- Jan 11, 2018
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)
Trip Report & Photos
From the upper Sundance trailhead parking area, I headed into Dark Canyon down the infamous Sundance talus slope.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The canyon opened up again for easy walking along beautiful slickrock ledges.
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.
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.