Smith Fork & Lake Powell, January 22-24


rope mule
Jan 17, 2012
Having not purchased a ski pass for the first time in a few seasons, lately I've been sufferin' the winter itch. That restless, awful leg twitch that keeps you up at night and renders your imagination all fidgety and discontented during the day. I do my best dreaming in winter. Big dreams. Vivid dreams. I've been getting out on my fair share of trips this cold season, but not quite enough. I needed something more than another wintry lap through Arches and a Motel 6 in Moab. So when @Nick came up with the idea to dunk the boat back in Lake Powell for the first time since October I didn't hesitate to accept the invitation.

We were rolling down the freeway by 4:30pm on Thursday, but the typical I-15 logjam start to the drive didn't see us make our destination, Little Egypt, until closer to 9:30. Still plenty of time to burn a few bundles of firewood, and plenty of light from a swollen moon to encourage us to get our cameras out of our cases and go shoot some of the nearby hoodoos. Here's a few shots from around that magical, frozen place:






As is wont to happen on an expedition with the two of us, the fire burned late and the libations poured even later. We drank liberally in honor of our fallen comrade, @markj, who was supposed to join us for the weekend but went down in a blaze of glory in the climbing gym the previous evening after pulling off a legendary 5.14 bouldering move. In other words, I missed the next morning's sunrise. Things reached rock-bottom hangover depths when I desperately discovered a frozen water bottle next to me. No amount of vigorous shaking or warm bear hugs would loosen the icy bottle. Yikes. No means to unfasten my tongue from the roof of my mouth, which felt like it had been glued there. I managed to pull myself together enough to go out and get a shot of the diffused morning light about a hundred yards from our camp:


I made enough noise around the truck that Nick got the point and began to stir. It was damn cold out, and that helped expedite the breaking down of camp. We were on the road in a minute and before we knew it we were cruising over Ticaboo Mesa towards Powell. We picked up the boat without a hitch (heh), and were on the water by noon.

The bright winter sun made it feel just warm enough that we opted to not put the enclosure on when we set out from Bullfrog. But within an hour of slicing through that stark January chill, we were ready for it. We detoured off of the main channel and up Moqui Canyon, to a spot where Nick knew there'd be a sunny beach for us to dock and throw the enclosure on. It felt warm again to be still in the earnest sun, but we still knew we'd be happier with the seal around the boat. Before that, we had to stretch Sage out a bit:



We threw the enclosure on and were on our way, and this time in balmy, wind-free comfort. The goal for the night (and the weekend), was to find a camp at the head of Forgotten Canyon, from where we'd check out Defiance House (amongst other things). Ironically, despite our proximity and stated objective, we never made it there. But it still served for a great base camp for our exploration of Smith Fork that we'd pursue the following day. Once we left Moqui and returned to the main channel, the water had turned to glass worthy of a spot in the Corning Glass Museum. Here's a few reflection images from the boat:






Before turning up Forgotten Canyon, we scouted Smith Fork to see if we'd even have a place to beach the boat the following day for our hike. We both kind of dreaded the thought of having to blow up the packrafts and deal with the water in these temps. Thankfully, we found a perfectly sculpted beach, right at the head of the canyon that would not only allow us the perfect spot to park the boat but we'd also be keeping our feet dry. Yes! Even from my limited experience on Lake Powell, I knew this was a rarity. Tomorrow was gonna be good.

It was close to 3:30, and our time to make it to Defiance House for some twiilght flash photography was growing dim. We still had to find camp up Forgotten Canyon, and even though that proved to be easy, the lake level was just high enough that we couldn't walk from camp to Defiance House without a swim. To get there would require moving the boat to the opposite shore through a Cottonwood graveyard. Ok, we'll put Defiance off until tomorrow and hit it after Smith Fork. Time to get settled in for our first night in camp.

There was a nice sandstone knob that rose 100 ft or so above our beach in Forgotten Canyon. From it, one had a nice vantage point both down and up canyon. This was the vantage down canyon (west), where a sunset seemed to be setting up nicely:


Unfortunately, it never quite happened. Still, an incredible view up Forgotten to the east:


And in the meantime I got to spy on Nick and Sage, who contemplated things below:


We feasted on our respective meals, and made a terrific fire from copious amounts of tumbleweed and driftwood that waited for us on the beach:


We took our time getting up in the morning to mostly cloudy and sullen skies, a bit of a departure from our forecast. We set off from our Forgotten home at around 9am and were taking our first muddy steps up Smith Fork by 10. The canyon began open and tall-walled:


The typical silt and driftwood detritus eventually gave way to a beautiful riparian scene. We made good time walking up the sylvan storyboard of soaring orange Navajo sandstone walls and blue Henry Mountain granite in the creek bed. Just above the source of the creek (a spring that sprung, oddly, right around Lake Powell's high water mark), things simultaneously dried up and narrowed down.




And then we hit the beautiful Smith Fork narrows. We weren't sure how far we'd be able to get up them before being stopped by water. Graciously, the canyon let us pass through quite a ways before we encountered water. Here's a series of images from the deepest area of the slot:












Nick charged ahead while I loitered in the slot with the ghostlines of flashfloods past. Nick came back with the news that he hit both an obstacle and some water. That, combined with the time, forced our hand to turn around and head back to Barke Diem. A typical scene of Smith Fork below the narrows:


And finally. The boat and beer, in all of her enclosed glory.


Sadly, we'd once again miss out on Defiance House. It was just a bit too late in the day by the time we made it back to camp. We were hungry and chilled, and there was just too much driftwood to burn and beers to be imbibed. We woke up to mixed skies and a few sprinkles on our last day, and an overall itch to get back to shore for the long process of shutting the boat down in Bullfrog. Of course we'd get poured on just as we were putting the cover on, but it in no way dampered another awesome weekend out on the Lake in Barke Diem.
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Apr 21, 2013
Nice report...I enjoyed the narrative and pictures. Man, a boat opens up some much more country. Looks like a stellar weekend!


Aug 9, 2007
Beautiful, Tim! As usual, your shots are outstanding. There's something special about all those canyons coming off the Henrys with that silver blue granite littered through the red sandstone. Love it. Thanks for coming along. Sorry @gnwatts and @markj had to bail last minute.


Formerly colefeet
Feb 7, 2012
@Nick with trekking poles is funny, but i sure am glad to see you out and about!


Desert Rat-Weekend Warrior
Jun 7, 2012
Really love the granite in the red slot myself.

Looks like good times.


Feb 7, 2015
Just last night I read the chapter in Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire about his float thru Glen Canyon. It is a travesty what is buried under Lake Powell......but we have to play the cards we are dealt and you have quite a winning hand with this report. Thank you for taking me along!
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Jul 5, 2014
What an awesome read. Sounds like a great weekend and those reflections are unreal. If you don't mind me asking, did you take these with your Sony setup?

Jon Carbaugh

Jul 8, 2015
Beautiful pictures! Anyone else notice the face protruding from the rock in that 4th reflection shot? :)


Hike Hard, Tread Lightly
May 15, 2013
Awesome and thanks for sharing!! I love Powell and I feel I would've loved the actual Glen canyon more!
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