Cross Canyon and Y Canyon via The Grabens

Cody

Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2012
Messages
100
On a river trip through Cataract Canyon last fall, two side canyons converging from the Needles side of the river caught my eye eight or so miles below the confluence. I thought of these for a possible loop hike back into Cataract. I put it at the top of my list for spring trips and gave it a go last weekend.

A picture from last fall's raft trip. Cross Canyon on the right, Y canyon on the left.
P9240177.JPG


Cross Canyon and Y Canyon meet in Cataract Canyon after slicing through across the southern tips of the The Grabens on the south end of the Needles District of Canyonlands. On the image below you can see Cross Canyon and Y canyon in the bottom left, and The Grabens in the center of the image.

XY.png


Grabens are large parallel trenches formed by collapsed blocks of rock along faults. Separating the grabens are parallel “horsts”—the un-collapsed strips that remain creating sheer cliffs and steep slopes rising hundreds of feet into the air. The NPS has a good description on the formation of grabens and horsts here: http://www.nps.gov/cany/learn/nature/grabens.htm

I worked out a route that would weave through a number of grabens to get me to and from Cross and Y Canyons and to the bottom of Cataract Canyon. An afternoon start at Elephant Hill on Saturday got me as far as Cyclone Canyon where I set up camp for the night to rest up for a big day Sunday—hopefully getting into Cross Canyon and most of the way down to the bottom to Cataract.

Great Needles scenery starting out:
P3210344.JPG

20150321_191748-PANO.jpg


Cyclone Canyon. This photo is from the return trip, but I spent Saturday night right here.
20150323_184829.jpg

Using all of Sunday's available daylight and some twilight too, I worked my way to the southern end of Cyclone Canyon, across Butler Wash, down the length of both Aztec Canyon and Deep Canyon and into one of the upper forks of Cross Canyon all the way to within a mile of the Colorado River for night two.

Looking up Butler Wash to the saddle where I will climb over into Aztec Canyon.
20150322_093954 (2).jpg


Aztec Canyon, Deep Canyon and beyond.
20150323_125813.jpg

P3220363.JPG
20150323_140118.jpg
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20150322_112336.jpg


Starting down into Cross Canyon...
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From studying satellite images, I was aware of at least one large dryfall in Cross Canyon that would require bypass, and I knew there could be other possibly impassable obstacles. I strongly considered the possibility that I would not find a passable route down Cross and would have to backtrack with no water sources along the way. That meant carrying a lot of water. I carried 7 Liters of water in case of needing to backtrack or re-route prior to reaching the Colorado River. Heavy.

Fortunately, I found reasonable bypasses around each obstacle in the canyon Sunday, including the big dryfall (turned out to be a 150’ drop) and a number of smaller dryfalls. I made it easily into Cataract Canyon Monday early morning bypassing a section of limestone narrows headed by a dryfall. Lots of interesting marine fossils in the canyon. Towards the bottom of Cross, the fossils were all red in color and stood out nicely against the rock.

P3220374.JPG P3220376.JPG P3220407.JPG P3220415.JPG P3220416.JPG P3220422.JPG P3230445.JPG

Cataract--Monday morning.

Looking upriver at Rapid 9
20150323_082522.jpg


Looking downriver at Rapid 10
P3230442.JPG


Once in Cataract, I went to work replenishing my water from the river. I settled the water in a collapsible 10L bucket using an Alum concentrate to flocculate sediment and then treated with AquaMira. I got some nice clear water out of the process; tasted great too. Between getting water, cooking breakfast, and soaking in the phenomenal scenery of Cataract Canyon, I spent about two hours in that spot—directly across the river from where I ate lunch six months ago on a raft trip.
P3230437.JPG P3230440.JPG

Next leg of the journey was to find a way up Y Canyon. Only one big dryfall required bypass in Y canyon, but there was lots of boulder jumble on the canyon bottom, much like Cross Canyon had--especially in the lower sections. I was able to climb out of the north fork of the canyon as I had planned. I had a few backup routes in mind that might have gone through as well. As a last resort, I would have reversed Cross Canyon (adding an extra day to the trip) if I couldn’t find a reasonable exit from Y Canyon.

Looking back down the north fork of Y Canyon after climbing out.
20150323_124936.jpg


Once I got back up into The Grabens, I weaved back through a graben and up over a low side of a horst into the top end Red Canyon and followed the length of Red Canyon to where the Red Lake Canyon Trail comes in and then and walked back out to Elephant Hill.

20150323_185901.jpg
20150323_191858.jpg

The route ended up at 38 miles total with all but a dozen of them way off the beaten path. I passed a French hiker in Aztec Canyon early Sunday and his footprints were the last I saw until I got to the bottom of Cross Canyon, where river runners had explored up a short distance recently. Significant stretches of sand slogging through the bottoms of the grabens made me work for each mile but it was It was three days of stunning scenery and solitude.

Featured image for home page:
slide.jpg
 

Jammer

❤2Hike
.
Joined
Feb 23, 2012
Messages
641
Awesome trip! Thanks for posting.

On my last big hike I was going to try and come up Y Canyon and hope to find a way out before heading on to Moab. I never found any confirmation in my pre-trip research that the route definitely would go through to the grabens though I thought it looked feasible. With that little bit of doubt (and very little time to spare for exploration) I decided to just take the sure bet and go up Lower Red Lake Cyn. BUT... now that I know it can be done I look forward to checking it out some day. Thx!

- Jamal
 

Cody

Member
Joined
Mar 4, 2012
Messages
100
Awesome trip! Thanks for posting.

On my last big hike I was going to try and come up Y Canyon and hope to find a way out before heading on to Moab. I never found any confirmation in my pre-trip research that the route definitely would go through to the grabens though I thought it looked feasible. With that little bit of doubt (and very little time to spare for exploration) I decided to just take the sure bet and go up Lower Red Lake Cyn. BUT... now that I know it can be done I look forward to checking it out some day. Thx!

- Jamal
I did some research too and came up with nothing. There are reasonable bypasses up and down both X and Y, but for a couple of them it took some searching. Y is certainly the easier of the two.
 
Joined
Feb 10, 2013
Messages
122
On a river trip through Cataract Canyon last fall, two side canyons converging from the Needles side of the river caught my eye eight or so miles below the confluence. I thought of these for a possible loop hike back into Cataract. I put it at the top of my list for spring trips and gave it a go last weekend.

A picture from last fall's raft trip. Cross Canyon on the right, Y canyon on the left.
View attachment 28350

Cross Canyon and Y Canyon meet in Cataract Canyon after slicing through across the southern tips of the The Grabens on the south end of the Needles District of Canyonlands. On the image below you can see Cross Canyon and Y canyon in the bottom left, and The Grabens in the center of the image.

View attachment 28351

Grabens are large parallel trenches formed by collapsed blocks of rock along faults. Separating the grabens are parallel “horsts”—the un-collapsed strips that remain creating sheer cliffs and steep slopes rising hundreds of feet into the air. The NPS has a good description on the formation of grabens and horsts here: http://www.nps.gov/cany/learn/nature/grabens.htm

I worked out a route that would weave through a number of grabens to get me to and from Cross and Y Canyons and to the bottom of Cataract Canyon. An afternoon start at Elephant Hill on Saturday got me as far as Cyclone Canyon where I set up camp for the night to rest up for a big day Sunday—hopefully getting into Cross Canyon and most of the way down to the bottom to Cataract.

Great Needles scenery starting out:
View attachment 28336
View attachment 28324

Cyclone Canyon. This photo is from the return trip, but I spent Saturday night right here.
View attachment 28333
Using all of Sunday's available daylight and some twilight too, I worked my way to the southern end of Cyclone Canyon, across Butler Wash, down the length of both Aztec Canyon and Deep Canyon and into one of the upper forks of Cross Canyon all the way to within a mile of the Colorado River for night two.

Looking up Butler Wash to the saddle where I will climb over into Aztec Canyon.
View attachment 28325

Aztec Canyon, Deep Canyon and beyond.
View attachment 28329
View attachment 28337 View attachment 28330 View attachment 28331
View attachment 28326

Starting down into Cross Canyon...
View attachment 28340

From studying satellite images, I was aware of at least one large dryfall in Cross Canyon that would require bypass, and I knew there could be other possibly impassable obstacles. I strongly considered the possibility that I would not find a passable route down Cross and would have to backtrack with no water sources along the way. That meant carrying a lot of water. I carried 7 Liters of water in case of needing to backtrack or re-route prior to reaching the Colorado River. Heavy.

Fortunately, I found reasonable bypasses around each obstacle in the canyon Sunday, including the big dryfall (turned out to be a 150’ drop) and a number of smaller dryfalls. I made it easily into Cataract Canyon Monday early morning bypassing a section of limestone narrows headed by a dryfall. Lots of interesting marine fossils in the canyon. Towards the bottom of Cross, the fossils were all red in color and stood out nicely against the rock.

View attachment 28338 View attachment 28339 View attachment 28341 View attachment 28342 View attachment 28343 View attachment 28344 View attachment 28348

Cataract--Monday morning.

Looking upriver at Rapid 9
View attachment 28327

Looking downriver at Rapid 10
View attachment 28347

Once in Cataract, I went to work replenishing my water from the river. I settled the water in a collapsible 10L bucket using an Alum concentrate to flocculate sediment and then treated with AquaMira. I got some nice clear water out of the process; tasted great too. Between getting water, cooking breakfast, and soaking in the phenomenal scenery of Cataract Canyon, I spent about two hours in that spot—directly across the river from where I ate lunch six months ago on a raft trip.
View attachment 28345 View attachment 28346

Next leg of the journey was to find a way up Y Canyon. Only one big dryfall required bypass in Y canyon, but there was lots of boulder jumble on the canyon bottom, much like Cross Canyon had--especially in the lower sections. I was able to climb out of the north fork of the canyon as I had planned. I had a few backup routes in mind that might have gone through as well. As a last resort, I would have reversed Cross Canyon (adding an extra day to the trip) if I couldn’t find a reasonable exit from Y Canyon.

Looking back down the north fork of Y Canyon after climbing out.
View attachment 28328

Once I got back up into The Grabens, I weaved back through a graben and up over a low side of a horst into the top end Red Canyon and followed the length of Red Canyon to where the Red Lake Canyon Trail comes in and then and walked back out to Elephant Hill.

View attachment 28334 View attachment 28335
The route ended up at 38 miles total with all but a dozen of them way off the beaten path. I passed a French hiker in Aztec Canyon early Sunday and his footprints were the last I saw until I got to the bottom of Cross Canyon, where river runners had explored up a short distance recently. Significant stretches of sand slogging through the bottoms of the grabens made me work for each mile but it was It was three days of stunning scenery and solitude.

Featured image for home page:
View attachment 28375
Great trip. Stunning area. We're making our first trip out to Canyonlands this Spring. Your pictures make make me impatient to get out there.
 

Vegan.Hiker

Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2014
Messages
2,090
Great read. Sounds like it was an epic adventure. I especially love the last picture in the report of the red rock against the blue sky.
 

kayakdave

New Member
Joined
Dec 4, 2017
Messages
3
Awesome!! which would rate as an easier climb out of Cataract, Cross or Y? I am thinking of a packrafting trip where I would float down the river below Spanish Bottom (walking around all the bigger rapids) and then exit via Cross or Y. What do you think?
 
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