Oh look yet another Utah conditions thread: mid May 2023

BeardoMcGrath

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I've only recently graduated from lurker to commenter on here but have found the contributors very knowledgeable and friendly so I thought I'd start another and yet hopefully not redundant conditions thread for an upcoming trip to Utah in mid-May. Traditionally these trips have involved mostly car camping with longer day hikes, since I find dealing with water annoying when backpacking in the desert. This trip will be similar, with one exception (see below). In general I am expecting more water than normal in the canyons, and possibly bad bugs later in the trip due to wet winter/spring conditions (we are travelling May 7-20).

Lower Fortymile Gulch Backpack (3 days/2 nights): We did the classic Fortymile/Willow Loop in May 2020 as a dayhike and very much enjoyed it, but didn't have the time to explore farther down the canyon. There doesn't seem to be too much info on recent conditions in the lower canyon, but looking at SentinelHub it looks like the water level has retreated all the way past the end of the canyon. I have read the brush can be bad down here but our idea is to hike down Fortymile through the pools (hopefully not too deep and cold!) and camp somewhere near the N Fk confluence the first night. Then on the second day dayhike down to "Bishop Canyon" (Kelsey name) and then all the way to the head of that. Kelsey's Lake Powell guide notes there is supposed to be an amazing alcove at the head of Bishop and so if the brush and mud isn't too bad we hope to get up there. Or maybe the head of the N Fk if the brush is too bad. Has anyone been down that way recently? I saw a report from 2011 saying the tamarisk was a nightmare but I know over time in places that has been dying off? On the third day will will hike back up Willow to Sooner Bench.

Next we will be heading up to Fiftymile Bench/Mtn and car camping two nights with a trip up to the top during the day via the Lower Trail. Thanks to @Fatboy for some tips on that area. I am interested to see the condition of the Sooner Slide Rd but I suspect I can get a better conditions report in Escalante immediately prior.

After that we are heading east to Cedar Mesa or the Abajos (depending on the snow situation). But before we get there we are considering taking the "scenic" route through Poison Springs Canyon and then across the Dirty Devil. With the big snowpack I'm somewhat hesitant to try this since the crossing may not be possible. What is a "crossable" stream flow? I know it also depends on what the approaches are like and if the road has been graded. While in the area we are considering hiking Happy Canyon Narrows but with the road from Black Jump being blocked we may end up skipping this whole area. Looking at the map one alternative would be to hike up to the old mining road from the little ridge where the Poison Spring Road crosses from the lower portion of the canyon over to the DDR. From the map and satellite this looks doable, and then I had the idea to float back down the DDR to the road crossing after visiting the narrows. Perhaps a little ambitious but a fun idea. Not sure if anyone has tried that. (see 1st map)

Optimally we will then head up to Elk Ridge in order to access Fable Valley and Beef Basin for the 2nd half of the trip. Looking at the snotel site at Camp Jackson (8858 ft) this seems pretty marginal so we will keep an eye on the conditions. Assuming it all melts out in time this is our plan:
- 2 nights on N Long Point and a full day hike into Fable Valley from the south.
- 2 nights in Beef Basin to explore the various ruins there
- Maybe one more longer day hike into upper Salt Creek on our way out.

Regarding Fable Valley: Is it possible to loop from the lower Beef Basin TH through Wild Cow Canyon up onto Wild Cow Point and then back down into South Canyon? This looks like it would be fun but I have read trying to find a route on or off Wild Cow Point might not be possible. (see 2nd map)

If the roads are still snow covered/a muddy mess we will stay down around Cedar Mesa. We want to avoid dealing with permits too much so this is our itinerary:
- Upper White Canyon dayhike (NBNM)
- Grand Gulch dayhike from Collins Spring TH (hike at least as far as Deer Canyon and back)
- Slickhorn Canyon Loop (1st fk to Trail fk)
- Lewis Lodge Ruins
- Hammond Canyon via Cream Pots TH (it seems likely it will be possible to hike in from this TH even if the upper one is still snowed in).

I appreciate the great collection of knowledge on this forum and will report back after our trip!
 

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regarding that ridge that goes from the PS road up to the Black Jump Road, I have also scouted that on google earth and thought it looks like it probably works, but I've not walked it or even looked at it closely from the ground. however, this may not matter since the poison springs road is listed as impassable as of a few days ago: https://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/road-conditions.htm

a few years ago while packrafting the DD we ran into a group who carried rafts up to Happy Canyon and then floated back to the PS crossing. that section of the DD is fun, has some little riffles and rock gardens.

anyhow I don't have any other info for you but of course would be cautious about those high-elevation approach roads.

I hope to be in the Robbers Roost complex later this week and will leave a note here about that trip if there's anything noteworthy to report...
 
Fable Valley.... Later in May is better.

Away from the main road, Long Point is usually usually clear of snow earlier..... but ...... There is usually a drift in the sharp turn in Sec PB 53 at the head of the canyon..... you can dig thru it we have. Your snowtel is a couple hundred feet higher....big difference in this country.
You are aware the best part of Fable Valley is up canyon from the Fable Spring?
The trail you have marked from nar Moki spr to Fable spr is there.
Into cow canyon go past Point 7306 to the Point 6997 then pick your way down into Cow canyon. Any particular reason? I dont know of anything in that canyon.

Slickhorn/Lookout canyon multiple day trip is worthwhile.
PM me I can get you things to see.
 
regarding that ridge that goes from the PS road up to the Black Jump Road, I have also scouted that on google earth and thought it looks like it probably works, but I've not walked it or even looked at it closely from the ground. however, this may not matter since the poison springs road is listed as impassable as of a few days ago: https://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/road-conditions.htm

a few years ago while packrafting the DD we ran into a group who carried rafts up to Happy Canyon and then floated back to the PS crossing. that section of the DD is fun, has some little riffles and rock gardens.

anyhow I don't have any other info for you but of course would be cautious about those high-elevation approach roads.

I hope to be in the Robbers Roost complex later this week and will leave a note here about that trip if there's anything noteworthy to report...
I'll check in on the road conditions before I leave. I'm thinking it might be too hot to be down there anyway. The other thing I want to see while I'm there are the old Uranium mines south of PS Canyon.


Fable Valley.... Later in May is better.

Away from the main road, Long Point is usually usually clear of snow earlier..... but ...... There is usually a drift in the sharp turn in Sec PB 53 at the head of the canyon..... you can dig thru it we have. Your snowtel is a couple hundred feet higher....big difference in this country.
You are aware the best part of Fable Valley is up canyon from the Fable Spring?
The trail you have marked from nar Moki spr to Fable spr is there.
Into cow canyon go past Point 7306 to the Point 6997 then pick your way down into Cow canyon. Any particular reason? I dont know of anything in that canyon.

Slickhorn/Lookout canyon multiple day trip is worthwhile.
PM me I can get you things to see.
Thanks Bob for the info. Noted on the snowbank, looking at the map I can see why the snow holds there the longest.

The idea to loop that way would be so we could do it from Beef Basin. But yes reading Kelsey's guide it seems the better things to see are up canyon from Fable Spring so if the snows melt going in from Long Point makes more sense.

I will PM about Slickhorn
 
I was in fifty mile next door last weekend. The tamarisk far up canyon was still really bad in a few spots above full pool, so anywhere with water its gonna be awful. Hopefully thats a good analog for 40 mile. ‍¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Water in the canyon wasn't too bad, never past waist deep, but I know fourty can get deeper in spots. Powell is SUPER low but its rising fast; we were able to pretty much reach gregory natural bridge on foot with some scrambling up the side. Powell already rose over 2 ft since this weekend so by may you may have a lot less canyon hikeable.
 
I was down there April 14 thru the 19th but I did not go up either road to the Fifty Mile Bench so I cannot give you any good first hand info.

What I can say is that the conditions I saw did not indicate there was any major road damage from this winters weather, unlike what we had out in California this year.

There was a fair amount of snow on the Straight Cliffs and southwards from the Batty Pass Cave/Dry Fork TH road junctions there was what appeared to be more fresh snow on the cliffs as you went further south.

I climbed up the straight cliffs from near Batty Pass and Coyote Holes area and there was less snow than in March of 2022 and I was able to spend 5 days up on the plateau.

The average altitude of where I hiked was right around 7100 feet and there was very little snow up on the plateau. There snow was mainly in small patches in protected north-facing locations.

I guess what I am saying is that you should be fine to drive up to Fifty Mile Bench on at least one of the two roads that go up there and the trail should be snow free by then. Perhaps follow up with the folks at the Visitor Center when you arrive, just remember to take what they say with leeway since they usually err on the side of caution by quite a bit to keep people out of trouble.
 
I was in fifty mile next door last weekend. The tamarisk far up canyon was still really bad in a few spots above full pool, so anywhere with water its gonna be awful. Hopefully thats a good analog for 40 mile. ‍¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Water in the canyon wasn't too bad, never past waist deep, but I know fourty can get deeper in spots. Powell is SUPER low but its rising fast; we were able to pretty much reach gregory natural bridge on foot with some scrambling up the side. Powell already rose over 2 ft since this weekend so by may you may have a lot less canyon hikeable.

Thanks for the area info. I was in Fiftymile two years ago and found the tamarisk annoying in the vicinity of the beaver ponds but it got better lower down. Waist deep is deeper than we encountered but I know it changes year to year. Last time I was in Fortymile there was a chest deep wade.
Noted on the lake levels. In order to get into Bishop Canyon the lake needs to stay below ~3560 ft, it's at 3525 ft today.

I was down there April 14 thru the 19th but I did not go up either road to the Fifty Mile Bench so I cannot give you any good first hand info.

What I can say is that the conditions I saw did not indicate there was any major road damage from this winters weather, unlike what we had out in California this year.

There was a fair amount of snow on the Straight Cliffs and southwards from the Batty Pass Cave/Dry Fork TH road junctions there was what appeared to be more fresh snow on the cliffs as you went further south.

I climbed up the straight cliffs from near Batty Pass and Coyote Holes area and there was less snow than in March of 2022 and I was able to spend 5 days up on the plateau.

The average altitude of where I hiked was right around 7100 feet and there was very little snow up on the plateau. There snow was mainly in small patches in protected north-facing locations.

I guess what I am saying is that you should be fine to drive up to Fifty Mile Bench on at least one of the two roads that go up there and the trail should be snow free by then. Perhaps follow up with the folks at the Visitor Center when you arrive, just remember to take what they say with leeway since they usually err on the side of caution by quite a bit to keep people out of trouble.
Thanks for this update! Good to know the snow is retreating from that area at least. Gives me hope for higher locations in the Abajos. Looks like the long range forecast is for above average temps for the first week in May so that should help.

And yes noted on folks at the Visitors' Center. I understand why they do that but it can be frustrating when looking for accurate info.
 
I forgot to mention we drove up sooner slide too. There were a few tight spots where it was a little washed out but it wasn't bad...just some exposure that you may be uncomfortable with depending on your off road experience. There wasn't snow on the bench that weekend either, just the cliffs above.
 
We are back from our trip and I thought I would give some conditions updates at the end of this thread; after I go through my photos I'll try and put up a TR or two.

Fortymile: The upper section of Fortymile to the confluence with Willow was significantly rearranged since my last visit in 2020. All the deeper pools have been filled with sand, and are no more than thigh deep. There is a big tree wedged in one of the narrow sections that is a little annoying to go under but otherwise things were easy. Below the confluence there was some brush but aside from one beaver pond to avoid below the N Fk things were easy. We camped on a bench near the N Fk confluence after we couldn't find campsites farther upstream. Hiking down lower Fortymile to Bishop was very pleasant (except for the Beaver Pond), as was the hike up Bishop which was mostly brush free. So long as the lake stays below the Fortymile/Bishop confluence this is a great hike. The biggest obstacle was actually the pool in lower Willow, just above the Fortymile/Willow confluence. The water here was almost neck deep (I'm 5'11") with shin deep mud. We were glad to have tubes to ferry packs in this section.

Fiftymile Mtn: The road up the Fiftymile Bench (Sooner Slide) was bumpy but fine for 4WD vehicles. We did a long dayhike up the Lower Trail to check out the Rim Ruins and Navajo Point. Unfortunately these ruins had two new sets of graffiti from just the past year. Navajo Point was very worthwhile and probably had the best view of the trip.

Poison Spring Canyon/Hatch Canyon Rds: Driving down Poison Spring Canyon there was one deep pool that we were able top drive sorta on the side of but a wider vehicle (than a Tacoma) might have issues. We were able to cross the river at around 55 cfs (knee deep, one large rock to avoid). Conditions along Hatch Canyon were fine although we were there a day after a flash flood so some of the washes had been rearranged.

Lewis Lodge Ruins: We drove down the rough road from Milk Ranch Pt and it was indeed rough. Very washed out and steep in places, it probably took a half hour to drive each way. I would not recommend it unless you have good tires, clearance, and 4L. The trail itself has a nice sign though and some new trail work on the initial section.

Elk Ridge: By the time we got here the roads were pretty much melted out and dry, with just a few muddy patches.

Beef Basin: Driving around Beef Basin requires 4WD and clearance in places, and some of the side roads to access ruins are narrow and brushy. As Kelsey notes however this is a nice, quiet place to visit and we only saw one rancher and a retired couple hiking a section of the Hayduke while we were there.

N Cottonwood Road/Indian Creek Crossing: As noted in a different thread, the creek crossing was moderately swift or deep but we saw Subarus and Hondas crossing it. The Prius turned around, however.
 
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