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Dark Canyon Backpack, Utah

September 13- 17, 2006

Leader: Bill Priedhorsky

Author: Jan Studebaker

Photo Gallery: Jan Studebaker, Click here to view.  

Maps: Click here to view the approach map (1.7 MB).  Click here to view the area map (1.3 MB).

Trip Participants: Bill Priedhorsky, Karl Buckendahl, Jackie Little, Karen Grace, Martin Staley, Dave and Greg Scudder, Greg’s friend Kelsey, Dave Chamberlin, and Jan Studebaker

Bill Priedhorsky organized this short but wonderful trip to Utah Canyon Country.  Bill was apparently trying to save his vacation for one of his other many adventures, and saw that it would be possible for him and several friends to use just one day of vacation and get to spend three overnights in Dark Canyon.  Considering that driving time took us a good part of two days, this was definitely a good plan for us all.

Beginning the 1300' descent into Utah's Dark Canyon

Getting there: Dark Canyon is surely one of the deepest canyons in Utah, and it is certainly no small challenge to get into.  We took the Sundance Trail to gain access to this incredible area.  The hardest part of this otherwise difficult four mile hike was finding the trailhead; we used a combination of information resources to do so.  I found a trail description in Ron Adkison's "Hiking Grand Staircase-Escalante & the Glen Canyon Region" guide book that included step by step instructions for finding the trailhead.  We probably followed Adkison's description, but the roads were many, so we may have used a bit of luck as well.  We were fairly sure that we had arrived at the trailhead when we passed a "stock" pond just before the end of our road spur.  Adkison had made a point of mentioning this landmark; however, it would have been much less visible had it not been full of water.  We walked in a circle around the parking area and found no trailhead marker of any kind; no sign, no trail register, and no cairn, so we took a bearing on the route and started walking in that direction (~north by north east).  Shortly we found two separate trails with cairns running in the correct direction and parallel to one another.  These both led to a slickrock plateau from which we could see the road that Adkison had referenced.  We down climbed a bit of clean rock to get to the valley floor and headed to the road.  We followed this road west for a short distance and found a trail, with accompanying trail marker, that continued in the correct direction;  this took us to the rim of Dark Canyon and our extremely steep 1300 vertical foot descent through a rubble strewn and loose landscape.  Bill also used a newly revised USGS topo that showed the Sundance trail, but the older topos that I found showed no trails leading to our descent.  I believe we would have been equally well served had we picked up the Trails Illustrated map called "Dark Canyon and Natural Bridges National Monument".

One of many muddy stream crossings

The adventure: the 1300' descent into Dark Canyon (from the rim) was difficult with packs, but it was over in less than two hours.  The view into the canyon was awe inspiring when we dared look up from our feet.  After we reached the bottom we began a short search for a good base camp.  After a series of swollen stream crossings, and hiking about 0.6 miles up canyon, we found a suitable bench that offered adequate vertical protection from possible flash floods, and room for our many tents.  One of the lower benches was ruled out due to obvious recent flooding.  The perennial stream in Dark Canyon ran with uncharacteristically muddy waters for all 4 days of our stay.  On two previous trips to this area the clear water was truly a joy to wade through, but this time we tried valiantly to avoid walking in the reddish-brown syrup because we were unable to see the bottom.

During our stay we hiked as a group along parts of Dark Canyon, Lean-To Canyon, and Lost Canyon.  We never got very far due to a rather lazy and laid-back group attitude, but this made for a relaxing trip and a change of pace for all of us.  We stopped frequently on our excursions, had numerous snack breaks, dips in pools, and water pumping sessions.  Stream crossings were common and slowed us down, as did numerous short and often exciting climbs to stay out of the water.

Bill wondering how he got into this predicament

The water was so dirty that it completely clogged Dave Chamberlin's First Need filter in a single day of pumping.  Our gravity filter did better but required some cleaning.  We found that pot holes of trapped water were far less murky so we used them often, sometimes carrying heavy backpacks of water filled bladders back to camp.....thank you Bill and Karl!

One evening was a bit rainy at dinner time, and one night was best described as a dust storm.  The dust was most unpleasant, filling our eyes and our tents with grit.  Bill felt that sleeping under the stars, rather than in a tent, was less annoying in the tent flapping and sand driven wind.  Other than that, the weather was perfect!  This trip will be fondly remembered by all, and revisited frequently in our memories!  I am certain that some of us will return, more than once, to Dark Canyon.

  • Click here to view our "Dark Canyon" gallery

  • Click here to view a map showing the Sundance Trail access (1.7 MB)

  • Click here to view a map showing the entire area of our Dark Canyon adventure (1.3 MB)


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