Druid Arch in Winter

Scott Chandler

Wildness is a necessity- John Muir
Joined
Jan 4, 2014
Messages
1,099
Some things should not be done....

01-13-16

I wake up before my alarm goes off. As I roll over and stare at the clock in the dark I wonder how I've gotten to the point where I usually wake up before my alarms. Oh well, it's fifteen minutes sooner that I will be hitting the trail. Quickly eating breakfast and packing my bag I hit the road for The Needles. My goal, Druid Arch.

I hit the road junction towards The Needles right as the rising sun struck the Abajo Mountains and it entertained me all the way down Indian Creek.
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Reaching the dirt road out to the trailhead I found it snowpacked and pretty nice. Sunlight played off The Needles when they came into view.
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Right as I stopped in the middle of a frozen creek crossing it occurred to me that I probably shouldn't stop on some sections of this road. Luckily 4WD was enough to get me out of the creek and up the frozen hill beyond.
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Two and a half hours after leaving the apartment I hit the trail. Crazy how long it takes to get to The Needles. Climbing out of the canyon I met Needles still in their glory light.
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A thin inversion made photography towards the sun fairly rough but yielded some cool results.
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About 3-4 inches of snow covered the ground as I crossed into Elephant Canyon.
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And from there I headed up the canyon. Walking in the watercourse was easier than following the trail through it's ridiculous meander bypasses. I found a good inch of hoar frost covering most of the snow in the cool canyon.
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For about 3 miles I had the trail of a couple previous hikers to help give me company as I made the trek up the canyon. At the Squaw Canyon trail junction, I left that behind into virgin snow.
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At a point I noticed that the snow had become significantly deeper (6-10 inches) and was clinging to the vegetation better. It was a winter wonderland!
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And then the canyon did something unexpected. I hit a dryfall bowl, covered in ice and snow. From what I could tell, the trail went up this obstacle. I didn't like the idea but gave it a try, until I found the snow was covering more ice and I ended up sliding down the bowl for about twenty feet. Aggravation ensued. I could see the side of the arch! I had to get beyond this! I tried going around on a ledge to see if it reached a weakness to go up.
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The ledge didn't play. I went back down and tried another drainage. It ended in an odd crack climb covered in snow that I didn't want to risk alone. After copious swearing I noticed a joint on the other side of the canyon that played higher than where I was. Maybe? I went and checked in out. While it was choked with brush at the lower end and then choked with rocks higher up, it could have made it. I went for it and after a lot of huffing and puffing and easy climbing, I was above the icefall!! Onward!....

.....Into more snow. Deep snow. The trail was barely visible as a foot wide difference in the surface of the snow. I followed it up, to a ladder. Oh jeez. Up it I went and found a severely sloping rock face, probably fine when dry, but scary with all the snow and ice. I brushed away snow and found a rail, sticking out an inch from the rock. Was there more? I got higher on the ladder and brushed more snow. Nope. Just the piddly rail. What was I supposed to do with this?!?! The rock was actually separated from a wall so I couldn't go higher... Go along the rail? Over the drop I just used a ladder to get up? Hang onto the rail and do...what with my feet? I ended up squatting on the rail and inched along it to where I made a sketchy step to a flat ledge covered in snow. I'm all of this is easy peezy without snow, but it was definitely freaky with it!

Further I went, onto more steep slopes, undoubtedly slickrock, covered in snow and ice. I reached another big bowl filled with snow and topped with a large rockfall. I guess up? Gloves and boots filled with snow as I climbed through the rockfall. Now beginning to be frustrated that my situation had turned so nasty, I turned around and boom; there was the arch!

I pulled my camera out of my pack, quickly took a few picture and left. I was cold, wet and now may have been stretching time a little thin.
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Slipping and sliding through the snow I scared myself multiple times on the way back to the ladder. Things had gotten to the point where I felt I was walking the fine line of a tragedy. If I could make it past the ladder though, I was confident I would be ok.

A freaky step and pivot had me again squatting on the rail. My feet had compacted snow into the gap, leaving me a weightless limbo as I dug it out so I could hold on to anything. Handhold established I lowered a foot... and made contact. A minute later I took a picture from the bottom of the ladder. Whoof!

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I proceeded down into the sun for a quick lunch and warmup.

The joint I had taken to get around the icefall bowl was easier to get down than up and quickly I was trekking back down the canyon.
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Popping out of Elephant Canyon to traverse the rim back to the car, I was in the glory hour again.
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I made it back to the car around 4:30, so I still had a little light to savor on the drive out. I only stopped at one point, to take a picture of lava meeting ice at the creek crossing, but it was a pretty drive out to say the least.
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Some trips remind you of lessons you forget. Recent snowfall can make easy but strenuous hikes pretty rough. Be careful out there folks!
 
Last edited:

IntrepidXJ

ADVENTR
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Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
3,300
I highly recommend carrying microspikes in the winter when there is snow and ice on the ground. They have helped me get through some tricky sections (covered with ice and snow) that would have been too sketchy without them.
 

Scott Chandler

Wildness is a necessity- John Muir
Joined
Jan 4, 2014
Messages
1,099
I highly recommend carrying microspikes in the winter when there is snow and ice on the ground.

Agreed. To this point I've usually done very little in the snow, one or two hikes tops a winter season. Each year I'm reminded how nice traction devices would be to have, and then proceed to not get any. Another lesson this hike reminded me of.
 

Curt

Member
Joined
Feb 1, 2014
Messages
400
I know which dryfall you're talking about too. Can't even imagine trying it with snow and ice. Great pictures!
 

cmgz

Member
Joined
Jul 16, 2014
Messages
100
Beautiful and I know the feeling well of maybe I shouldn't have tried this! The spikes are helpful but sometimes you have clear slickrock alternating with snow. The ladder would really hard with snow!
 

Glasterpiece

Member
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Joined
Mar 19, 2014
Messages
542
I moved to Utah 40 years ago and I've yet to camp in the canyons in December and January. It's great to see places that I only now see in June-September. Thank you for the wonderful TR.
 

cmgz

Member
Joined
Jul 16, 2014
Messages
100
Just spent three nights in the Needles. I car camped and day hiked. Beautiful but cold! I broke trail to within 1 mile of Confluence Overlook then felt it was just too possible to get stuck out in the dark with the slow going. I don't take the dark lightly there. After getting back to the trailhead I probably would have made it in time but who knows. Live to hike another day. Anyways, I thought you'd enjoy this ladder picture.
P1050333.JPG
 

Titans

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Joined
Aug 18, 2018
Messages
1,073
So.... I read this three times now and ended right on the edge of my chair every time. You lived to tell the tale.
Thank you so much for sharing these unbelievable beautiful winter pictures of the Needles and also share the 'lesson learned' experience of hiking into Druid Arch in snow and ice. We always use micro spikes in the winter and I even had to get some beefier ones (Kahtoola) after sliding all over one winter day on a super icy path with (!) spikes. But as @cmgz said sometimes you get stretches of clear slick rock followed by snow/ice.... or it goes from snow/ice right into a soft piece of trail ( heavy mud). We underestimated the Needles the very first time in November and we didn't even have snow/ice.
Awesome trip report, so great to see the winter pictures.
I had similar 'lesson learned' experiences with scuba diving in unpredictable, strong and wicked currents in the Red Sea, Egypt and also in the Indian Ocean, Maldives. "Some things should not be done" - but it's always a great story.
Now- 2 1/2 years later : did you buy those micro spikes ? ;)
 

Scott Chandler

Wildness is a necessity- John Muir
Joined
Jan 4, 2014
Messages
1,099
Now- 2 1/2 years later : did you buy those micro spikes ? ;)

Nope! Lol I haven't had the conditions to consider spikes again. This winter was mellow and the one before that I was in the Sonoran desert a long way from ice.

Glad you enjoyed. My dad and I are thinking of getting back to the arch here in the next couple weeks actually so this has been on my mind lately.
 
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