Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness is right across the Colorado River from my house. I'm out hiking, running, or weeknight overnighting in the area typically several times a week. It's a place I love like crazy, but my wife and I almost always head west to Utah for multiday trips. I decided earlier in the fall that the area was due a proper traverse. I mapped out a roughly 75 mile, mostly off-trail route that I planned to do a Friday afternoon afternoon plus Saturday and Sunday. The route from the Fruita trailhead would be up and out of Flume Canyon onto Glade Park, across GP to the Western arm of Jones Canyon, down Jones, up across the plateau between Jones and Knowles Canyon, down Knowles, follow the river to Mee Canyon, up Mee, then down the Rattlesnake arches trail back home.
I decided last week that I was going to go for it, despite increasingly short days for a 30 mpd pace and a forecast for snow on friday night and all day saturday. Actually the prospect snow was part of what pushed me to do the trip after an absolutely splended dayhike in our first snow of the year earlier in the week. So....
I was on the trail at around 11:00 on Friday and made great progress. Cottonwoods in lower Flume Canyon are peaking right now.
Upper Flume Canyon
After climbing out of Flume, the going got a little tougher through some up and down muddy shale hills. This seemd pretty rough at the time but was nothing compared to what was to come...
Once up on Glade Park, I was cruising again. This section was following lots of old roads, which I planned to get out of the way on Friday so I could enjoy the canyons on Saturday and Sunday.
At dusk I had a satisfying dinner of rice and beans and then continued on. Side drainage of upper Knowles Canyon:
The goal for the evening was the top of Jones Canyon where I would drop in first thing in the morning. Soon after dinner, I was following a road contouring a hillside and the hillside suddenly turned into a sandstone cliff. On my maps, the road appeared to continue and I knew that down below me there was a road, but it was dark and I couldn't see where the road could possibly go, so I headed up over the mesa to the other side, which was also a cliff. At this point it was extremely windy and I considered camping up on the mesa, but decided that I really needed to be further, so I followed the edge of the mesa until I found a route down. All said, about a 4 mile mistake, which was frustrating but I made it pretty close to where I had wanted and was satisfied with the day and had hiked about 20 miles.
I slept very well despite the extreme wind and rain and woke up later than I had hoped. I looked outside to see hardly any snow, just lots of rain and a little sleet. Wind and rain battered Trailstar:
As soon as I started walking, I knew that no snow was bad because it meant that the mud situation would be much worse. By the time I reached my Jones drop-in, I knew that I wasn't making good enough time to do the whole trip. I decided to bail on Jones and head over to Knowles and Mee, and if I was making sufficient progress I could still do most of the trip. After a few more miles it was becoming apparent that a full-on bail was in order. I was not enjoying myself.
This was how nearly the entire day ended up being: several pounds of mud on my feet, and every step I'd slide back 1/2 the distance I'd stepped. It was incredibly inefficient and grueling on the entire body.
The trip back ended up being ~28 miles, all of which was like the above except for the last 6 miles, which was sandier and better-drained soil. Sunset over the canyons:
Rattlesnake Canyon at sunset:
Saturday was probably the most painful physical activity I've ever done, especially the last couple miles. It was, though, one of those formative days of realization of what's possible, and on Sunday I was already looking at maps and tweaking my route for the next try...