Letters from the Desert
from Steve Allen

Dear friends,

It’s hard to believe that this is the ninth year of my canyon country insanity. Although it is easy to tick off my accomplishments over those years, in they end they are not that important. I place the most value on the friends I’ve made and the time we’ve been able to spend together. The canyons have provided an exciting backdrop and certainly a never–ending source of challenge and fun, but to what end without your friends?

With the publication of Canyoneering 3 an era has ended for me. No more guidebooks! It is time to turn to other writing projects and to pursue other interests. Less time will be spent in the canyons and more at home in Colorado. This means that I’ll only be hiking six months a year instead of eight! As per usual, I always welcome letters and email. They keep me from feeling isolated from you. Most of you I’ll see this spring. Take care until our paths meet.



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Hi there Harvey and Bud, + Amy, too

Have a couple of days off and figured I’d get caught up. Just finished a SC trip with Bert into Waterpocket Fold country via Moody Creek, Georges Camp Canyon, Cliff, the Baker Trail, Halls Creek, and the Red Slide through the Gap at Deer Point back to the trailhead. Fun trip. Bert got incredibly sick—bad water, E. coli, who knows? He actually got to the car last on the last day, so he was real sick! He’ll be leaving the chair at SUWA and assuming the same job for the Wilderness Society it looks like. Will know soon. Ginger is in Escalante—apparently Babbit has heard her noises about the Escalante BLM—he sent a special investigator down to check things out. This just happened so will see what the outcome is soon.

The slots trip with the youngsters went great. Finished up PINTAC from last year. The bottom part was not as hard as the upper part, which was a relief. Did that with Eric and Rob. Then did another new slot. On my map I had written “do not do it” next to the slot. That was probably several years ago and for the life of me I didn’t know why I’d written that.

At any rate, the canyon was another huge Mae Wester with lots of high chimneying, excellent climbing, and had one swim at the end. The final rap was through what, from a distance, looks like a little hole in the wall. Quite spectacular. Did that one with my cousins Scott and Julie Greenberg and Jordon (who Harvey has met). Scott is a great climber and Julie is too. Rob and Eric begged off—they were too tired from Pintac. It was interesting to go through a canyon like that with someone five one tall. Julie definitely took the canyon at a different level than the rest of us, often chimneying thirty or more feet below us. She’s probably the first woman to do a canyon of that quality and difficulty. Fun stuff. As I was doing the last rap, I found why I’d written “do not do it,” as the rap ended in a huge poison ivy patch! It is now called DDI Canyon for Don’t Do It Canyon). And yes, I got a fierce case of poison ivy that two weeks later is just starting to die down.

Now to backtrack to the 17–day Wilson mesa trip. The boat did work out well. Picked up the cache I’d left last winter without a problem and put in a couple of food caches at places where I hoped they’d make sense. Did have a chance to zip around a little, so was fun.

The trip: The goal was to circumambulate the Wilson and Grey Mesas by continually hoping the canyons that drip first into the San Juan River and, later, into the Colorado River. Started at the parking area on the north fork of Lake Canyon and simply followed the Emigrant Trail. This trail is actually a mix of the old Hole–in–the–Rock road and a mining road put in in the 50’s for uranium miners going to The Rincon. Followed the road out the NRA boundary (at elevation 4598T on the Alcove Canyon map). The Emigrant Trail exits the mining road here and is amazing as it grinds its way up (they went down) to the top of Grey Mesa. Continued on the mining road across Grey Mesa to BM 4773 on the Deep Canyon North map and exited, going about east, heading Bend Canyon and crossing Wilson Mesa. Entered the first side canyon (East of elevation 4463T via a rubble slope on the west side).

Then followed a deer trail along Kayenta ledges above the San Juan (Lake Powell) to the next canyon (shown at elev. 4005T). Exited that canyon near its southwest side without a problem then headed south. Entered the next canyon (shown to the west of elev. 4852T) via a hidden ledge—one of those routes that you just don’t think will go until you are right on top of each and every move. A very pretty canyon.

The next day was a dayhike day. I headed east and followed a canyon up (shown to the east of elev. 4852T). It had a constructed trail out its top. Then reentered the first canyon via another fun route on its west side. Onward with the traverse, following a constructed stock trail west into the next canyon (East of elev. 4300T). Near its top were a couple of hitching posts (Navajo for sure). The exit from the east side of the canyon was easy, so went out the west side via a very fun row of Moqui steps (Class 5.3, 50’).

Now zooped west again (Wilson Creek map) and crossed the ‘death camp’ canyon. My little cave was still there, but the potholes were dry (how lucky I was in Nov.!). Didn’t spend much time here as I’d explored the area to the north thoroughly on the last trip. Dropped into Wilson Creek via a steep chute immediately north of elevation 4132T and followed it upcanyon. Did a dayhike that took me out of Wilson Creek Canyon to Aladdins Lamp Pass, then east along the Emigrant Trail and reentered Wilson Creek via a fine slot\narrows to the NE of elev. 4546T.

Exited Wilson Creek via a canyon shown to the south of elev. 4848T. Pretty, then dropped off the Navajo south toward the San Juan into the west of elev. 4788T. This brought me to a large open area with great camping (only because it was snowing and raining and the little potholes were all full) with great views of Navajo Mountain area. A very pleasant night. Then did the ‘Why’ traverse (S of elev 4508T). Called it that because it was a Kayenta traverse across an exceeding thin ledge way, way, way above the river. After doing it and knowing I could have just walked around some domes and avoided it, I asked myself, “Why do I do these silly things!”

With the traverse over, I started to look for a route to the San Juan. Found one just S of elev. 4204T via an unlikely slot that ended a ways above the canyon floor. A row of Moqui steps went across a very steep slab on the left but were wet and icy. Unsure of the exit routes farther along the river, I ended up rappelling through a hole. I left one rope temporarily so I would have an exit, then worked the Moqui steps for a couple of hours until I was convinced (sort of) that I could reverse them if I pulled the rap route. This turned out to be a worrying decision a couple of days hence.

The route now followed the Kayenta generally west, then north, above and often right on the San Juan. (Now on the Nasja Mesa map for a short spell.) There was one point (NE of elev 3780T) where I had to do some serious chest deep wading in bitter cold water for quite a ways. If the water had been just a shade lower, it would have been an easy traverse. Even worse, the day was cold and windy and it was hard to see the bottom. Never quite knew when the bottom was going to drop out! Onwards though, because I really wasn’t positive that I’d be able to reverse the initial Moqui steps and there were no doable exits in the intervening many miles.

Finally finished the traverse and entered Cottonwood Wash, which is very pretty and contains the Emigrant Trail, which is very well–marked throughout the canyon. Lots of potential side canyons and caves to check out, but figured this was an easy one to do from the lake at another time. Exited Cottonwood Wash via the Emigrant Trail (almost as amazing as the Hole–in–the–Rock road. Then headed north, cut the top of Ribbon Canyon, then climbed Rincon Point above The Rincon (The Rincon map). I knew of the mining road into The Rincon area on its east side, so entered on the southwest via a challenging route. Crampton talks about dinosaur tracks in the Kayenta in the Rincon, so spent some time rummaging about and found quite a few ripple rocks with prints similar to those we found at Nokai. So that was fun.

Exited the Rincon via the mining road, left it and headed east. Found a nice little slot at the southwest end of Iceberg Canyon. Nice day by then, so the little swims were fine and fun.

Finally headed east back to the Emigrant Trail. Left it above Alcove Canyon. I’d found a route into the Alcove canyons in Nov., so followed that route into them. Very nice canyons to explore as dayhikes. The East Fork I rated as a **** canyon. Much like Cow C. Did a dayhike up the East Fork, exited via a very nice Moqui step exit on the east (5.4) and found another route back near its mouth, making for a very pleasant loop.

Alcove Canyon itself isn’t as nice. There was a rock wall on the Kayenta, which I couldn’t imagine because cattle or sheep could never get into the canyon. Perhaps it was an old Anasazi wall used for hunting? Alcove Canyon did have an exceptionally difficult Moqui step exit out its east side. The first part went pretty easy, though the rock was totally for crap. The upper part went up an incipient crack that flared out over a huge drop. Very scary and very exposed (5.9, 200’). Wouldn’t do that one again on a bet.

From the Alcoves, followed the Kayenta along the river into Navajo, which the three of us had been in before. (I’d later find an overland route that eliminates this tedious and somewhat exposed traverse. The only new note on Navajo was a fine cliff dwelling and pictograph panel above one of the sites we’d explored. Only saw it because I was coming upcanyon in the afternoon rather than downcanyon in the morning as we’d done. Nice stuff. Then out Navajo, across that old road we’d followed in from Nokai dome, and down a steep slope back into Lake Canyon and the van.

All–in–all a close to great trip, certainly way better than Nokai but not quite as nice as Stevens or Pollywog Bench routes. Wouldn’t have done it without the caches. Gave me a chance to get in shape without the potential for shredding the abdomen or zapping the back. Really did do easy days—out of camp at 9, then into camp by 4 or so. Lots of reading and hanging—somewhat of a new experience! I liked it through I’d never admit it to others!

Will have talked to you before you get this, but did want to get it down before I spaced.




© 1990–2007 Steve Allen