by rotating dinner teams, who served 16 to 21 participants with the usual standards – chili, enchilada casserole, taco bar, salad bars, and a birthday cheesecake for Dennis and Rachel. A number of destinations await us unexplored, and we hope that this was not our last Moab adventure.

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