| Fire & Ice - Thanksgiving in Moab
La Sals and the desert
Fire & Ice – Thanksgiving 2012 in Moab
Group – Papillon, Wooderson and Lordhelmut
Activities – Lost & Found Slot Canyon (Undercover Canyon), Mount Tukuhnikivatz and “Tuk No” in La Sals, Loop hike in Needles District to “Joint Trail”
Resources – Latitude 40 Topo maps Moab East (Tuk), Canyonlands Trails Illustrated (Joint Trail), Furthermore’s Lost & Found/MMI Canyon TR (L&F), Moab Area Technical Canyons PDF Guide (L&F), Mount Tuk Summitpost page
Campsites – Winter Camp Area (2 nights), Lockhart Basin BLM lands (2 nights)
Food and Beverage (in its entirety) – Full Mexican course (ground up buffalo, holy guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, red salsa, Cholula, smoked Tobasco, refried beans, tortillas), ribeye/filet/salmon (for Thanksgiving meal), potatoes, 4 chicken sausages, 6 hot Italian sausages, pack of pepperjack cheese, pick-a-peppa sauce, horseradish mustard, Late July Dude Ranch multi-grain tortilla chips (3 bags), Pringles (6 sleeves – 2 Salt N Vinegar, 2 Ranch, 2 Original), 3 Oskri coconut bars, 4 Mojo Bars, Kit Kat/3 Musketeers/Peppermint Patty, 18 Modus, 6 Happy Campers, 10 Dank, 6 Hop Ottin’s, 6 Gordon’s, 6 Crank Yankers, 6 Euphoria, 7 Dale’s, 6 Deviant’s and a 120 Minute single, not to mention enough Gatorade for 10 years.
Colorado is a great place to live. You’ve got just about every outdoor activity out your front door and each range that spans the state seems to hold its own unique attributes, as subtle as they may be. But at the end of the day, they are all just mountains. A quick drive West puts you in another dimension, where you don’t always have to trudge uphill to gain that insatiable need for the freedom of the hills. Moab is a land of contrasts, and unlike most desert regions, can be enjoyed year round. While the Spring and the Fall are, by far, the best months to visit, you can surely escape the heat during the mid Summer months by retreating to the nearby La Sals, or enjoy the already diverse colors with a nice coating of white in Winter.
Looking for something unique this holiday season, Kevin, Sarah and I traded the traditional ceremony of turkey, family and football for marinated steaks, ground buffalo tacos, slot canyons and mountains with over 8000 feet of vertical rise from the valley below. I guess the thought of another Lions Thanksgiving Day loss was too much for Papillon to bear, or Black Friday bullshit at Walmart, or any of the Kays or Jared jeweler ads that constantly run all November and December that are ten times more annoying than any political ad could ever be.
Wednesday, November 21st
We departed Denver by 10:30am and made quick work of the all too familiar drive down 70 towards the border. After a quick top off of the tank, we took the Cisco exit 204 and then the immediate right at the Frontage Rd (Furthermore’s TR gives excellent directions for this, just keep in mind, once on Frontage Rd, take left at pipeline, then bear left at Y, then take right at “arch” sign, then another left at the next junction and follow that to campsite area). Last spring, myself and Matt (formerly known as Del Sur) ran in to Bob Dawson and his crew celebrating his bachelor party at the mouth of Lost & Found canyon, us just getting finished with MMI. They generously invited us over for a drink and rack of ribs afterwards and we were blown away by their choice of places to plop down for the weekend. I made damn sure we found that same spot this go around.
The timing was perfect, as the sun was setting over the Moab valley horizon. I’ve seen some pretty stunning sunsets in Colorado, but the open expanse of Eastern Utah makes for some psychadellic pano’s that are unique in their intense, mesmerizing beauty. The colors are downright therapeutic and they were on full display this particular evening.
campsite in Winter Camp
We quickly setup camp, cracked a couple Modus’s and began feast number 1 of 4 with Sarah’s backcountry culinary expertise running at its fullest potential. The meal, coupled with the sunset, the roaring fire and the flawless weather was pure poetry. A perfect start to the week.
Thursday, November 22nd (Thanksgiving Day)
what a view to wake up to
Just when you have reached a certain level of monotony or complacency in your mountain endeavors, there are times that can surprise or reawaken your love for the great outdoors. Slot Canyons are one of those things. Walking down a narrow canyon can sound a tad boring, and for some, almost claustrophobic. Being the amateur slot canyoneer, I had no idea Moab held so many hidden gems in and around its outskirts, I thought they were all around the Swell, Hanksville region. Furthermore was kind enough to show us his fine account of both Lost & Found AND MMI canyons in the same day. While this isn’t completely out of the question, it involves/requires route finding, elusive canyon exits and 6 to 7 rappels in one day (and one scary ass climb out). Matt and I tried finding the exit out of Fish Seap Draw last spring to no avail. After running out of water and daylight, we retreated back to MMI’s mouth and made way for the standard canyon exit, which is no cakewalk, specially with old hiking boots and diminishing tread. My increasing level of stress caused me to throw F bombs left and right, so I made a vow to bring rock shoes the next time I visited the area. I suggested/demanded Kevin and Sarah do the same (and they did, fortunately).
Much to the chagrin of my non-smartphone owning friends (or whatever is left of them), as well as my old train of thought, I recently upgraded to an iPhone. While it didn’t increase my popularity among certain elite social circles, it has provided me with valuable resources, one being cheap GPS aps. MotionX was used to navigate the majority of the canyon, although for Lost & Found, it’s not all that necessary, since once you enter the canyon proper, there is no way to veer off course and the exit spits you directly out at the canyon exit.
Anyways, the trailhead is easy to find, as the road ends at a fenced gate. You don’t really have to worry about parking cause there’s nobody really out there ever. From the gate, to access MMI canyon, you walk west and then bushwack to first belay station. To access Lost & Found, you head North, right along the gate, until it naturally spits you out in to the beginning wide rim of the slot canyon.
You eventually reach an Arches boundary sign that does nothing more than let you know you are going the right way. Once past this sign, the fun began immediately. Our first obstacle required we pass through one at a time and then perfect the art of handing off our packs to one another, given the consistent narrowness of the canyon.
we had to get used to this
Also, being new to “canyoneering”, I don’t think any of us accounted for the fact we might be short a pair of pants and a pack when this whole ordeal was over. All of our packs took a pretty good beating from all the dragging, dropping, squeezing, stepping on and just overall lack of concern for the longevity of our gear. At times, the canyon got so narrow, it was difficult to really put too much thought in to it, since we were 100% focused on sucking it in and squeezing through very tight spaces .
We reached the first of 3 raps on the day, not too long in to the canyon. From previous beta, it spoke of the rap station being a “bit of a reach”. Ex-Washington Bullet Center, Gheorghe Muresan must’ve drilled those anchors, cause it was up there. I put on the rocks shoes, climbed a couple feet up and made a short traverse over to the bolted anchors. Sarah took the honors, rapping through the narrow arch and then approximately 40 feet down to the sand below, with Kevin following and me in tow. There’s a slight overhang and the beginning at the arch can be a tad awkward for people not used to rappelling, just a FYI.
watch your head
Less than 20 yards from the 1st rap is the 2nd rap and its, logistically, arguably the toughest of the 3. There was some old, worn out webbing in place, so I used it to swing myself down to the small platform where we would begin the rap. I placed some brand new, out of the wrapper blue webbing, reinforced with the old gear in place (as a precaution), tossed the rope, heard a splash (better than nothing) and then started things off this go around. Furthermore speaks of a log jam about 60-70 feet down the rap, where you kind of have to realign the remainder of your rap. I decided to wait here for Kevin and Sarah to join.
A thing of note. That splash I heard the rope fall in wasn’t some pristine, or even a murky, muddy puddle. It was a small pool of cowshit water and it stunk up my rope something fierce (it still stinks, after 2 baths). Kevin’s guess was that, in the event of flash floods, all the runoff finds it way down these canyons, and we remembered passing quite a few “cow pies” on the approach in. Let’s just say coiling the rope was a nasty chore. Let’s put it in perspective. Anyone who has ever driven westbound on 58 has probably had the privilege of smelling the wastewater facility near the Coors Brewery and/or the bathroom at the North Table Mountain parking lot. Well it smelled, dare I say, 2 times as bad and it was dripping on my neck. Kevin’s car smelled like East St. Louis by the end of the trip, thanks to that damn puddle. You can try tossing the rope as far left as possible to avoid it, goodluck and god speed whatever your outcome.
inspecting the 2nd rap
bout 65 to 75 feet
We regrouped at the log jam, which was a suspect platform at best, basically held in there by crunched dirt. We tossed the remaining length of the rope over the log with plenty to spare once it hit the ground.
From this point on, the route starts to take the form of a claustrophobic jungle gym maze. At times, we were all forced to literally go head first through narrow slots, with a 10 to 15 foot drop below us, being sure to keep all 4 limbs somehow gripped to the walls while keeping track of our packs. Basically what ended up happening was one person would go on ahead, sans pack, find a spot where they could gain some semblance of leverage and have the person behind them hand down their pack. It was an interesting process and we were very glad we didn’t stumble upon any rattler pits.
Wooderson feeling the weight of the world
Papillon hoping that boulder stays put
Once past this section, the route opened up to a grand spectrum with a large platform for the 3rd and final rappel (aptly named “The Platform”). There were some bolted chains to the right that look relatively brand new. I backed up the lone quicklink with one of my own (again, precautionary measure) and tied a double fisherman with 2-60M ropes. This rap was around 150 feet or so I believe and it’s a nice drop cause when you toss both ends of the rope, you know they hit the bottom with a big “FLOP” echo. That was reassuring, but the start was still “exciting”.
Some shots of the rap…..
a long ass rap
mind bending rappel
We hiked out the rest of the trail to the mouth that joins with the exit of MMI Canyon. We decided to take a side trip to check out Covert Arch, which was kind of hiding over some whale’s back features. Too lazy to find a front row view of the arch in full, we decided to lounge for a bit and admire the flawless weather.
lounging in the canyon
The fun was not over yet. After a quick break, we donned rock shoes and zig zagged our way out of the canyon. This was slickrock, not your typical grippy Needles District stuff. Features were, at times, non-existent, so you had to rely solely on the grip of your shoes. The exposure is definitely there at times, so be prepared to short rope someone less experienced with that type of terrain. Just a FYI.
We reached the rim soon enough and made our way back to the car, with a solid slot canyon under our belts and a feast of epic proportions waiting back at camp.
glad to be done that section
We had steaks and a fire as the sun set. We also had cell service and were all able to reach our families back home, which was a nice surprise. The decision was made to keep our campsite where it was for another night, despite the longer drive the next morning to the La Sals, mainly due to the fact that this was one of the better campsites any of us had ever been to. With a pano of the entire La Sal mountain range to our south, Arches prominent highpoint, Elephant Butte to our southwest, Book Cliffs to the North and the open expanse of the Moab Desert and lonely Henry Mountains to the west, what was the rush? Time slows down in the desert, and in true Ed Abbey fashion, we enjoyed what was in front of us while we could.
After enough Modus, Kevin and Sarah’s faces started to blur a tad, but we certainly had a nice and raging fire.
quite the holiday setting
And a nice Thanksgiving dinner……
Sarah's backcountry culinary skill
No snack was safe either, as sleeves of Pringles and bags of Late July were being housed left and right. It was a chip blood bath, all washed down with gallons of Gatorade and ounce after ounce of hopped goodness. It was a free for all and it was beautiful. By far, the best Thanksgiving to date. Thanks Wooderson for the feast!
Friday, November 23rd - Peaks of the La Sals
The morning brought us yet another bluebird sky. We packed the Pilot up and pointed our sails South for the towering, prominent La Sals. We turned off Rt.128 and found out there was road construction that blocked passage from the North to Gold Basin/Geyer Pass. We made the long loop to the other side of La Sal Pass Rd from the southern end of the town of Moab and arrived at the surprisingly snow covered road around 9:45. There was a pull off about a half mile before the actual Gold Basin trailhead that we decided to stop at out of fear of getting stuck (there is about 1 to 2 feet of snow up there right now).
start of a new day
Our goal for the day was Mount Tukuhnikivatz (12,482) and its satellite peak, “Tuk No” (12,048). We chose Tuk cause of its obvious prominence when viewed from many vantage points to the West, as well as its proximity to Gold Basin. We figured it’d be a walk in the park, we figured wrong. Within 45 minutes of hiking down the obvious trail (snow covered), we chose to gain a NE ridge stemming off “Tuk No” and run the ridge to Tuk. We came up with a number of names for the hill to gain this ridge, none of which are suitable for this website, or any other site for that matter.
Here is an idea of what we were dealing with….
this f'ing hill
Reaching the summit of “Tuk No” about an hour later than we planned for, we immediately ran the ridge to Tuk, which is a straightforward class 2 route. About 30 minutes later, we were standing atop arguably the nicest view in the Lower 48. You be the judge…..
ridge to Tuk
quite the ampitheater
Mellenthin and the Northern La Sals
topping out on Tuk
not a bad backdrop
It’s a rare treat to be able to stand atop a snowy mountain summit while looking down upon an arid, red, sun scorched, raw desert with canyons and buttes abound. We could see countless sub ranges in all cardinal directions and enjoyed the view without an ounce of wind. We all wore t-shirts on the summit and were sweating. What a place. Throw in some Pringles, peppermint patties and Fierce Grape Gatorade and life doesn’t get much better than this.
To make a long story short, we were hoping we could find an alternate route down, but we had no such luck. We descended “The Devil’s Taint” using sketchy tree limbs and loose rocks for belays. The rocks, most times, provided no hand or finger holds, as they were perfectly flush with the slope. Ed Gein himself couldn’t conjure up such a horrid place in his mind if he tried. I’m sure there was an easier route, but we weren’t really able to find it, given the conditions.
All that crap was a distant memory soon enough when we reached the road and looked to the West. The skies were creating quite a light show, and our vantage point couldn’t have been more ideal.
"things are getting psychadellic"
We made it back to the car 7 hours after starting off, with pink skies and a somewhat long drive ahead of us.
After re-supplying back in town, we made way for the Lockhart Basin Rd, which is a BLM land haven just a few miles from the Needles District entrance with ample, surreal campsites.
Saturday, November 24th - Chesler Park and Joint Trail
We woke the next morning to yet another windless, sunny blue sky and made our way to the Chesler Park/Joint Trail loop in Canyonlands. The 3 of us had, at different times, stayed at the same backcountry site (CP1) and were all looking forward to a return visit for nostalgic purposes. Some shots of the loop :
best campsite in Moab
The Cairn Garden of the Joint Trail
quite the contrasting landscape
Word to the wise, when reserving a site in the Needles, get CP1 and thank me later.
As we exited the park, we decided a quick shower was in order. The Needles Outpost provides a number of primitive services for the desert traveler, negating the need to drive back and forth to Moab or Monticello, but it all comes at a price of course. While in the shop, it seemed we all had differing priorities. Sarah was salivating for a shower, I was salivating for the shelf full of hot sauces, but Kevin, on the other hand, was focusing on the choice of music in the outpost.
Bobby Bloom - Montego Bay
Montego Bay isn’t the song you want stuck in your head, specially out in the desert. The leathery lady behind the counter who looked like she’d lived in Eastern Utah too long rung us up and we were on our merry way. People in that part of the country have a pretty distinct tan, it’s a couple shades beyond bronze and one step away from being mistaken as black. Regardless, the outpost is a convenient stop if you need it.
After freshening up, we revisited Lockhart Basin and camped out another night, finishing off whatever food and drinks we had left and just enjoying the tail end of a fantastic desert holiday excursion. As the night grew older, our motivation to gather more wood grew bolder, our bellies full and some of the late night conversations got downright primate. Lets just say Sarah was a trooper after 4 days and nights of Papillon and my shenanigans and backcountry potty humor. After 4 feasts in a row, your body starts to make some strange sounds. Some of those sounds inspired Papi’s remake of the James Bond series (renamed James “Bomb” with such titles as Never Say Pepto Again, The Toilet is Not Enough, Thunders**t, A View to a Sprint and License to Spray).
When you reach the level of euphoria you do after spending a couple days in the desert, it’s tough to rejoin civilization. The drive home consisted of some moments of silence and some plans for future ops. It’s a pleasure to have a gem like the Moab region a couple hours from Denver, the diversity is unmatched. It can get downright overwhelming when you consider the surrounding regions as well.
To conclude, here are some shots of future climbs (based on your level of courage)
a goal and a cool thing to look at
Thanks for reading. Happy Holidays!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):