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 walk close to the arch. The light wasn’t as good as the night before but I did manage to catch some of the morning pink from 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.

We dug up our bag of food, thankfully undisturbed, and grabbed our water. We brought it all down the road a ways so we could be 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 gallons, 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 signed in before us and of those, I knew 2 that were no longer on the trail. From nearly 20 before us at Fable Valley to 5. Of course, 4 (including Artemis) had been just ahead and now 3 were just behind. We continued down the wash, shortly coming to a large crack in the earth. This was where 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 chimney drop a long ways down. The first drop 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 still a little tweaked and Stellar’s on the mend, we decided not to risk it. Trailcrew (another Hayduke hiker and very competent thru-hiker of other trails) had reported a side entrance farther down but I couldn’t remember if he said 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 right side.

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 as well. Ah well, we tried and got to see a really beautiful side canyon as a result. We had lunch there, somewhat defeated but with a great view. The climb out was taxing but luckily nothing we couldn’t easily do in reverse.

All the white sandstone and conifers reminded me of the granite valleys of the Sierra

From there, I started leading us 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. We decided to just cut our losses and go back to the trailhead. It was a good call. It took awhile to backtrack through the exhausting up and downs of the convoluted topography. We were all a bit frustrated and our cohesion broke down a little. I wanted to go in a less straight line back to the canyon rim, just because it seemed like staying higher involved worse terrain. I also couldn’t keep up with the other 2, so I figured if I was going to walk alone, I’d do in my way.

Going back to the rim was a good call…I made it back to the trailhead just before the others. I also got to see if anyone was around the slot opening, in case I could 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.

We deliberated again on trying the slot but Artemis’s eye was hurting, probably scratched by a grain of sand. She wanted to patch it closed, meaning no peripheral vision…not good for rock climbing. 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 in the fact that we didn’t investigate the drops further but they did look a bit sketch. Better to be able to walk away than be heloed out or worse.

We walked the main road for another few miles and at least flagged down a nice couple from Oregon to take our jugs and trash. They stopped to offer us a ride but we were hellbent on getting into the canyon one way or another. We turned off on a jeep track 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. 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 inspiring. I was very pleased with our final decision.

We made camp right at the confluence of Hackberry and RVD. That 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 we made up some of our missed miles from the alternate out of Escalante. We still had plenty of food and water, so all was fine.

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