Hell In The Swell

Discussion in 'Off Road' started by Nick, Jan 28, 2012.

  1. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

    Messages:
    11,752
    Location:
    Utah
    September 2010

    I made it down to the San Rafael Swell this past weekend. I hadn't spent much time there since I was a kid so my plan was to load up Nikita and do a lot of driving around mixed in with a couple of short day hikes.

    Day 1 started from Salt Lake, after stopping in Green River for gas and lunch I headed for Exit 131. From there I cruised around checking out pictographs and some other roadside attractions. After checking out the Swasey cabin I decided to take a drive into Eagle Canyon to see an arch. It was a fun road but probably better suited to 4-wheelers, definitely not a good idea for anything larger than a jeep or a smaller truck like my Tacoma. The Eagle Canyon Arch was awesome, really a surprise. It's a really dramatic, physics-defying kind of arch, it's amazing it's still standing.

    After Eagle Canyon I headed south through some old mines and on down to Hidden Splendor with the hope of meeting up with the some friends from the interwebs. I made it to the airfield where SUWA was camped and looked all over but didn't find them. I decided to go camp on my own that night and maybe find them tomorrow. I ended up camping near the mouth of Quandary Canyon on the recommendation of someone I ran into on that road. It was a decent spot, definitely not a place I would camp usually because of the chance of early morning visitors but still a good spot for the night.

    I stayed up and shot some decent star trails despite the full moon. Around 11pm I decided to go to bed. I got into my tent and hit the pillow and all of the sudden my dog was on alert. I figured she was just freaked out by being in my totally see-through tent with the full moon out. But then I hear voices... I look over towards the ATV trail heading east from my location and see a headlamp. I hop out of bed thinking there must be something going on, who the hell is out hiking through the desert at 11pm? There were no cars anywhere in the vicinity. After a few minutes the people got within about 100 yards so I called out 'Hello there!'.... no response. Then I see them stop and dig around in a bag and keep walking closer. Once they were within about 50 feet I said hello again and was answered back with the usual pleasantries, how ya doin, good, etc. And they just kept walking, three of them with one headlamp. It kind of freaked me out at the time. Fortunately in the morning I was told by an incoming group that I was sitting in the path of the loop one completes to do Quandary. I guess they had a very long, rough day up in the canyon and were just barely getting out. Rough.

    Day 2 started great. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do so I packed up and headed out of the Hidden Splendor area. I found a nice cliff to sit on and eat breakfast and then proceeded down past Temple Mountain and on over towards the LIttle Wild Horse trailhead. I was surprised to see something like 35 or 40 cars at LWH so I decided to just keep driving down the road. It got pretty fun after that, the nice graded road ended and all of the sudden I was just meandering down a wash, occasionally cutting a bend by following the few tracks that had gone before. The recent rain was evident in spots as my Tacoma would slide around and sink from time to time. Once I got pretty far out on that road I decided I would try to follow it all the way out to Hwy 24, fill up in Hanksville and circle back around. The road after leaving the wash bottom was beautiful, it followed the backside of the San Rafael Reef through slickrock and various shades of badlands.

    After a while the road descended into the Muddy Creek area. The first wash crossing before muddy creek was a bit muddy but not too bad. It was surprising though, there had been no tracks through there since the last rain so much of the mud came as a surprise. It looked pretty dry but then I'd sink 5 or 6 inches. After getting through that it wasn't much farther to where Muddy Creek meandered through. This is where I got straight up stupid. I was cruising along and started sinking a bit. I see a little drop with some water in it just ahead. Beyond that a washed out road. I still to this moment can't for the life of me comprehend why I did this but instead of hitting the brake and checking it out, I hit the gas and off I went into the sludge. It didn't take much before I was at a dead stop. All of the sudden the realization of where I was hit full force. After a few choice words I hopped out into the sludge, immediately losing both of my Keen sandals to the suction. I was shaking... not so much because I was in physical danger but because I was so far out there, I hadn't seen anyone for many miles and as I said before mine were the only tracks on this road at all. I immediately went to work with a shovel and a bin full of fire wood. For the next 3 hours I would dig, wedge logs, spin tires, dig, wedge logs, spin tires. Eventually I tried jacking up my rear left tire that had sunk another foot or so but that was pretty much futile, I got it a few inches up but the sludge would just fill back in around it.

    Around 3pm I threw in the towel. I had two options... I had programmed the non-emergency HELP button on my Spot messenger to send a message to my wife saying that I was having a non-medical, mechanical emergency and that I needed her to send help. I did this in the event of a breakdown or getting stuck, just the situation I was in. But I didn't want to go that way. I knew someone would have to drive in, see the mess I was in and likely drive back out. And when would they come? A lot of variables there. So before I took that route I decided I would hike to high ground and see if I could get any cel phone service. I started up into the badlands nearest to my truck... first stop, no service, on I went. Once I was on the very top I was able to hold the phone well above my head and get a single glorious bar of AT&T believe it or not! I called my wife and got her voicemail. Then I called again and she answered. I gave her my location and told her of the situation and asked her to find someone to help and I would call back in 15. When I called back she informed me that the locals in Hanksville had quoted her upwards of $1000 to come in and pull me out. They figured $100 per hour with an absolute minimum of $700. That was out of the question so we decided that her and her brother would make the drive down and pull me out themselves. I told them to come in from the other side of Muddy Creek, it was closer to a paved road and from where I was it looked like the road was good the rest of the way through the crossing.

    After I got off the phone I hiked back down from my little mountain just as some people on one of those 2-seat ATV's were coming down the road. They got to my truck well before I did so they were probably really wondering what the hell had happened. Eventually I got down to them and explained the situation. I told them my wife would be coming late tonight or tomorrow and how much the guys in Hanksville wanted. I knew their ATV would be of no help so it was pretty much just small talk. Then the guy mentioned he had a Duramax truck sitting back at the Little Wild Horse trailhead. I told him I'd slip him a couple hundred bucks if he would go get it and bring it back in. He thought about it and said he <i>might</i> come back. And off they went. After that I hiked down to the real crossing with the Muddy River and saw that there was no way in hell anyone was going to make it in from that direction. So off I went back to the top of the nearby mountain to call my wife and tell her not attempt coming in that way. We also decided she would wait to leave Salt Lake until the next morning as it was getting late and there was the prospect of the guy I met coming back to save me. So after that call I made the slog back to the truck. With the reality sinking in that I probably wasn't getting out that day. So I did what anyone would do... sat my ass down and cracked a beer. Not 10 minutes later what do I see? A big Duramax coming around the bend! We hooked up a 25-foot strap and started to pull, at first nothing, his tires were spinning, my tires were spinning... no good. So then I just decided to gun it, lockers on. And by some glorious miracle out I went, almost instantly. And I was free.

    I loaded the truck back up, got my hero's name and address where I could send his bribe and off we went. I intended to stay another night in the swell but after all that I just wanted to go home. Not to mention I had to get back to cel service and tell my wife what had happened. I made it back to SLC around 10pm. All in all, it was a great trip. It would have been nice to meet all the :poop: folk down there but I'm just damn happy that I didn't have to sleep in the middle of the road last night.

    And here are the pictures:

    Driving under the I-70 on my way to Head of Sinbad.
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    Nikita and I checking out some rock art.
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    More rock art at Head of Sinbad
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    Nikita at Dutchman Arch
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    Another narrow freeway underpass. It's kind of fun to drive through these.
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    The Lone Warrior pictograph
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    Nikita looking into Swasey Cabin
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    Heading into Eagle Canyon from Swasey Cabin
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    Eagle Canyon Arch
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    Looking back at Eagle Canyon from the end of the nasty southern end. That last mile or so was insane! It would have been a lot easier/smarter to do it on a 4 wheeler.
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    I did a little more exploring on the way towards Hidden Splendor. I drove past this mine but didn't stop this time. UPDATE: On a later trip I did stop and check out this mine, see that trip report here: The Roost and The Swell, October 2010
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    Another mine I passed had some old cars and remains of an old mining camp scattered all over the place.
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    Family Butte and a little warning from the BLM
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    I didn't find the people I was going to meet up with so I decided to camp at the mouth of Quandary Canyon. More old rusty cars!
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    Star trails at Quandary Canyon
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    I love how many old cars there are out here.
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    The nasty mud from driving down the wash on Wild Horse Road.
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    Where the road leaves the wash and heads overland towards Muddy Creek.
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    Awesome badlands along the Wild Horse Road
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    This was one of the first really muddy spots at a wash crossing about a half mile before Muddy Creek. It didn't look too bad since no one had driven through it before me. I actually didn't make it the first try and had to back up and go at it again.
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    And this is where I sunk my truck in the mud.
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    The view from the top of the hill where I got my one bar of cel service (if I held the phone above my head). My truck is marked below.
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    I didn't take any more pictures until after I got pulled out but my rescuer did email me this photo that they took while the rescue was happening.
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    Sweet, sweet freedom passing Wild Horse Butte on my way home. I didn't think I would be seeing this so soon.
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    Here is the exact location of where I got stuck if anyone is interested:
     
  2. Yvonne

    Yvonne I lava it!!!

    Messages:
    2,445
    Location:
    Pahoa, HI
    oh dear!! What a nightmare!!
    And wow, you were really lucky to get help. :twothumbs:
    I'm always scared something like that could happen to me.
     
    John Goering likes this.
  3. jentzschman

    jentzschman Member

    Messages:
    59
    Location:
    Sandy, Utah
    Time for some beefier rubber.
     
  4. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

    Messages:
    11,752
    Location:
    Utah
    I don't think any amount of rubber would have gotten through that swamp. At least not without a big lift first.
     
  5. Ben

    Ben Member

    Messages:
    1,135
    Location:
    boise, id
    i saw the title of this thread and thought, 'dang it, did Nick go out again'
     
    HomerJ, Artemus and Nick like this.
  6. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

    Messages:
    11,752
    Location:
    Utah
    That's it. Next time I break something or otherwise end up in the ER at the end of a trip, I'm not telling anyone! :disagree:
     
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  7. hatchcanyon

    hatchcanyon Member

    Messages:
    136
    Location:
    Germany
    Fording Muddy Creek is always a bit tricky. Have seen the place in good, fair and worse conditions. One problem is that there are several places to cross the creek. Last time in 2013 it was a snap.

    In my opinion the most western ford where both levees are wide and at low grade was always the best.
     
    Artemus likes this.
  8. John Goering

    John Goering Member

    Messages:
    377
    Location:
    Bozeman, MT
    One word Nick: WINCH

    I never leave home without one. Where you were, one of these would be the ticket to go with it.
    http://www.pullpal.com/
    One good stuck in a remote area and you've paid for both. Not sure mud terrains would have got you out of that but they do help. Downside is they aren't what you really want to run on pavement all the time.

    What I bought for my JK trail adventures last week:
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    No intent to run these for general use-the stock ones work just fine for that.
     
    TannerT, rich67, HomerJ and 1 other person like this.
  9. Illysium

    Illysium New Member

    Messages:
    4
    Location:
    Fruita, CO
    Awesome pics.
     
    Nick likes this.
  10. rich67

    rich67 Member

    Messages:
    10
    Location:
    Tampa, Florida
    The pullpal is invaluable in a situation like this. Doesn't seem like there was anything solid to tie the winch off to. Worst case scenario, if you have a shovel with you, bury it as deep as you can or use the shovel and bury a spare tire as an anchor. Takes a while, but if you're out in the middle of nowhere, you may have nothing but time.
     
    Nick likes this.
  11. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

    Messages:
    11,752
    Location:
    Utah
    I'll have to check it out. I've carried a sand anchor system and a come along ever since this trip.
     
  12. Mph

    Mph Member

    Messages:
    60
    cool...what kind of sand anchor? I have used a buried spare tire and a winch to get out. Not the most fun I have had but it worked:) Interested in your sand anchor...
     
    Glasterpiece likes this.
  13. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

    Messages:
    11,752
    Location:
    Utah
    A pair of 36" concrete stakes and a hammer and a shovel. I read somewhere that you can make a pretty bomber anchor out of them in an X pattern in sand. And hopefully be able to augment it with some natural features. There's better anchors, but it takes up hardly any space. Well, the shovel does, but I always carry that when I'm off-road anyway.
     
  14. Ben

    Ben Member

    Messages:
    1,135
    Location:
    boise, id

    Nick, i just want you to know that i flipped my raft in the Payette River today. Pretty dicey for a minute. I'd put a report, but there was a memory card problem, so no pictures.
     
    Artemus and Nick like this.
  15. Glasterpiece

    Glasterpiece Member

    Messages:
    364
    Location:
    North Salt Lake, Utah
    Looks like a great product. In a pinch you can bury your spare or your copilot to attach your cable.


     
  16. Glasterpiece

    Glasterpiece Member

    Messages:
    364
    Location:
    North Salt Lake, Utah
    After reading this it refreshed my memory. Labor Day 2007 I took the route you describe. Everybody had headed home and I saw nobody out there. After going through the place where you first started slipping I decided to turn around. I was alone. Turns out I made the right decision as I was planning to exit on U-24.
     
  17. Curt

    Curt Member

    Messages:
    255
    Location:
    Lincoln, NE
    Good title for the report! I've been stuck just once like that. Fortunately for me I wasn't as far from help as you were, but reading your report brought back a vivid memory of the awfulness of that. As always, you have a lot of beautiful pictures, but, because of the memory, this is one time I won't be thanking you for the trip report!
     
  18. Aldaron

    Aldaron Member

    Messages:
    1,515
    It was funny when I camped with @Nick the first time and started telling a story I had read on another forum about a guy who had gotten his truck stuck really good out at Muddy Creek. Nick said, "Yeah, that was me!" I said, "No, this guy got pulled out by some rude guys." And Nick said, "Yeah, that was me." I said, "No, this guy was able to call his wife and found out a tow would be really expensive." Nick said, "YES! That was me!"

    I finally figured out that it was Nick.
     
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  19. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

    Messages:
    11,752
    Location:
    Utah
    This actually made me LOL. Thanks!
     
    Aldaron likes this.
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