Grace and I head out of Hanksville around noon, and hike 10 miles, slowly gaining about 3k feet. We camp at the cutoff, where you decide if you’re going to try and climb mount Ellen or take forest service roads around it. We had decided we want to climb it, and I believe I see a few ridges with mostly dry approaches.
In the morning, we’re greeted with snow and low cloud cover. We can’t even come close to seeing the mountain some 3.5k feet above us.
‘Do you still want to go for it?’ I ask Grace.
‘Do you?’ she responds
‘I do. I think it’ll clear up or blow over. Or at least I hope it does. If not, we can just hike the road around it, nothing lost but a few miles.’
She agrees, and accepts the challenge. Before long were post holing in shin deep snow, but it’s not too bad. It’s only on the shaded north slopes where the road doesn’t see the sun. As we go up, though, it gets deeper, and I start to get pissed off at how the road isn’t really taking us anywhere.
I see a ridge, it looks mostly bare of snow, and I tell Grace we should take it to the summit, even though it is so steep.
‘Good,’ she says ‘this road is doing to much down and around.’
We we’re on the same page. And it’s true. For anyone who’s hiked the Hayduke, the route up the summit is ridiculous. The road takes you seven miles, going around every ridge. Just go up, my friends! The guys sure know how to put together a desert route, but they made it way too hard to get mount Ellen by clunking your way around the northern slopes for so long, as those are the areas that will hold snow in the spring while the ridges and South slopes will be open.
In what seems like half the time we we’re on the road, we climb three times the amount on the ridge and quickly we’re at the summit. And the views. THE VIEWS!! They do not disappoint. You’re 7k feet above the entire world around you. We could see the La Sal’s to the east, and the blue mountains just south of them. We could see Navajo peak to the south. Canyon country all to the east, and Capitol Reef to our west. I take some pictures, but without a zoom lense you just can’t get the detail that your eyes can see. We linger for some time, before realizing it’s already past three.
he way down takes you up over several bumps before steeply taking you off the ridge. We take our time working our way on the steep, trailless ridge. It’s slow going, eventually hitting a small gully after several thousand feet. We take that for several more thousand feet, twisting around and going in and out of the gully before reaching Sweetwater canyon. As we exit it’s about dark and we quickly find a place to camp, feeling an extra sense of gratification and accomplishment. Happy to have gotten the weather window we did.
The next morning we awake to thick, dark overcast skies. We hike a dirt track on tarantula mesa for a dozen miles before a spicy scramble off the top and down to swap mesa. There are all sorts of cool rock and hoodoo features here as we go in and out of side canyons, eventually dropping into swap canyon in the evening. The wind starts to pick up, and we scramble to find a place to pitch the tarp, but we get it staked in well.
he night is long. At 8:30 a storm rolls in, as the overcast from the day starts to release. Or so we think. Wind batters our tent, and soon rain and hail are hitting us. I get out and reinforce the tent with some large rocks, which helps us feel better about the situation. But soon the wind gets even stronger. All night, ten hours, we’re getting beat up in the bottom of the canyon. It starts to let up around 5 am, only to reappear with a final, strongest blast. Lightning strikes above us and thunder booms around the canyon walls as larger hail comes crashing down on our wind battered shelter. Sheesh! What a long storm. It finally breaks around 7:30, and the skies open and the temperature drops.
We pack up everything wet and make our way through the last 3 miles of the canyon to see Capitol Reef right in front of us. This swell goes as far as the eye can see. We climb the Burr trail switchbacks and break at the top to dry everything out. It’s cold and windy, but what’s new. That’s our norm now. At least it helps dry everything quickly!
fter packing up dry things, we head down to Muley Twist canyon. It used to be an area where the Mormon pioneers took their cattle and mule down, and the twists we’re so numerous and narrow it was said it could twist a mule. Hence the name.
A good flowing muddy creek ran through the high walls, and we soon found that hiking through the creek was often our best option. The walls grew bigger and soon we we’re encountering several large alcoves at most of the twists. The wind died down in the canyon and we were both thankful for that. After hiking in the creek for several hours, we turned a bend and hiked by the flowing creek. Right by the initial surge, as if a damn had been let loose, there was a front yo this creek we were walking in. And dude to the Sandy bottom, it was moving at roughly 1.5 miles an hour.
We watched and grabbed some videos of the pour off over rocks and such, we had never seen anything like it. The rest of the evening we joked that we we’re going to get chased down by it as we hiked the dry river bed.
We ended up cowboy camping in the last huge alcove we found. I’m talking huge! There was no wind and we had shelter from anything that would hit us. The night was so calm and peaceful. Barely a sound, except the flow of water passing by when the river cought back up to us.
The next day we hiked out of Muley twist, south through Capitol Reef and up and out via red slide; an area of capital reef where the uplift seemed to barf out red sand/rock. A good 2,300 foot climb gave us views back to mount ellen and the Henry’s, tarantula mess, swap canyon, and the backside of capitol Reef. It was fun to see how far we had come. On the other side, escalante and the fifty mile wall. We hiked down a bit, ready for the next adventure of the trip.
ur friends Aaron and Kris are meeting us with resupply, packrafts, ropes and harness’ for a 6 day journey packrafting the escalante and hitting some technical side canyons and other remote areas. This has been something we’ve both been looking forward to for some time. Can’t wait to see our friends and get on the river!!