What an epic weekend. Chris and I camped in a snow storm, hiked Little Wild Horse Canyon in the snow, and played around in Goblin Valley in the mud and snow. Although in hindsight it wasn’t terribly difficult, it’s still one of the craziest things I’ve done in a while.
Chris showed up in Price Friday afternoon, and as soon as I got off work we headed south on Highway 6, with me driving my truck and him following in his car. I had a good idea of where I wanted to camp after seeing this photo on Panoramio in Google Earth. We arrived there in plenty of time to set up camp before dark, but Chris had to leave his car on the main road about 0.4 miles from camp because the snow was too deep. Our tents were laid out on top of several inches of snow, and early in the evening it began snowing more. It took a long time to get a fire going because the firewood I brought had been covered in snow and ice behind my garage, but once we got the fire roaring it was a comfortable evening. We sat around the fire until about midnight, listening to coyotes howl not far from camp and occasionally brushing the accumulating snow off our shoulders and hoods. I had never before camped during the winter and wasn’t sure how well I’d sleep in the cold, but using the new winter sleeping bag I got last week, it wasn’t bad. The uneven ground bothered me more than the cold. It stayed about 36° inside the tent all night, and it was probably barely above freezing outside.
We woke up Saturday morning to about three inches of new snow and a very low cloud ceiling such that the entire San Rafael Reef was shrouded in clouds. We got the fire going again, then took our time eating breakfast and taking down camp. After dropping Chris’ gear off at his car, we took the truck a couple more miles down the road and got to the Little Wild Horse Canyon trailhead at about 10:00 AM. It was foggy and snowing when we started hiking, and it continued to snow for about half of the hike. There was a well-worn trail through the old snow, so we were only breaking trail through the snow that had fallen during the night. Half a mile into the hike we ran into the first and only real obstacle in the bottom of the canyon. It was right after the canyon first narrowed up, and there was a jumble of boulders blocking the narrows that would have been tough to climb in the snow. We bypassed that part by hiking up a sandstone ramp that took us well above the canyon floor, then scrambled down some ledges to bring us back down to the floor upstream from the boulders. We came to the junction with Bell Canyon and turned north to stay in Little Wild Horse. From there, the canyon alternately narrowed and widened and narrowed again. Some of the narrows were nearly free of snow in the bottom, protected by overhanging cliffs above, while others were choked with as much as 10-12 feet of snow due to the funneling effect of the steep canyon walls. We encountered several tiny avalanches of snow, likely triggered by the sounds we were making as we hiked. It seemed that most of these small avalanches (which behaved more like waterfalls) landed directly on me, while Chris managed to escape being dumped on despite actually trying to trigger them intentionally.
We found a geocache in the canyon, one of the oldest in Emery County, which was the main reason I’d wanted to hike the canyon. I had left Torrey in the truck at the trailhead because she would have slowed us down and because I feared that she’d make it impossible to proceed past some of the obstacles (a fear which proved to be unfounded), so after finding the geocache we decided to only proceed far enough to check out the next section of narrows. However, as we progressed, I decided that I really didn’t want to go to all this trouble and only see half of the canyon. We hiked all the way to the end of the last narrows, stemming over puddles of water and slush, and climbing over some huge piles of snow. We made it back to the trailhead in just more than three hours after we’d started the hike, and I was surprised to see another truck parked there and a couple of people looking at the trail map kiosk. I was more surprised when I recognized one of their dogs. It was a friend and fellow geocacher, the same one who’d invited me to hike Moonshine Wash last weekend. We chatted for a few minutes about the canyon conditions before they set out on their hike. Chris and I ate a quick lunch at the trailhead, then drove to Goblin Valley and picked up Chris’ car along the way.
Goblin Valley was muddy. We slipped and slid our way down the valley floor from the parking lot, then tried choosing the snowiest route to the geocache that we wanted to find. There was still a lot of greasy mud that we had to walk across, and there were several streams of runoff from the melting snow. Getting to the geocache required scrambling up some steep hills that, when dry, would have been easy. In the mud it was treacherous, and we were often in danger of slipping and getting a fully-clothed mud bath. We reached the cache and found it hidden deep inside a hole under some boulders. Chris dove in and wriggled between the muddy rocks and grabbed the cache:
We chose a route back to the parking lot that was more snow-covered and a little less steep, and the snow cleaned most of the mud from our boots by the time we reached the truck. I drove Chris back to his car just outside the park boundary, and he took off toward Lake Powell to find some geocaches while I headed toward I-70 and UT-10 to find some caches. One of the caches I found was another of the oldest in Emery County, and it was the last one I needed in order to be able to log a “puzzle” cache that requires people to have found the dozen oldest caches in the county. On my way up UT-10 toward home, I stopped to find and sign the log in the puzzle cache, but I couldn’t find the damned thing. I spent about 45 minutes looking for it while dusk turned to pitch black, but it’s either no longer there or buried in snow. I drove about another hour before getting home, and shortly afterward Chris stopped by on his way home for a short visit.
It was a truly great weekend, and it’s nice to know that I can comfortably camp and hike year-round. I’m sure I’ll be doing much more of this type of thing from now on. While I was in Little Wild Horse Canyon and Goblin Valley, I found it interesting to watch the snowmelt running down cliffs and along the valley floors. It’s amazing that even this small amount of water helps to sculpt the canyons and formations that I enjoyed so much over the weekend. I shot a few video clips of the runoff, I’ll leave you with this short video showing it doing its thing: