GSENM Take II

swmalone

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Apr 27, 2016
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378
My wife and I attempted to visit the GSENM area in March of 2019 and were pretty much skunked with the amount of precipitation that they were receiving. That muddy trip can be found here: GSENM March 2019

March 8

This year we headed down in March again, but what a difference a couple of years can make. He headed down on March 8th at a chipper 5 a.m. We arrived at the Interagency Visitor Center at around 11 a.m. I knew that they weren't open but we picked up a camping permit and I had really hoped that at least the restrooms would be open since they were exterior to the main building, but no luck.

After filling up on gas and taking care of some other business we headed down HITRR. Instead of mud this time we were treated to dust. We drove to the Upper Dry Fork Trailhead and set off on a trip through the Dry Fork Narrows heading towards Peak-a-Boo and Spooky.

We had the Dry Fork Narrows completely to ourselves until right at the end and they approached Peak-a-Boo. There were a great warm up to exploring the area.

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We arrived at the start of Peak-a-Boo to a bit of a line. A couple of people decided to turn back after attempting to climb in and a group behind us decided to leave after seeing the couple tap out. After waiting a few minutes it was finally our turn to scramble up into Peak-a-Boo.

Immediately upon entering we were greeted by a series of small bridges. I am sure most of you have probably done these canyons, but it was our first time and after reading about them so many times we were really soaking them in.

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We worked our way through Peak-a-Boo trying to leave enough space between the groups in front of us so that everyone could somewhat feel like they had it to themselves. There were no groups immediately behind us, so taking our time wasn't holding anyone up.

We eventually popped out of Peak-A-Boo and headed across to spooky, talking with the groups that had exited ahead of us. When we arrived at Spooky they let us go first and we began our decent. My wife was comparing Spooky to a haunted house and was giggling the entire way through. We eventually arrived at the chockstone jungle area and there was a couple trying to talk a woman through it. We couldn't even see her and she had apparently went over the top rather than dropping down below, which was what the couple guiding her planned to do as well until I told them it was a lot easier to go under and offered them the use of a small rope I had if they needed it. They let us go first, partly because I'm not sure they trusted me. There was a knotted rope there that made the decent much easier, but if you stay on the left side it is a pretty easy down climb.

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We enjoyed the rest of our time in Spooky and upon exiting contemplated heading towards Brimstone but we wanted to find a campsite on Old Sheffield before it got dark. On our way back to the Trailhead we found a woman and couple of kids that were kind of roaming around, and eventually one of the kids asked if we knew how to get back to the trailhead. Apparently they had been wandering around in circles for about 30 minutes not sure of what way to go.

We arrived back at the trailhead and headed to Old Sheffield in search of a campsite. We ended up staying at one recommended by @Titans, it had great overlooks and great views of the stars. The only downside was that with the wind that started picking up the sand went everywhere.

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I tried my hand at some star pictures, but I need to get out and practice, or do some research. They always looks so much better on the camera view screen then when I enlarge them not so much. Any tips would be appreciated.

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March 9th

We woke up and tried to get as much sand as we could off of us as we ate breakfast and got ready for the big day. The sunrise from this site is amazing.

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We drove down Old Sheffield a little ways and prepared to start our Bighorn Loop. I had been reading about the loop, researching it as much as possible, creating routes on gaia as well as on a couple different maps I had with me along with the compass.

The day started off great, a little breezy and a comfortable temperature for hiking in a light jacket. We arrived at the dryfall early in Bighorn and had no difficulty down climbing. My wife in there for scale is 5'5".

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We continued down Bighorn enjoying the colors and the occasional slots. We could have stayed in the canyon except for one area that we had to bypass due to a large keeper pothole and a rappel that looked to be at least 15-20 feet. That was around midway through the Bighorn section. Here are a few pictures of the Bighorn section.

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My wife found this above a short sections of slots I was playing around in. We put it right back where we found it.

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After working our way through Bighorn down toward Harris Wash we had fallen behind schedule, so we skipped the short West Bighorn section of slots and began the trudge down Harris Wash towards Zebra.

Harris had some interesting scenery but the couple of miles to Zebra in the sand was exhausting. This was the least enjoyable portion of this loop and most likely the reason we would not repeat this hike as a loop.

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We eventually arrived at Zebra. When we hiked to Zebra in 2019 there was water flowing out of the mouth of the canyon, this year it was bone dry. We hiked in and this slot is where it became noticeable that I put on some weight in 2020. I tried to stem up so I could get back to the more photogenic sections but I was beginning to get tired and kept slipping so the picture below was the best I was able to get.

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We went up the slab to Zebra's left and started our route back toward Old Sheffield. I wish I had taken a photo of the potholes above Zebra to compare against 2019. There was so much water in 2019 that I had not realized how deep some of the pot holes were until I could see them dry this year. Instead of taking pictures we poured large quantities of sand from our shoes and began the trek back.

The area here stayed mostly above washes and canyons but still had a bit of sand in involved. It was beautiful but we had fallen further behind and my wife was starting to get worried with some dark clouds on the horizon.

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We didn't take as many photos as I would have liked because we were trying to get back as quickly as possible. Here are a few from that section of the hike, including our UFO Moqui Marble.

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We trudged along, getting more tired and noticing the occasional mountain lion scat.

My phone started to get pretty low on battery so I pulled out the battery pack and realized I didn't have the charging cable. We had been using Gaia to help navigate and this forgotten cable along with the dark clouds, wind, being behind schedule and being tired pushed my wife to having to restrain tears. I should note that my wife is used to fairly long hikes and these trips are for both of us. I never feel like I'm dragging her along, so to see her like that made me feel horrible. Luckily I did have the maps and compass and kept reassuring her that we would be fine. Thank you FFA orienteering competitions from 25 years ago.

We eventually connected with the old road that was mentioned in Steve Allen's notes, although if you follow that guide there is no mesa with a prominent cave, there is a mesa with what appears to be a dark alcove.

Once we reached the old road and taking it to its end and reaching a high point where we could see our truck my wife visibly lightened. We found our way down some cliff bands and hiked back to Old Sheffield road and up to our truck. Overall we had ended up out there for about 7 hours and 40 minutes and had gone 14.5 miles. After a sufficient enough time to forget this hike my wife and I both agreed that we would like to explore the area between Old Sheffield and Zebra a bit more, but as a day hike out and back. Also the same with the West fork of Bighorn, just an out and back from the HITRR side.

We decided to skip cooking and had pizza at Escalante Outfitters, not sure if because we were so tired and hungry or what, but that was some of the best pizza we have ever eaten. We then ended up camping in the same spot again because we were exhausted and didn't want to look for a new one.

March 10th

Upon waking up our plans for this day changed. My wife had a few blisters and one of my big toe nails was completely black. The sand had gotten under the insole and forced by toe up towards the top of the shoe for much of the hike. It had ended up being much worse than I thought. We had planned to hike Upper Calf Creek Falls and head home through Boulder, but instead headed out the other direction and went to Bryce Canyon and checked out the overlooks. We had never been before and after our brief visit I think the family trip we had scheduled for GSENM might be changed to Bryce Canyon.

Here are a few pictures from Bryce

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We stopped in Panguitch for lunch and then headed home. My wife is saying with how the Bighorn Loop went for us that she is saying the score is Escalante 2 Us 0. It might be a couple of years before I can convince her to explore GSENM more, luckily there is lots of other stuff hike.

Also I have no idea why those first few pictures are sideways. They show up with the correct orientation everywhere else. If I can figure out what is going on I will edit this later to make it a little easier on the eyes. Edit - Took at @Titans suggestions and was able to fix the sideway pictures.
 

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Last edited:

wsp_scott

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Your star photo exposure was too long, the stars are starting to trail, so I'm guessing you were in the 20-30 second range. With that length of time, I would have expected more stars, so I would guess you were stopped down vs wide open.

I don't know what camera/lens you have, but as a starting point, try f/2 (or as wide open as your lens will go), 20 seconds and ISO 3200. I think it helps to have something in the foreground vs just stars, especially if it is the winter sky, i.e. no milky way.

Dusk to Dawn (https://www.amazon.com/Dusk-Dawn-Guide-Landscape-Photography/dp/1681983060/) is a good book if you want to go deep into the rabbit hole
 

swmalone

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Apr 27, 2016
Messages
378
Your star photo exposure was too long, the stars are starting to trail, so I'm guessing you were in the 20-30 second range. With that length of time, I would have expected more stars, so I would guess you were stopped down vs wide open.

I don't know what camera/lens you have, but as a starting point, try f/2 (or as wide open as your lens will go), 20 seconds and ISO 3200. I think it helps to have something in the foreground vs just stars, especially if it is the winter sky, i.e. no milky way.

Dusk to Dawn (https://www.amazon.com/Dusk-Dawn-Guide-Landscape-Photography/dp/1681983060/) is a good book if you want to go deep into the rabbit hole

Thank you. I will have to find someplace with as little light pollution as possible and play around a bit more. I may also pick up a copy of the book. I do have to be careful because I have a tendency to go pretty deep down rabbit holes.
 

Titans

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Thanks for sharing! Walking in soft sand is very tiring and it's a long loop. Yes.... those pizzas from Escalante Outfitters are amazing, yummy!

I have the same issue with some vertical photos getting rotated after uploading. Think I end up first opening the photo in "Preview", then save it and upload that to BCP. That works, though there's probably a smarter way.
 

Rockskipper

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Jun 11, 2017
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I will second the recommendation on Randall's Dusk to Dawn. Also, look for anything by Jennifer Wu - she and Randall are probaby the top two resources IMO for night-sky photography.
 

swmalone

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Apr 27, 2016
Messages
378
Thanks for sharing! Walking in soft sand is very tiring and it's a long loop. Yes.... those pizzas from Escalante Outfitters are amazing, yummy!

I have the same issue with some vertical photos getting rotated after uploading. Think I end up first opening the photo in "Preview", then save it and upload that to BCP. That works, though there's probably a smarter way.

That did the trick. It was strange they never showed up rotated anywhere but on BCP.
 

Ugly

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Nice report, hopefully your wife will give the area another chance soon. You saw some excellent areas and the photos are great!
I was in some of those areas the weekend before you and while there are some people down there it is nothing like next week and through May. That's a good time to go if the weather cooperates.
 

swmalone

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Apr 27, 2016
Messages
378
She will definitely give it another chance, it is just that she really started to get worried that we might not make it back before it either rained on us or it got dark. We were prepared with headlights and everything but it was just a long day.

We were scouting this as a family trip with her parents and brother and his family in early May. We had planned to exactly repeat the trip but after sharing with them they have absolutely no interest in doing what we did. I was able to reserve some campsites right outside of Bryce to ensure we would have them. The person I spoke to at Bryce said that the Forest Service is considering closing large portions of their land to camping this summer due to the damage it received last year.

I have to say I'm not looking forward to the crowds but still should be a fun trip. I hope to take some to do Peakaboo and Spooky if they are interested or perhaps Upper Calf Creek Falls since I haven't done that hike yet.
 

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