The Grotto (Almost)

Bald eagle near HuntingtonI was planning on getting out on Thursday to do some hiking, but it was just too cold for my liking (we’ve had single-digit lows and barely above freezing highs lately) so I stayed home and did some tidying up and went grocery shopping. I decided that evening that I’d regret not doing something outdoors this weekend, so Friday morning I started getting ready for a hike as soon as I woke up. Somebody placed a new geocache at the Grotto, and that seemed as good a destination as any. On my way there, I stopped in Huntington to try finding a geocache that eluded me a couple of weeks ago, and I still couldn’t find it this time. After leaving Huntington and heading for the Swell, I saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree just outside of town. I made one more stop near the Wedge to find a new cache placed by some friends, then drove toward my main objective.
Torrey near the potholeI got to the trailhead a little before 1:00 p.m. and started following a faint ATV trail toward Grotto Canyon. After several hundred feet I left the ATV trail and entered a rocky wash that cuts through the Carmel Formation, which is probably my least favorite rock formation in the Swell (especially for hiking over). After taking a couple of forks in the wash, I entered the start of the Navajo Sandstone portion of the canyon, which is where it got interesting. I came to a pothole that’s too steep to climb out of on the up-canyon side, so I had to backtrack and exit the canyon in order to get around it. All of the online descriptions of this hike say to bypass the pothole on the south side of the canyon, but I didn’t really pay attention to those before the hike and I ended up bypassing it on the north side. I had a difficult time getting back into the canyon after hiking around the pothole, but it wasn’t too bad.
Water-filled slotOnce back in the bottom of the canyon, I continued hiking up the bottom as the canyon got more and more narrow. I knew that there would be a very narrow slot section filled with water, but I was hoping that the water would be frozen enough to just walk across. When I got to that part, the top of the water looked pretty solid, but one touch from my boot broke the surface of the ice–it was only about 1/4-inch thick. šŸ™ I tried stemming over the water, which at first was pretty easy because the footholds sloped up and out, giving me pretty good footing. Once I got closer to the end of the water section, the walls became purely vertical and required a lot more strength/skill, and I didn’t feel comfortable proceeding to the end. I don’t think a fall would have hurt me, but I had no desire to fall into ice water during already sub-freezing temperatures. I managed to turn around while stemming, and made it back to the start without too much trouble. At one point one of my feet slipped and I had to catch myself hard with one arm, which jarred my wrist pretty good, but the pain went away quickly. The entire time I was stemming over the water, Torrey just sat at the other end and whimpered. When my feet touched ground again, she greeted me as though I’d been gone for hours.
Grotto CanyonAfter admitting defeat, I went down-canyon about two-tenths of a mile and found a place to climb out on the south side. It was a steep and dicey climb–Torrey slipped as she was climbing ahead of me and almost took me out–but we made it with some effort. Once on top, I hiked along the canyon rim until I could see down into the Grotto at the end of the canyon, which is basically a huge dryfall with an alcove of sorts at the bottom. At least I got to see the Grotto, if not actually go there. The hike back to the truck went pretty smoothly and quickly, this time bypassing the pothole on the south side, and not needing to stop as much for photos. Back at the truck, I boiled some water with my backpacking stove and ate a cup o’ noodles to warm me up, then drove home into the sunset.

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GPS Tracklog and Waypoints (Google Earth .KML format)

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