March 31, 2015

No Man's Canyon

The Robbers Roost country! I have taken the liberty to refer to it as everything draining into the Dirty Devil River from the east. It's a wild piece of country that always delivers a great adventure and usually the kind of beating that makes beer taste damn good.

As I write this I have to find a position to let my elbows off the edge of the table because it seems that all the hide was left behind in our clamber to drag ourselves out of the depths of that irresistible and punishing sandstone abyss.
Whoever you are, Indian Brave, Train Robber, or Backpacker, most people agree on one thing; access into and out of the Dirty Devil Canyons is limited to a few ways.
Lisa and I decided a long time ago that our next trip to the Roost would be into a little traveled place called No Man's Canyon. On study of maps it looked like we could make a loop out of it, provided we agree on several miles of road walking back to the rig.

Day 1:
It was late morning now as we drove out the East Angel Point Plateau, onto an island in the sky of sorts, between two major tributary canyons of the Dirty Devil. The map and GPS said it was time to stop, but Lisa required that we pull the '77 off the road and park somewhere that we wouldn't squish any cute little yuccas. It was hot already and didn't feel like March as I rigged my Mystery Ranch Terraplane for it's maiden voyage. We locked up and slogged south, across a mile of blackbrush, where nobody had walked in a thousand years, probably for good reason. At the rim we looked into a bottomless mess of solid stone. I looked down at the ground for a bit, thinking that when I looked up it would all make sense. I got out the map, and took a drink of water trying to wash the nervous cotton out of my mouth. I squirmed under the weight of my pack and uncomfortably looked back at the obscenity, but for some reason I smiled at the thought of the challenge that brought us here. Excited by the intimidating task of route finding that lay before us, we stepped off the rim, through a 20' notch that the USGS map promised would be there. We descended onto the wonderful Navajo slickrock maze of domes in one of those heart stopping descents that looked impossible, right to the end. But it worked, thanks to some cowboys that wanted an access in that place real bad. Once on the narrow canyon floor we found a lovely camp under the brand new spring cottonwoods, and beside a trickle of water. My plan all along, that couldn't have worked out more perfect, was to find such a spot where I would sip rye bourbon with my lovely Lisa, and gaze at the star-spangled banner of the heavens to celebrate the finish of my 45th year.

c'boys wanted this entry bad

Entering No Mans Canyon

Lisa archaeologizing

morning light in No Mans

Day 2:
We walked up the canyon and the further we went the more we left all sign of recent human passage behind. Before the Main Fork and North fork split we came to a nice shady pool that looked like the kind of place where I could spend an entire day contemplating the eons that the water has traveled to get to where it is now. Past the pool the narrow canyon floor got a bit brushy for a while with lots of undercut ledges of soil that made me cautiously probe with my poles, to avoid falling into a deep sink hole. After leaving the vegetation behind the North Fork opened up and changed dramatically into an Egypt looking place, complete with several hour sand slogging ass workout. We stopped under the shade of a single juniper for lunch and analyzed our packing and food system. Part of our trip objective was to strategize on how we wanted to pack for a 100 mile trip around Rainer on our agenda for August. After lunch we continued into the upper reaches of the North Fork where we found footprints of canyoneers coming out of the technical section of the North Fork. We were almost out of water on a hot day that didn't feel like March, complete with gnats. We found a nice spring deep in the North Fork, that had access right at the source, which I believed, was good enough to drink without treatment. Some folks are sketched out by not treating backcountry water, but if a million years of sandstone doesn't filter the water then I don't think my cute little ceramic filter will either. The canyon floor was only a few feet wide and the camping would've sucked so we loaded up on water and decided to dry camp that night. Carrying all the water we would need for that night, and all of the next day we found a gravel bench, elevated about 50' above the canyon floor, where we could ponder the sand slog exit route encashe for the next day. The camp also had nice 180 degree views and since I'm a sucker for big views I didn't mind carrying the water. We ate dinner and watched the color show of canyon country then Lisa read from our book. Rather than carrying two books we have come to enjoy reading a book aloud, to each other. It seems to usually be about somebody else's backpacking trip. This time it was I promise not to suffer by Gail Storey, which is the best one we've read yet, even better than Wild I think.
Near the end of the day Lisa quaintly noted "do you realize that you have spent your entire first day as a 45 year old lugging a full backpack through deep sand?" It wasn't planned that way, but it was better than almost anything else I could've imagined.

Slippery pond bypass route

opening up

c'boy coffee

the sand slide exit
Day 3:
Our penthouse flat of a campsite let in the sun nice and early, which was good since we were hoping to get our sand slog of the day started earlier than our usual 10am departure. We got up early, made a pot of cowboy coffee, and watched the colors change into another beautiful day. We packed up and set to work at following some very specific directions from Steve Allen.
In 2001, when I rangered in Escalante I learned to trust the contour lines on a map thanks partly to Steve. His lack of egotistic bullshit is rare in his field and I respect him immensely for it. He was also a big inspiration for the routes I would patrol. I figured that a backcountry ranger was supposed to be where he/she may run into people, or at least obtaining updated information about routes the public would be inquiring about in the visitor center. I followed his descriptions of almost every route in his book about the Escalante and never had one problem. The exit route that we planned to use is in one of his books so I trusted that it'd work, but knew we needed to follow instructions very carefully. He was again spot on the money. Mis-reading the map by one contour line in this area can have bad consequences. We went up the sand slide exit on a very obvious trail that is mostly used by technical canyoneers exiting the North Fork. It took all morning to go about one and a half miles. It's one of the more dramatic routes I've ever followed, anywhere! Narrow little ledge walking with massive exposure, a steep "butt crack" slickrock descent, a slot canyon too narrow to get a pack through; this route has it all. One of the slot canyon sections is so narrow that we contemplated unloading our shit and passing stuff through piece by piece then discovered a safe way to raise packs up one at a time with a section of rope we carried. With a little rock rash on elbows and packs we made it through.
Out on top we had our work cut out for us. We had about a mile of blackbrush out to the road, then about 6 miles of road walking, which I would not recommend. Although the scenery was wonderful, there's something about road walking that feels abusive. I'm not sure why because it's super easy compared to slogging through trail-less deep sand, and without a shuttle there's only one way back to the car and that's a good long walk. After we got back to the blazer I was glad, that the cooler still had ice, cold beer, and italian sausage that would make a good pot of spaghetti for that nights camp on the rim looking over our multi-day endeavor.

constructed exit 


beginning the ledge walk

the ledge getting skinny and exposed
down the V crack

gots to go down there???
going down there

beginning of slot section

getting skinny

raising packs

climbing out of slot section

still climbing out

out on top

another mile of this

...and 6 miles of this

italian sausage spaghetti and wine


  1. I believe you tried something like this along the DDR a year or so ago. I have struck out twice and need expert river ranger advice! Photo 25 with the rope, can a lab, with help, get through this area?

  2. Hi John,
    That was the Sams Mesa Box entry, which was too sketch ball for my style.
    The second problem is that it's out of reach to lift a dog high enough. Maybe with another person and a dog harness that you could clip a beiner into. Seems like a good way to get your dog to divorce you.
    I did a canyon years ago with my friend Rick Green in Escalante and his two labs. IIRC we took them down a 60 foot rappel and It seemed like it terrorized the dogs alot. I told myself I wouldn't do it again.

  3. Mick I'm envious of you as my limited mobility now means I have to take my enjoyment from your travels. be in Desperation soon and hey I talked with paul L. last night.

  4. Mick, Everytime I see one of your campstoves alight it reminds me of Sneffels; and I have the scar to prove it! Talk soon.