Backpacking Hole In the Rock Trail

WasatchWill

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Alright, I'm now contemplating a backpacking trip along the Hole in the Rock Trail. I don't know if it's ever been done that way. Seems like everyone else has used horses and wagons while others have since hiked smaller sections and/or used high clearance 4WD and ATVs. Yes, there'd be some long stretches of road side hiking, but I'm thinking I'd like to hike it from Dance Hall Rock (where the real journey began for the pioneers) all the way out to Bluff, and keep as faithful to the original trail/route as possible. And hey, there's even an opportunity to throw in some packrafting! The total distance for the route should be in the ball park of 120 miles. I know this would be rather ambitious to try and do in 9 days and with a few different days of about 20 miles each, this is certainly the kind of trip where an ultralight gear set and mindset would be advisable.

I wouldn't be able to pull this off until next year at the soonest, but I thought it'd be good to throw out the idea now and start collecting any beta I can now from any of you who are already familiar with any sections.

Some questions I have to start off with:

1. PACKRAFTING: How feasible would packrafting across Lake Powell, from the actual Hole in the Rock across to Cottonwood be? How much time could be expected having to paddle a distance of 2-3 miles across flat water like that? Any kind of current coming through there that could pull a packraft off course? Anybody have experience with a Klymit LiteWater Dingy? Even if I could afford an Alpalcka, I'm sure I'd much rather have the lighter weight LWD in my pack, or maybe an Alpalcka Ghost?

2. WATER: Are there any other good water sources besides the springs, streams, and potholes/washes I've scoured google satellite and marked up on the map below? Are any of the ones I have marked less reliable? How is Green Water Spring or Irish Water Spring near the Castle ruins? What about Red House Spring or Collins Spring off either side of Highway 276 coming out of Clay Hills? Would Spring be a better season than Fall for increased potential water sources such snowmelt running off from higher elevations? I already expect I'll have to carry a full day's worth of water between camps for many of the days.

3. HAZARDS: Any other hazards to be aware of besides the usual flashfloods, weather, and such? I'm thinking this is a route I'd only want to attempt when I have a 7-10 day forecast of fair to good weather forecasted for the area. It should go without saying that I'd want to do this in Spring or Fall when temperatures should be more ideal.

Based on the route I've laid out below, the itinerary would look something like this:

Pre-Hike: Camp near Dance Hall Rock
Day 1: Dance Hall Rock to Hole-In-the-Rock Spring, ~15 miles
Day 2: HIR Spring to Cottonwood Canyon, ~8.5 (including packraft across Powell)
Day 3: Cottonwood Canyon to Lake Canyon, ~20 miles
Day 4: Lake Canyon to Castle Creek/Green Water Spring, ~16 miles
Day 5: Castle Creek/Green Water Spring to Dripping Canyon, ~19 miles
Day 6: Dripping Canyon to Kane Gulch, ~18 miles
Day 7: Kane Gulch to Snow Flat (The Twist), ~17 miles
Day 8: Snow Flat (The Twist) to Butler Wash, ~20 miles
Day 9 : Butler Wash to Bluff, ~6 miles
Post-hike: Lunch in Bluff, stay a night and/or get picked up and go home.

Map:
Click here to view on CalTopo
 

Nick

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1. PACKRAFTING: How feasible would packrafting across Lake Powell, from the actual Hole in the Rock across to Cottonwood be? How much time could be expected having to paddle a distance of 2-3 miles across flat water like that? Any kind of current coming through there that could pull a packraft off course? Anybody have experience with a Klymit LiteWater Dingy? Even if I could afford an Alpalcka, I'm sure I'd much rather have the lighter weight LWD in my pack, or maybe an Alpalcka Ghost?

You won't have any current at all, the threats would be wind and motorboat wake (depending on when you go). You should be able to paddle across pretty quick. At current low water levels, you'd really only be paddling a bit over a mile. I'm sure you'd be well under an hour. For how short it is, I would do the most lightweight, flimsy thing I could find. The Klymit dingy would probably be great. It would suck to carry an extra 5-10 pounds for just 1 mile of water on a hike like that. If you could float your backpack and have a PFD, it would pretty much just be swimmable! Or if you go when boats are out there, you could probably thumb a ride pretty easy. Lots of boats pull in there to see Hole-in-the-Rock and most would probably be happy to give you a lift across the channel. Definitely some risk in how long you'll wait for that though.

Another option, If it all comes together and timing worked out, I'd be happy to coordinate and give you a lift across the lake in my pontoon if that wouldn't ruin the experience for you. Imagine what it would be like if the dam weren't there and you tried to recreate the trek. Show up on the shore of the Colorado and get across on your own. Wild!

@Jammer might have some intel on the springs you're inquiring about.
 

Dave

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A mile swim in open water, pushing a pack, unassisted even with a PFD sounds like a bad idea to me. Honestly, I think Nick's advice about getting a boat shuttle is pretty sound. Even with a light inflatable, you're still going to need a paddle and PFD.
 
Last edited:

Nick

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Dave is right, it is a terrible idea, no doubt about it. But personally, between that and packing 5+ otherwise useless pounds for many, many miles, it would at least be something I'd consider.
 

Dave

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Dave is right, it is a terrible idea, no doubt about it. But personally, between that and packing 5+ otherwise useless pounds for many, many miles, it would at least be something I'd consider.

How about cache/retrieve with the packraft? Drop it at the very end of the HitR Road before starting out, then stash it on the far side to retrieve afterward?
 

Nick

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You'd probably want to walk it up to at least Lake Canyon on the way out simply due to the difficulty of getting back out to pickup the cache.

Or hide it somewhere and let a friend with a boat pick it up at a more convenient time.
 

WasatchWill

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@Nick and @ashergrey, great advice and suggestions for the Powell crossing. Coordinating a ferry from you, Nick, or anyone else I know that could possibly be down there at the same time might be very tempting...and probably preferable for my wife's peace of mind. I don't think I'd have the patience to try and hitchhike a ride across, but depending on the season and such, I suppose that could still be an option. That said, packrafting it myself would still add a bit more to the whole experience of the journey. If only about a mile across with the lower water levels, that really wouldn't be too bad at all. I think I'd be OK dealing with the wake of a motor boat speeding by, it's the thought of actually being in their path and not being seen that could worry me. Of course, I suppose the chance of being whacked by a boat would be as likely as getting struck by lightning, so I shouldn't worry too much there. If I got myself an LWD, those things are bright orange to make it very visible too.

I certainly don't think caching it for pick up right on the other side would be worth the effort it would take to return for it, or even at Lake Canyon. Instead, I'm thinking it would be smart to set up a food resupply cache somewhere along Castle Creek and would then probably lean on exchanging the packraft set up there for a later pickup, just a day further along than Lake Canyon. Since the LWD comes in at just under 2 lbs, some lightweight paddles at 1-2 lbs, and a PFD at 1 lb that can be strapped around the outside of my pack, that would give me 4-5 lbs of extra gear to pack. To offset that weight, I'd probably go with my 1 lb tarp for shelter, my 2 lb 40 degree bag paired with a SOL Escape Bivvy for added warmth (can't afford a down bag yet), and my 10 oz Klymit X Frame paired with my ~1 oz car shade for added insulation from the ground, and my tyvek ground sheet. That would keep me around just 4lbs for my entire sleep system rather than the 7-8 lbs I'm used to taking on most trips. Having a food cache halfway along Castle Creek would also cut down half the food weight I'd have to carry if I were to otherwise try to take a whole 10 days worth of food.

Again, it's likely that I wouldn't be ready to press forward with such a trip for another year or two, so this gives me some good time to keep thinking and researching. Some of these decisions may also be affected by whether I end up doing it solo or having anyone else ambitious enough to join along.
 

DAA

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In the spring time there is usually a lot of pothole water to be found along the slick rock sections of the 4x4 trail from the lake to the highway.

I would not take the lake canyon route though. Unless there is a much easier way across than where the road used to cross. There may be? The old 4x4 route isn't passable though, not without wings. Without knowing of a sure way across Lake Canyon ahead of time, I think I'd take the new 4x4 route out though.

- DAA
 

WasatchWill

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I don't think Collins Spring is reliable...

Thanks Larry. Maybe I'll just stick to the road instead of thinking about heading cross country down to Collin Spring and up the dirt road from there as I was considering if there was good water down there. Going by satellite imagery, it does look like there's lot of water holes throughout Dripping Canyon and a tributary just west of it that may be reliable. Other wise, I'll just have to set a water cache down in that area that I would plan to camp.

In the spring time there is usually a lot of pothole water to be found along the slick rock sections of the 4x4 trail from the lake to the highway.

I would not take the lake canyon route though. Unless there is a much easier way across than where the road used to cross. There may be? The old 4x4 route isn't passable though, not without wings. Without knowing of a sure way across Lake Canyon ahead of time, I think I'd take the new 4x4 route out though.

- DAA

Good to know, @DAA. I did see another 4x4 report somewhere that showed some pics of the original crossing at Lake Canyon being all washed out (north side?), so I've taken that into consideration and rerouted an alternate, to either take the original trail up to the crossing and then come back up stream to the newer 4x4 crossing, or just take the 4x4 route all the way across Lake Canyon and camp down there. Looks like there are a few springs around that crossing too. I'd hope that at least one is good, but as you say, if there are pot holes along the way, it may not matter as much.

Then again, what I've marked out as an alternate to follow what I think the newer 4x4 route may be the old one? Going by the USGS Topo, I'm assuming the old 4x4 route followed what is marked as the Emmigration Pack Trail (which I also assume to be the original HIR pioneer route). And I'm assuming the newer 4x4 route is what is actually labeled as a 4x4 road crossing Lake Canyon a mile or two further southeast and upstream. Or is this actually the old 4x4 route and does the new one actually bypass Lake Canyon all together by going further southeast?

Feb 15, 2016 12-45-55.png


Is this the new 4x4 crossing or is this actually the old? If it's the old, what makes it impassable for a hiker? Going by topo and satellite, it looks to be rather mellow through here.
Feb 15, 2016 01-03-45.png


I also marked what looks like a good spot to possibly camp down near the crossing, if this is where the new 4x4 route crosses? Again, this looks pretty mellow, but is there a spot here where it's actually more deceiving than it looks and thus making it an unsafe crossing now?
Feb 15, 2016 01-08-17.png
 

Jammer

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Looks like an exciting trip. Unfortunately I can't help you with detail on any of those water sources. I contemplated a similar trek many years ago, but ditched the plan because a) I was worried about getting across the lack (via hitching) and b) the unknown water sources.

I'm curious... why not drive farther down HITR Road and start closer to the end?
 

WasatchWill

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I'm curious... why not drive farther down HITR Road and start closer to the end?

I was thinking it would be a truer or more complete trek of the trail if starting from Dance Hall. That, and it'd give me an extra bag night or two. ;)
But if I couldn't manage that many days for whatever reason, starting closer at the end of the road is always an option.
 

Blake Merrell

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Alright, I'm now contemplating a backpacking trip along the Hole in the Rock Trail. I don't know if it's ever been done that way. Seems like everyone else has used horses and wagons while others have since hiked smaller sections and/or used high clearance 4WD and ATVs. Yes, there'd be some long stretches of road side hiking, but I'm thinking I'd like to hike it from Dance Hall Rock (where the real journey began for the pioneers) all the way out to Bluff, and keep as faithful to the original trail/route as possible. And hey, there's even an opportunity to throw in some packrafting! The total distance for the route should be in the ball park of 120 miles. I know this would be rather ambitious to try and do in 9 days and with a few different days of about 20 miles each, this is certainly the kind of trip where an ultralight gear set and mindset would be advisable.

I wouldn't be able to pull this off until next year at the soonest, but I thought it'd be good to throw out the idea now and start collecting any beta I can now from any of you who are already familiar with any sections.

Some questions I have to start off with:

1. PACKRAFTING: How feasible would packrafting across Lake Powell, from the actual Hole in the Rock across to Cottonwood be? How much time could be expected having to paddle a distance of 2-3 miles across flat water like that? Any kind of current coming through there that could pull a packraft off course? Anybody have experience with a Klymit LiteWater Dingy? Even if I could afford an Alpalcka, I'm sure I'd much rather have the lighter weight LWD in my pack, or maybe an Alpalcka Ghost?

2. WATER: Are there any other good water sources besides the springs, streams, and potholes/washes I've scoured google satellite and marked up on the map below? Are any of the ones I have marked less reliable? How is Green Water Spring or Irish Water Spring near the Castle ruins? What about Red House Spring or Collins Spring off either side of Highway 276 coming out of Clay Hills? Would Spring be a better season than Fall for increased potential water sources such snowmelt running off from higher elevations? I already expect I'll have to carry a full day's worth of water between camps for many of the days.

3. HAZARDS: Any other hazards to be aware of besides the usual flashfloods, weather, and such? I'm thinking this is a route I'd only want to attempt when I have a 7-10 day forecast of fair to good weather forecasted for the area. It should go without saying that I'd want to do this in Spring or Fall when temperatures should be more ideal.

Based on the route I've laid out below, the itinerary would look something like this:

Pre-Hike: Camp near Dance Hall Rock
Day 1: Dance Hall Rock to Hole-In-the-Rock Spring, ~15 miles
Day 2: HIR Spring to Cottonwood Canyon, ~8.5 (including packraft across Powell)
Day 3: Cottonwood Canyon to Lake Canyon, ~20 miles
Day 4: Lake Canyon to Castle Creek/Green Water Spring, ~16 miles
Day 5: Castle Creek/Green Water Spring to Dripping Canyon, ~19 miles
Day 6: Dripping Canyon to Kane Gulch, ~18 miles
Day 7: Kane Gulch to Snow Flat (The Twist), ~17 miles
Day 8: Snow Flat (The Twist) to Butler Wash, ~20 miles
Day 9 : Butler Wash to Bluff, ~6 miles
Post-hike: Lunch in Bluff, stay a night and/or get picked up and go home.

Map:
Click here to view on CalTopo


What a crazy cool trip! I would love to do this some day. One of my great grandpas did this trial THE FIRST TIME :) I'd like to do it with a backpack. I would be cool to re-read the book The Undanunted while on the trip.
 

WasatchWill

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Alright @DAA, after stumbling into a report and pics by @IntrepidXJ on his blog of a trip down there years ago, I think I've found the big washout, just west of what I was looking at further above. Thanks again for point that out! I had the actual old Lake Canyon crossing mistaken for what is actually the East Fork crossing.

Here's what appears to be the actual washout.
Feb 17, 2016 05-55-04.png


With that now known, I'm looking at what may be a potential hiker crossing with a couple ways out that may be possible a little further north and downstream. Maybe @IntrepidXJ can chime in about how the slickrock and terrain of what I have routed over just below could be for a hiker? Looks like he had some pics of when he was at the washout a few years ago looking downstream.

Feb 17, 2016 06-27-07.png


So, what I'd really like to know is if getting across Lake Canyon and over to East Fork is doable along the orange route I have above. The thinner path might be an alternate way to get up and out and is looks like there's a big sand dune that can be taken right up and out from the canyon. The yellow paths mark possible ways to go on to Castle Creek, the solid yellow following an obvious road and the dotted yellow lines heading back up toward a route marked as the actual "Emigrant Trail" on the USGS topo.
 

WasatchWill

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What a crazy cool trip! I would love to do this some day. One of my great grandpas did this trial THE FIRST TIME :) I'd like to do it with a backpack. I would be cool to re-read the book The Undanunted while on the trip.

Pretty neat you have an ancestor that made that original trek. You're welcome to join if we can find dates that work for both of us. My wife would sure feel better it if I wasn't alone in venturing out on something like this. I wouldn't want to pack that book though, unless you're packing it on a Kindle app or something like that. That book is huge!

I own a copy of A Guide to Southern Utah's Hole in the Rock Trail and just checked out David E. Miller's Hole in the Rock from the library today and that looks to be full of good history and information. I've read Undaunted a couple years back and I'd by lying if I said that hasn't played a bit of a role in formulating my desires to learn more about and backpack the route.
 

IntrepidXJ

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Alright @DAA, after stumbling into a report and pics by @IntrepidXJ on his blog of a trip down there years ago, I think I've found the big washout, just west of what I was looking at further above. Maybe @IntrepidXJ can chime in about how the slickrock and terrain of what I have routed over just below could be for a hiker? Looks like he had some pics of when he was at the washout a few years ago looking downstream.

@DAA was with me on that same trip. My memory is a little rusty of that one, and I'm sure that Dave's recollection is better than mine.
 

Blake Merrell

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Pretty neat you have an ancestor that made that original trek. You're welcome to join if we can find dates that work for both of us. My wife would sure feel better it if I wasn't alone in venturing out on something like this. I wouldn't want to pack that book though, unless you're packing it on a Kindle app or something like that. That book is huge!

I own a copy of A Guide to Southern Utah's Hole in the Rock Trail and just checked out David E. Miller's Hole in the Rock from the library today and that looks to be full of good history and information. I've read Undaunted a couple years back and I'd by lying if I said that hasn't played a bit of a role in formulating my desires to learn more about and backpack the route.

The Undaunted was a great read. It would be wonderful to see that place for myself. I have been to the Hold in the rock both from the top and the bottom, but I have yet to see the rest of the trail. I would love to join up with you if schedules allow. You planning on doing it this year?
 

WasatchWill

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The Undaunted was a great read. It would be wonderful to see that place for myself. I have been to the Hold in the rock both from the top and the bottom, but I have yet to see the rest of the trail. I would love to join up with you if schedules allow. You planning on doing it this year?

I might be able to pull it off this fall. I'll message you.
 

DAA

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@DAA was with me on that same trip. My memory is a little rusty of that one, and I'm sure that Dave's recollection is better than mine.

My memory is just a memory... Advanced CRS case. Can't remember chit.

We didn't get any further downstream than the washout, so can't say anything about that. There wasn't any way to get up and out of the canyon on foot in the vicinity of the washout though. We drove up to the edge from both directions and did do a little bit of walking around and would have walked from point to point rather than drive a few hours on an out and back just to get a few hundred yards if we could have.

A screen shot with GPS tracks of the 4x4 routes. The gap in the track at Graffiti camp is where the washout is on the old 4x4 route. The track heading SE at the intersection is the new 4x4 route which bypasses Lake Canyon entirely.




- DAA
 
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