Twig Adventures

HayDay 22: Round and Round the Round Valley Draw

Saturday, April 22nd, 2023, 0640-1800
Grosvenor Arch S8 to Round Valley Draw and Hackberry Canyon confluence.
21.5 miles (but only 9 official trail miles), elevation 5750′

I got an early start so I could take more pictures of the arch. The light wasn’t as good as the night before but I did manage to catch some of the sunrise. We walked a little ways down the road to our cache, which we’d originally intended to leave by Grosvenor arch but couldn’t make it all the way due to the road being muddy, icy, and covered in snow. Things had changed greatly since then. The snow was gone and the road dry and grated. Any car could drive it.

Stellar and I dug up our bag of food, thankfully undisturbed, and grabbed our water from behind some rocks. We brought it all down the road a ways so we could sort it in the sun. The wind was blustery, the day starting out in the low 30s. At least it was considerably warmer than the morning before. Artemis wasn’t a part of our original cache planning but we gave her one of the water jugs, since we had more than enough. We hoped to meet a car on the road to take our trash and jugs but no luck, so we just strapped them empty on our packs.

We came to Round Valley Draw trailhead and signed the register. Only 7 Haydukers were listed before us and of those, I knew 2 were no longer on the trail. From nearly 20 at Fable Valley TH to 5. Of course, 4 had been just ahead and now 3 were just behind. We continued down the wash, coming to a large crack in the earth after a mile. This was when our roundabout of the day began. I’d read that the initial drop into this legendary slot canyon was now a lot harder due to 100 year flood conditions the fall before. A log jam that provided a ramp as well as sand had been washed away, making the drops harder. The first was about 10 feet and didn’t look too bad. But right after that was another, dark and deep…very difficult to tell just how bad from where we were standing. We figured we could make it down the first drop but maybe not back up if we couldn’t get down the second drop.

With my knee a little tweaked from a weird move I’d made 2 days before, and Stellar’s still on the mend, we decided not to risk it. Trailcrew (another Hayduker and very competent thru-hiker of other trails) had reported a side entrance farther down, but I couldn’t remember if he’d noted the left or right side. The left looked the most logical so we began following along the top of the rent in the earth, as it silently pulled us towards it. Such gaping holes create their own special gravity. The crack became bigger and bigger and we had to climb ever higher to escape its orbit. I spied a side canyon on the map that might go all the way down, just past the confluence with Hackberry Canyon, coming in from the north.

It sure did go down, just not at any angle we could contend with. Unfortunately this wasn’t revealed until nearly the bottom. We pretty easily went down through an area of tight topo lines at the head of the side canyon. The top rock was crumbly so there were some scree fields we could descend. But the very bottom was giant, rounded sandstone mounds…sheer cliffs. Oh well, we tried and got to see a really beautiful side canyon as a result. We had lunch there, feeling somewhat defeated but at least having a nice view. The climb out was taxing but luckily nothing we couldn’t easily do in reverse.

Coming back out of the side canyon…all the white sandstone and conifers reminded me of the granite valleys of the Sierra

From there, I started heading further south, determined to try the next side canyon in order to get into Hackberry. Better minds prevailed fortunately, calling into question if maybe all the side canyons might be cliffed-out (they most definitely were). We decided to just cut our losses and go back. It was a very good call, but still a long ways to backtrack through the exhausting ups and downs of the convoluted topography. We were all a bit frustrated and our group cohesion broke down. We briefly discussed either heading in a straight line towards the trailhead or contouring along the canyon rim, similar to the way we’d come. I could swear that Artemis said we should contour and that we were all ok with that, but then she ended up veering right to go more straight-line. I didn’t notice the change in her course, as she was pretty far ahead by that point. Stellar followed her and just as he was about to disappear from sight, yelled over to me. I was confused and having a hard time keeping up. I yelled back, stating all this, but wasn’t sure he heard me. It appeared that we were spontaneously about to split up again, for the second day in a row, and I at least wanted to confirm where we should meet later. At the trailhead or the drop into the slot canyon? We’d discussed giving it another try while we were having lunch and the ambiguity in our new plans had me worried. Stellar yelled back something I couldn’t quite make out and then was gone. I just couldn’t keep up with either of them. I began veering left again, resolved to hugging the canyon rim…’go the way you know’ is a mantra I often fall back on. If I was going to walk alone, I’d do it my way.

Going back to the rim was a good call…I actually made it to the trailhead before the others, despite going slower and the longer way around. I also got to see if anyone was near the slot opening, so I could maybe ask them for beta on the drops. For a Saturday, the place was dead quiet. There was only one car in the lot but no people to be found. I sat in the shade to wait…but only after checking for 2 sets of footprints leading down the road, away from the trailhead. Our split had me pretty rattled and I couldn’t even trust they’d waited for me at the trailhead…perhaps they’d just continued on, as they’d done already this day? I know I was just being paranoid but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t see their footprints, so at least I was pretty confident that they were still behind me. It had gone from being a pretty nice, typical day to one of a lot of uncertainty and stress. I felt a lot of guilt and ownership of the situation, since I was the one most reluctant to downclimb the drop into the slot and had also steered us wrong when it came to finding the side canyon entrance (I re-read Trailcrew’s notes later and it was on the right side…oops).

After only a few minutes, Artemis and then Stellar arrived. Stellar asked Artemis how long she’d been waiting for us and of course I felt inclined to set him straight that I’d been the first to arrive. I was feeling pretty hurt by the many misunderstandings of the day. He was surprised that I could have made it back first, but then again, so was I. We deliberated again on trying the slot but Artemis’s eye was hurting, probably scratched by a grain of sand. She taped a patch over it, resulting in no peripheral vision…not good for downclimbing into slots. I didn’t really want to chance it either. We had another option, which we should have considered from the get go. We could go further down the road to the beginning of Hackberry Canyon, which was ultimately our goal anyway. So we walked the 1.5 mile road from the trailhead back to the main road, arriving at the same point we’d been some 7 hours before. All told, it was about an 11 mile round trip going nowhere. But you can’t say we didn’t try. Well, I did feel rather defeated that we didn’t investigate the drops further, but they did look a bit sketch. This was the first instance where my skills really weren’t up to par for this route, which in turn, negatively affected the others. It resulted in another split, a break in our original pact, and concern on my part about where things were headed. Looking back on it, it was a pretty pivotal moment in the whole thru-hike, one that would ultimately shake my confidence in being able to complete the route.

We walked the main road for another few miles and at least were able to flag down a nice couple from Oregon to take our jugs and trash. They offered us a ride to Tropic but we were pretty hellbent on finally getting into the canyon and back on track. We turned off on a jeep road which brought us all the way to the mouth of Hackberry. We didn’t have any beta on this alt and so didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, the wash into the canyon was a cakewalk! The sand was very compact and flat and the canyon walls just tight enough to be pretty awe-inspiring. I was very pleased with the final result of the day, making it pretty easy to forget our earlier struggles…at least for the time being.

We made camp right at the confluence of Hackberry and Round Valley Draw. This way we could go on a side trip up RVD in the morning, to cover what we’d missed. It was a very nice campsite…no water but flat and scenic. We didn’t get very far down the official trail this day…just 9 miles, but I guess we made up some of the missed miles due to the the alternate we took out of Escalante. We still had plenty of food and water, all was fine for now.

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