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Finishing What I Started: Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, April 21-23
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Brendan S
(brendans) - MLife

Locale: Fruita CO
Finishing What I Started: Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, April 21-23 on 05/03/2012 22:43:33 MDT Print View

Background: I first attempted this trip last November, when I had to bail due to slick, sticky clay mud making walking a quite arduous activity. The route: leave from Pollock Bench Trailhead, which is about a five minute drive from my house, hike up and out of Flume Canyon, cross Glade Park, drop into Jones Canyon, hike along the Colorado to Mee Canyon, up Mee, down Rattlesnake canyon back to the trailhead. Depending on how things were going, I'd also add in Knowles.

In addition to the November trip, I spent a snowy late December weekend exploring the rims of the forks of Jones Canyon looking for a route in. The two spots that I had identified as possibilities from maps and satellite images ended up not being possibilites, but on the last day on my way back to my truck I found a route down.

I knew this would be a difficult trip: I had Saturday, Sunday and Monday until 11am to do over 70 miles (more if I decided to add Knowles), probably half them off-trail. Temps were forecasted to climb as high as 90 degrees, and with one of the dryest springs on record, I knew that water would be a problem in sections.

The route out of Flume Canyon follows a ledge along the canyon wall to the head of the canyon.

Lots of fine soil crusts in the area.asd

Despite the dry winter and spring, there was still a lot blooming, like this twistflowerasdasd

One of the best parts of this hike was the huge variation in geology and flora. After climbing out of Flume and on my way up to Black Ridge, I passed through these colorful sections of clay hills.sdlafkj

Next was following elk trails through Pinyon Juniper forest.sldkjf

...and a snack break on top of Black Ridge.slkdjfs

Next was crossing Glade Park over to the top of Jones Canyon. I knew that this section would most likely be dry, but that I would pass a stock pond along the way If I needed water. At its best, it was sage brush as far as the eye could see; at its worst, several miles of road walking and

This pothole near the top of Knowles Canyon saved me from the stock pond. I was grateful. A couple miles past this while walking along an old road, I passed another woman backpacking who said that she had gone down Knowles Canyon and it was totally dry. I found this a little hard to believe, even in a dry year, but decided that it was not worth the risk to add it into my trip. lskdjfs

Ipomopsis aggregatakhj

I made it to the bottom of Jones Canyon at the hottest part of the afternoon. Water and the cool shade of the cottonwoods and canyon walls refreshed and rejuvenated.b

Much of Jones was a bushwack through thick willows with a constant chorus of canyon tree frogs.asldf

Further down, the canyon floor was covered in bear and mountain lion prints. The mountain lion wasn't surprising, but I hadn't seen signs of bear in any of these canyons before.sdf

Finally cooling down as the sun drops...asdfsa

Eriogonum inflatumlsdkfj

This was definitely a trip of contrasts. Most of Jones Canyon is one of those places that it feels totally feasible that no human has walked there in decades (or much more). There are no trails into the canyon from the top and private property near its terminus at the river makes a trip up from the river tedious (all BLM literature that I've seen actually says that it's impossible to get into Jones from the bottom...). Anything that could be considered canyon walls end a couple miles or so away from the river. I followed the private property line for a few miles until it ended at the river. This section was a bit jolting after the pristine wilderness of Jones Canyon. The entire area (including miles into the wilderness area) was totally destroyed by cattle. In many areas there was zero vegetation--just bare ground and cow pies. You could not tell the difference between inside the private ranch fence and two miles+ into the wilderness area. Next up was following the river for a while. Routefinding here was tricky. Travel down near the river is next to impossible in areas due to brush and canyon walls. There are bighorn and deer trails as well the river canyon rim that can be followed, but if you stay too high you risk impassible cliffs and lots of backtracking.sldkfjs

Sometimes you don't have much choice but walking in the water along the side. In an unexpected bit of luck, the river was only running at about 2000 cfs and I was able to cross in slow, knee deep water for easier traveling on the other side. More civilization:asldkjf

I crossed back at Knowles Canyon and sat here for some lunch while river floaters asked if everything was okay and looked at me like I was crazy when they learned I was on foot.asdfsd

Unfortunately, at the last crossing I neglected to take my steripen out of my outside pocket and got nothing when I tried to purify some water. I had some backup micropur tablets but for river water I felt it needed more than the 15 minutes that would otherwise be fine. I boiled up a quick liter, added a couple nuun tabs (with another liter on deck with the micropur) and headed on. Nothin like some piping hot lemon lime when it's pushing 90. The section between Knowles and Mee was easier routefinding along game trails, but was still tedious with lots of up and down and lots of sand. I stopped for a cool down dip at Black Rocks.

The going was much easier once I headed up Mee. The lower part has some impressive spires.sdfsdsldkfjssdf

The upper half is deep, lush, and wet with big alcoves, caves, and arches.qe

Right before exiting the canyon I ran into another backpacker who had come down Knowles the previous day. I asked him about water and he said that there was plenty the entire length of the canyon (which I would have expected this time of year). I'm not sure if the woman I'd seen the previous day wasn't where she thought she was or what, but it was pretty strange. I climbed out of the canyon that evening and camped at the rim. Dawn coffee:ppp

The next morning I had about 10 miles to go and finished late morning. Overlooking Rattlesnake Canyon:sdkfhasd

Despite the preparation and anticipation for this trip (and despite the heat, some tricky routefinding, and inconvenience of broken steripen), the trip seemed strangely painless and enjoyable. Just backpacking, which I love.

Arcteryx Motus SS (first trip with this...very impressed)
Patagonia Long Hauler shorts (love em)
Patagonia Ultra lightweight merino 1/4 socks (proving to be more durable than darn toughs)
OR Swift cap+bandana (worked)
Cheap shades (worked)
Inov8 Roclite 295 (like em ok but the toebox is too tall for me. Had some blisterage on my toes.)

MYOG pack (new one...separate post later)
MYOG 2.5oz Apex quilt (barely warm enough at night with the rest of my clothes...probably should have brought my down quilt)
MYOG down jacket
cap 2 bottoms
short ridgerest (love the convenience but I really sleep better with my neoair)
xtra pair of paty UL socks
MYOG poles
canon s90
steripen opti
1L nalgene HDPE
2L Platy bottle
MSR titan kettle
Snow peak giga ti stove (nice for quick easy coffee in the mornings)
bag of toothbrush/meds/sunscreen etc
maps (printed from
Brunton 9020g compass

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Black Ridge on 05/04/2012 00:38:33 MDT Print View

Absolutely stunning. Hadn't heard of the place, thanks for stoking the fire.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Nice! on 05/04/2012 06:37:35 MDT Print View

Amazing photos and trip details. These are the kinds of reports I love.
Thanks for posting.

Brendan S
(brendans) - MLife

Locale: Fruita CO
Re: Nice! on 05/07/2012 07:20:14 MDT Print View

Thanks for the kind words...

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
Re: Black Ridge on 05/07/2012 09:43:51 MDT Print View

Beautiful stuff brendan, thank!

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Finishing What I Started: Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, April 21-23" on 05/07/2012 11:56:01 MDT Print View

Ahhhh, Brendan, great words and visuals holmes.

Kyle Crawford

Locale: SouthEast
! on 05/08/2012 22:24:02 MDT Print View

Great pictures, Brendan. Makes me wanna visit the area.

Edited by getupandgo on 05/08/2012 22:24:32 MDT.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Re: Finishing What I Started: Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, April 21-23 on 05/12/2012 08:27:42 MDT Print View


Great report!

I did a group float trip from Fruita to Westwater about a month ago and we hiked up Rattlesnake and Knowles Canyons for several miles… it certainly made me wish I had my backpack on.

It’s hard to find much evidence of many people being back there, even within a few miles of the Rattlesnake and Knowles campsites, where I did most of my exploring. You’ve inspired me to check it out further!