An Allen inspired trip to Dark Canyon

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fossana

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Joined
Jan 11, 2018
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442
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Intro
I was staring a new job and decided to squeeze in a short backpacking trip beforehand. The forecast wasn't perfect anywhere, but of the routes on my to-do list Dark Canyon seemed the most reasonable. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that the Bodie section on Allen's Dark Canyon route was a contrived bushwhack, so I decided to do my own shortened variation, cutting off that portion. I didn't know what to expect time-wise, since I had only done his Stevens/Fold loop (in the lower end of the recommended duration) and it was also early season for me. I planned for 3 nights just in case, but ended up doing 2.


Approximate Route (Caltopo link)
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Trip Report & Photos
From the upper Sundance trailhead parking area, I headed into Dark Canyon down the infamous Sundance talus slope.

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After a few minutes I crossed the junction of Lean-To and Dark Canyon, where I would close the loop portion of my hike in a few days.
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Since I knew I was skipping Bodie Canyon and wasn't sure of water availability on the Cedar Mesa plateau, instead of immediately taking the higher Allen traverse above Dark Canyon I stayed closer to the water for as long as possible. There were many opportunities for fossil viewing, and walking was reasonably easy with a combo of ledges and use trails.

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In an alcove I encountered a desert big horn skeleton with and ear tag and tracker collar. I hauled out the tag and collar to return to DWR. I later realized the leather collar was soaked with (dried) big cat urine, the smell of which I was fortunately able to wash off of my pack.

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Before reaching the CO River I filled up with water and found a ramp system that would allow me to join the higher Allen traverse. There was a bit of talus side-hilling, which gave way to a broad, flat ledge. I camped just before the side canyon that contains the crux crawl.
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In the morning I set out for the crawl. I headed the canyon and got to what I thought was the ledge crawl. There was a rap/belay anchor. I traversed out as far as possible on the small footholds on the white band then realized I would have to get inside the horizontal crack. I had a thin pull cord with me, but was worried that I wouldn't be able to extract my pack if I wedged it in the horizontal crack. So I pulled out everything unbreakable and tossed the items to the sloping ledge that marked the end of the traverse. Then I wedged my pack in the crack, wrapped the pull cord around my waist, and laid down in the horizontal crack, scooting my way for the 15+ feet to reach the sloping ledge. The ledge was small and sloping, so I had to armbar with my left arm and use my feet to push myself forward. After getting my pack across, I looked over to find the Allen ledge around the corner ~35 feet lower that the route I took. :)

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After the crawl I rounded the prow that marks the entrance to Midway Canyon. The route ascends a ramp system, which is somewhat hidden from below but it's the only break in otherwise sheer canyon walls. For future reference the ramp system was across from a small tower, which vaguely resembles Sam the Eagle from the Muppets. The brushy ledge system took me to the Cedar Mesa plateau. Some potholes contained water and I luckily had a hacked gold coffee filter prefilter to screen out the algae.


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As I reached the plateau, I could see the storm clouds building. I walked toward the head of Midway Canyon, but instead of crossing it to reach Bodie Canyon, I left the Allen route to intersect the faint 4WD road that leads to the old land strip and the head of Lean-To Canyon. The weather fluctuated between sunny and rain/hail and back. I trudged along the clay-laden road, stopping for shelter only when the hail started. I camped under some junipers near the old landing strip.
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In the morning I dropped into Lean-To. There was a fun series of downclimbing and routefinding problems to circumvent pour-offs. Then there was a not so fun section of bushwhacking.
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The canyon opened up again for easy walking along beautiful slickrock ledges.
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I kept an eye out for the trail that bypasses the huge pour-off. The bypass trail was spectacular, precipitously skirting the cliffs that guard the canyon bottom for miles. I don't know what the Youngs Canyon exit option is like, but I can't imagine it being better than this.
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The trail eventually became less precipitous and gradually made its way back to the junction of Dark Canyon. I knew I had a big climb ahead of me, so I grabbed a snack and refreshed my water. The climb up the talus slope went faster than I expected, and with the steep part out of way I knew it was just dirt road walking back to the trailhead. I got back to my car in time to drive most of the way home.
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canadug

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Nov 26, 2015
Messages
54
Great TR and great pics. We were planning on going in there a month ago but the world changed. Hopefully this Fall or next Spring we will all be able to get out.

Thanks for the great TRs
 

Bob

Trailmaster
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Mar 3, 2013
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2,413
Nice.... Brings back memories. Bodie canyon had a lot of beat stuff though... I'd save it for itself.
 

SteveR

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Sep 22, 2016
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I like how you show the two ledge routes. I'll take Allen's, please.
Desert TR's are killing' me, as we were going to be headed that way right about now.
But keep them coming...inspiration for the fall trip.
 

John Morrow

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May 22, 2015
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Wonderful trip and report. Thank you for the specifics on the crux "crawl". If I get there some day hopefully it will seem consistent with typical conservative Allen ratings. Impressive solo effort, not surprised!
John
 

John Morrow

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May 22, 2015
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491
Based on the the first and third pics above, looks like the talus fan is the access onto Allen's traverse? Would that then lead to the wider gray ledge lower than you in pic 2? It's is great to get some visuals on his description. Maybe pic 2 is showing his crawl in that tight groove separating the buldging red from the gray? Well, except, then what????
 
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RyanP

Formerly bob32
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Mar 1, 2015
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Very nice! So which did you like better, this loop or the Stevens/Fold loop?
 

fossana

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Jan 11, 2018
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Based on the the first and third pics above, looks like the talus fan is the access onto Allen's traverse? Would that then lead to the wider gray ledge lower than you in pic 2? It's is great to get some visuals on his description. Maybe pic 2 is showing his crawl in that tight groove separating the buldging red from the gray? Well, except, then what????
To access the traverse you end up going pretty much as high as possible on the ledge systems. In the picture with the crux label the Allen traverse is the wider horizontal crack just to the right of the bottom of that blobby white rock. My variation was less exposed and a shorter crawl, but more awkward. If you wanted to, you could skip both of those options and use the rap anchor for a short rap that puts you at the end of the Allen traverse.
 

fossana

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Jan 11, 2018
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Very nice! So which did you like better, this loop or the Stevens/Fold loop?
Both had their positive attributes. I think I like Stevens/Fold a little better since it's more remote (no road walking), not that I saw anyone the whole time. There were 3 other cars at the trailhead, and one pair from CO a day ahead of me said they were also doing the Allen route but exiting Youngs.
 

fossana

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Jan 11, 2018
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442
Update:

A DWR wildlife biologist just called to say thanks for returning the GPS collar, and told me about the big horn I found. She was a young female that unfortunately had contracted a number of infectious diseases, including
Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae.
 
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Born to Hike

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Jan 14, 2017
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Nice report! You would make a good dessert trail (or no trail) guide for the not so faint of heart..
Having to toss/separate your gear just to get from point A to B made for some tedious moments I'm sure.
As previously stated the written comments on some of your pics were very helpful to clarify - especially regarding Sam the Eagle!
 

TrailScot

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Dec 2, 2019
Messages
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Hi Fossana,

This looks like a great trip ... I really enjoyed reading your report.

How was the road to the Sundance TH ?

I've heard the last mile or so is pretty rough, but would you say the main section from the highway is accessible in a standard rental car ?

All the best.
 

fossana

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Jan 11, 2018
Messages
442
How was the road to the Sundance TH ?

I've heard the last mile or so is pretty rough, but would you say the main section from the highway is accessible in a standard rental car ?
Thanks btw. The kiosk and trail register are at the upper trailhead, which is where most people park. You would likely need high-clearance 4WD for the next mile or so to reach the lower trailhead (not continuously technical, but rough in spots). It wouldn't really shave that much time off to park at the lower, plus it's a scenic walk.
 

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