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Grand Gulch, UT, 1/16-1/18/09
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James Dubendorf

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
Grand Gulch, UT, 1/16-1/18/09 on 01/24/2009 14:55:10 MST Print View

Two night solo trip to the Grand Gulch area of Utah on a January weekend. I started from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station TH, which is just a few miles south of 95 on 261. The ranger station closes for the winter, but the staff at the BLM office in Monticello were very helpful. There was no evidence of recent human activity beyond the TH. Snow conditions were quite variable depending on sun exposure, as this photo illustrates.

Kane Gulch

In the course of a quarter mile I might encounter bare dry ground, mud, calf-high powder and even deeper drifts, and crusty stuff ripe for postholing. Temperatures were also highly variable in sun and shadow, and it helped to have an easily adjustable layering system. For much of the time, my REI mistral pants were rolled up above my knees, with the tops of my full length gaiters open to vent, and quick to close when the snow became too deep. Trekking poles were essential to maintenance of balance, forward propulsion, and probing footing hidden beneath snow.

Kane Gulch
Kane Gulch

Grand Gulch is an area of tremendous archaeological interest. Here are some shots of Junction Ruin. After a long stretch in the shadows of the canyon, I have to imagine that the luxurious, sun-drenched southern exposure played a major role in the selection of this spot!

Junction Ruin
Junction Ruin

The first night, I camped on an elevated ledge in Grand Gulch south of Stimper Arch.

Stimper Arch

Overnight lows were around 20 F. It was a pleasant change to hike in the desert without concern for water- just camp next to snow! Plentiful morning sun made any drying of gear relatively quick and easy.

View from Camp

My hiking footwear consisted of golite sun dragons, merino socks, gaiters, and Hydropel. Feet did get wet of course, but I stayed comfortable as long as I was moving. I brought along plastic bags just in case, but didn't end up using them.

I decided to complete a loop back to the ranger station by exiting Todie Canyon. Todie, oriented roughly east-west, felt narrow, dark, cold, and snowy.

Todie Canyon

Furthermore, navigation in Todie was challenging in places, necessitating some fairly intense bushwacking. I was grateful for the ability to break down my trekking poles in order to use them more as ice axes, and make walking/contorting through dense brush a bit easier. At the head of the canyon, I discovered that Todie was not done with me yet. It was only after the hike that I read the statement on the map noting that Todie is "difficult access." The trail out of Todie follows a steep, northerly facing slope that was thoroughly snowed and iced in. After some exhausting bushwacking just underneath the rim of the mesa on very steep terrain, I was convinced that there was no safe exit for me. The day was getting late, and so I camped on a high ledge overlooking Todie Canyon.

View From Camp Underneath Canyon Rim

Though Todie had frustrated my attempts to escape, it also provided me with a beautiful spot to sleep that I would have never discovered otherwise. The only way out was the way I came in, so back I went. Here is another shot of Stimper Arch under sunnier conditions.

Stimper Arch

Overall, the trip was not terribly mileage intensive, not much more than 17 miles. I ended up being quite slow and deliberate about my daily routine, which was valuable in and of itself. Todie Canyon was a lesson in adaptation to and acceptance of unforeseen circumstances. While winter desert hiking comes with cold temperatures and certain navigational challenges not found in summer, water is not nearly as much of a concern. Furthermore, the canyons are simply beautiful, and the variations of snow cover, ice features, and temperatures convey the sense that the canyon is a living, breathing thing.

For some other pictures, link to

Edited by dubendorf on 01/24/2009 15:39:41 MST.

Thom Darrah
(thomdarrah) - MLife

Locale: Southern Oregon
Grand Gulch, UT on 01/24/2009 15:19:16 MST Print View

Nice report, nice pictures, nice writing. Great job, thanks for sharing.

Tom Clark
(TomClark) - MLife

Locale: East Coast
Re: Grand Gulch, UT, 1/16-1/18/09 on 01/25/2009 18:42:08 MST Print View

Sounds & looks like a great adventure. I wish we saw more trip reports from this area since it's such a beautiful area. I've often thought that winter hiking in the desert would be a great combination.

Thanks for sharing.


James Dubendorf

Locale: CO, UT, MA, ME, NH, VT
Grand Gulch, UT, 1/16-1/18/09 on 01/25/2009 20:12:06 MST Print View

Tom and Thom,

Thank you for the kind words. I agree that desert hiking in winter can be a great experience, and appears to open up options for longer distance travel in some areas that would otherwise run up against the issue of reliable water. For some, a winter pack may even end up lighter than a summer pack simply due to less water weight. Granted, I was spoiled with some lovely weather- I'm sure the canyons can get downright cold and nasty when they want to be! When I get the chance, I will post some reports from nearby Dark Canyon, another wonderful spot.