The Maze

Discussion in 'Trip Planning' started by bob32, Jan 8, 2018.

  1. bob32

    bob32 Member

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    Hello all, I am planning a 4-day (3 night) backpacking trip in the Maze district in Canyonlands. The trip will probably be in mid-April. I plan on taking the jet boat from Moab to Spanish Bottom, similar to a few trip reports I have seen on this site. The tentative itinerary currently looks something like this:

    Day 1: jet boat to Spanish Bottom, Spanish Bottom to the granaries, through the Doll House, to the Confluence Overlook and to camp somewhere near the water source in Water Canyon.

    Day 2: Water Canyon to Shot Canyon trail to Chimney Rock up Pete's Mesa trail (I think, but I'm not sure, that some people call this the Jasper Ridge trail---although the Kelsey map shows two distinct trails?) to set up camp at the spring below the Maze Overlook. Then optionally climb to the Maze Overlook (we might skip this if it looks beyond our comfort level) without the heavy packs, and back as the sun is setting (but make sure to not do this in the dark!).

    Day 3: Hike to Abbey's Triple Arch (marked on the TI map as well as in the Kelsey book), then to the Harvest Scene (I think you want to see this in the morning or evening, so morning should work here?), then down Pictograph Fork Canyon, then down the SE branch of Pictograph Fork Canyon to Chimney Rock, then back down the Shot Canyon trail to the same campsite as night 1.

    Day 4: Reverse Day 1, but without the side trips. If this is too much mileage for that morning (7 miles or so, but we need to be back to Spanish Bottom by 11am), we can dry camp a little closer to Spanish bottom (but stopping at Water Canyon for water), if there are good spots to camp. Of if we really want a shorter Day 4, we could just plan on returning to the Doll House via the road from Chimney Rock (although that sounds boring, and we would have to carry an extra day's worth of water).

    Anyway, here are my questions:

    1. How hard is this route from a technical/exposure perspective? I have seen various reports as to how hard/scary/dangerous it is getting into and out of these canyons; some make it sound like a piece of cake, while others make it sound kind of sketchy. For example, both the David Day guidebook and the Kelsey guidebook make this route sound fairly easy, but I've seen some photos on trip reports that look tough from an exposure standpoint. I tried to pick the canyons/routes that sound the easiest; if any of these---Shot Canyon, the Pete's Mesa/Jasper Ridge trail from Chimney Rock, or the SE fork of Pictograph Canyon---are particularly tough scrambles, please let me know! My group all has experience backpacking, including some trips in Canyonlands/Zion/Escalante, but not really in canyons like these. We are fine doing a little bit of scrambling with the heavy packs, and I don't mind bringing a rope to help with the packs (although I've never needed one before!), but I'd like the scrambling difficulty level to be fairly beginner-friendly (in mountain climbing terms, a few short easy class 3 scrambles would probably be fine, but no more). Also, I have never been to the Maze before, so if anyone has suggestions for an improved itinerary (e..g., exiting via "The Plug" vs. Chimney Rock from Pictograph Fork), please let me know!

    2. This entire trip is based on the assumption of reliable water in Water Canyon as well as in the spring just south of the bottom of the trail coming from the Maze Overlook. Is my understanding correct that there will probably be water at these locations in mid-April? I will have a water filter and some coffee filters to pre-filter if needed. I will of course call the ranger station right before the trip to get current water beta, but I want to make sure this plan is reasonable "most years" before I book the permits and such.

    3. I was planning on doing this trip in mid-April because that's the time of year that generally sounds pretty ideal. Has this winter been dry enough that I should push the date earlier (such as late March)? I'm not too worried about cold temps, but I am worried about lack of water. If you could pick a date for this trip for this upcoming Spring-time, what date would you choose? I need to pick the date fairly soon, since my hiking partners will be flying in from out of town.
    -I'm thinking one option is to keep the mid-April date and hope for more precip between now and then, and if it continues to be a warm/dry year, then we'll head to Death Hollow in Escalante instead (which I would normally probably save for a little later in the year when it is warmer). Does that sound like a good plan?

    Thanks in advance for the help!
     
  2. Artemus

    Artemus I walk

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    The spring at the bottom of the Maze Overlook? - if you mean the one just up from the Harvest Scene, yes that is reliable. And my memory says that other people confirm that Water Canyon is reliable although I have never use it per se. There are quite a few trip reports here that demonstrate probably both.
     
  3. bob32

    bob32 Member

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    Thanks Artemus. I was referring to a supposed spring in South Fork Horse Canyon just upcanyon (South) from the bottom of the trail coming from the Maze Overlook. But if there's also a reliable spring just up from the Harvest Scene, then that might be an even better campsite location. If anyone else has any feedback regarding this or any of my other questions, please chime in!
     
  4. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

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    @Artemus, where is the spring just up from the Harvest Scene? Are you talking about the one down canyon from it at the confluence with the other forks? There is most definitely a great spring right at the bottom of the Maze Overlook Trail. Just walk up canyon a few hundred feet. Probably the best spring I've ever utilized in The Maze.
     
  5. b.stark

    b.stark Member

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    Location:
    Nebraska
    I did a trip to the Maze last spring which covered some of the very same area. https://backcountrypost.com/threads/maze-2017-but-seriously-where-are-steves-gummy-bears.6819/ For the trip report, use the link.

    As far as being technical... I didn't find it that challenging. It's not easy and there are a few scrambles, but we didn't find anything that needed a rope. A couple of the guys did take packs off and hand them at one spot going down into Water Canyon from the area of the Confluence Overlook. The biggest challenge to the route, for me, was carrying lots of water. I wasn't in the best of shape and never do super well with packs much over 35lbs, so when carrying 5 liters at a time, that was a bit tough on me. There's some sand that's not too fun to walk through at various points along the way. I never felt there was that much exposure anywhere along the route, but I've done plenty of off trail high alpine stuff that has numbed me a bit to exposure. Probably the toughest part of the hike for me was descending the trail that goes from Chimney Rock toward Pete's Mesa, where it drops down into the canyon. The descent itself isn't terrible, but it was toward the end of a long day. Also, once you get to the bottom of the canyon it is very sandy all the way to Pictograph Fork and wasn't the most fun hiking.

    While at the Harvest Scene, we talked to a backcountry ranger that said the Plug route was more challenging than the Chimney Rock route out of Pictograph Fork. We chose to go out via the Chimney Rock exit, and found it to be comparable to anything else on the route.

    I'm not sure I would call any of the route "beginner friendly." It's a pretty remote area and if it was hot and dry, I could see it being a very tough place in the wrong conditions. That being said, we saw plenty of water and met more NPS employees than I've ever met in a backcountry area before.

    Far as water goes:

    After you pass Beehive Arch toward the confluence overlook, maybe 1/2ish mile past, there's a pretty good water hole. Water Canyon had a small but flowing stream of water when we were there. The trail crosses the stream bed at a waterfall with a pretty fair hole full of water at the bottom. There was some water at the end of Pictograph Fork, and for a while both above and below the Harvest Scene in pictograph fork there was surface water in the streambed. There was also water along the exit toward Chimney Rock, at the junction of the last major side canyon before the trail begins climbing (I may or may not be describing that one the best). We got hail, a pretty good rain one night, and snow the last evening.

    We went in April. Can't remember exact dates, but it was mid to late in the month. The weather was kind of all over the place, as springtime weather seems to want to do.

    The jet boat ride was, for me, one of the single most enjoyable parts of the trip. It was super cold (roughly in the 40s on the way out) but beautiful and really peaceful (if you're odd like me and enjoy the drone of big diesel engines). We went with Tex's, and our experience was very good.
     
  6. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

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    You must have been there not that long after wet weather. Many of the sources you described are normally bone dry.

    The rangers usually know what springs are doing okay and which ones aren't. Just check with them before you leave.
     
  7. b.stark

    b.stark Member

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    Location:
    Nebraska
    Yeah, I was not expecting that much water.

    As a correction, there were two places where the other guys had to remove packs, one of which I also did. There's a joint at the Dollhouse where it's pretty much required.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2018
  8. Artemus

    Artemus I walk

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    That is what I get for talking from memory. You are right, of course, and no surprise since you have been there as much as anyone. It is just downstream from the Harvest Scene. Screenshot attached.

    There is a ton of info here about the Maze and perhaps these trip reports could be harvested - there may even be water source history embedded. This is important and we should probably be as accurate as we can. I have also found water at the marked spring near the foot of the descent. At least I did 1 of 1 visits.

    https://backcountrypost.com/tags/the-maze/

    spring.png
     
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  9. bob32

    bob32 Member

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    Wow, thanks everyone, this is exactly the kind of info I was looking for.

    Artemus---Thanks for the map. I didn't know that that Spring was reliable; the one I had noticed in trip reports/guidebook was the one that Nick mentioned above that is near the bottom of the Maze Overlook trail. It's nice to learn about other options though, as that may expand our campsite options.

    b.stark---Thanks for the detailed reply. To be clear, when I said "beginner-friendly", I was specifically referring to the exposure level and difficulty/duration of the scrambling itself. I feel somewhat more comfortable with the navigation and other elements of the trip, but since most of my backpacking experience has been in the mountains, I don't want to underestimate the potential difficulty of the terrain in these canyons. (all of my desert hiking experience has been in easier canyons, such as Salt Creek, Elephant Canyon, Zion Narrows, Neon Canyon, etc.) Also, I know what you mean about hiking in sand not being very fun. In fact, I'm even considering just reversing course for days 3-4 and returning the way we came, via the Pete's Mesa trail, so as to maximize our time on slick rock and minimize our time in the sand. Usually I would hate to do so, as loops are always more fun than in-and-outs, but slickrock hiking with expansive views is so much more fun that hiking in the sand in wide canyons! But if pictograph fork is worth doing for variety sake, let me know.

    Nick/b.stark---did you guys have a hard time getting the boat tickets from Tex's on the specific dates that you wanted? I emailed them and they said they can only add me to existing shuttles booked by canoers/kayakers, and that it's too early to do so. But I want to nail down these dates so that I can buy plane tickets for my out-of-state family members, book the backpacking permits, etc. Anyway, I was just wondering if this was a problem for either of you.

    Thanks again all! I'm super excited for this!
     
  10. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

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    You'll hit sandy sections everywhere. Go for the variety.
     
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  11. b.stark

    b.stark Member

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    Agree on the sand being everywhere. we made it a loop by road hiking from chimney rock to the dollhouse. I didn't feel that it was a poor choice at all.
     
  12. John Morrow

    John Morrow Member

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    I felt the most difficult scrambling was actually descending Maze Overlook with a 6 day load. The rest was mostly cairned slickrock or tread. Maze Ranger Station water source board was accurate and consistent with what we found. All the sources you mention were wet when we travelled in April 2017. Monitor weather station rainfall history around greater canyonlands and I am guessing a good douse will happen within two weeks of when you travel. That should leave you with some larger potholes wet. I seem to remember that last spring was a bit dry too:
    http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8023831
    http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8023845
    It sounds like a reasonable itinerary...have a great time.
    John
     
  13. Nick

    Nick Post 'em if you got 'em!

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    I agree with this. The only place in The Maze I've been to that was worse was the 'climbers route' up to the Chocolate Drops. The others access points I've used aren't bad.
     
  14. bob32

    bob32 Member

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    Thanks John---yeah, I'm not planning on doing the Maze Overlook trail with a heavy pack. And even without the pack, I'm not sure if I'll have the guts to do it or not (I'm more of a "hiker" than a "climber")... but I really really want to. Your trip report makes me want to go there even more!

    There's a good chance we actually make this a 5-day trip instead of a 4-day trip. Any suggestions on how to use the 5th day? We could take the 2nd day off and explore Water Canyon and thereabouts. That could be nice because we'll be ditching the heavy packs early in the trip, when the packs are heaviest. Or we could take the 3rd day off and explore the area around the Maze Overlook (or we could go down South Fork Horse Canyon and back as a day hike, etc.). I'd love to do a big loop and go through Ernie's Country as well, but it looks kind of long and without much water (please correct me if I'm wrong---I've read about Lou's Spring, but not much else). I don't want to carry more than a day's worth of water. Also, certain segments of the loop---the road walk, "main flat"---look relatively uninteresting. How would you use a 5th day if you had one? (assuming an average of 10 miles per day or so; a little less on average would be fine)
     
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