Mt. Garfield: First Summit of 2016

Going into the last weekend of January, I started to panic a little bit. Last year, I’d hoped to summit at least one peak per month, I figure that way I can’t ever get too removed from doing something that really revitalizes me. I didn’t quite make it and scratched in both January and April of last year. Not wanting the same thing to happen this year, needing some good elevation gain, wanting to capitalize on a brilliantly sunny day, and celebrating Sprocket’s return to activity, we headed for Mt. Garfield.

Grand Mesa Sprocket and I had attempted Mt. Garfield last April with Josh but we started too late in the afternoon and the southern facing slopes that make for such amazing winter hiking were way too hot for late April. (We did have a sweet beer sampler at Palisade Brewing so all was not lost.)

Grand ValleyMount Garfield has a reputation for being steep and that reputation is definitely deserved (it gains about 2000′ in a litte under 2 miles). Sprocket and I slowly made our way up the slope enjoying the views to the south that just kept getting better and better.

Beth and Sprocket

Sprocket

Plateau

I found that about 1300′ of the elevation happened in about 0.7 miles, after that the grade flattened out a lot and we made even better time. Sprocket loved the flat snowy sections of the trail.

Hiking Sprocket. Snow

Slopes of Mt. Garfield

Blue sky selfie

Finally, we were almost at the summit. The last bit of elevation gain was on a more northerly aspect so there was a lot more snow. I hadn’t tossed any traction devices in my bag which would have been really nice for the ascent (and especially the descent on this section!) but we made our way up pretty easily.

Summit bowl

Snowy trail

The summit was amazing. I couldn’t see as far into the Book Cliffs (or Roan Cliffs…the nomenclature changes right about on top of Mt. Garfield so I think either is okay) as I thought I might but it was still amazing what I could see: the Book Cliffs stretching off to the west, Battlement and Grand Mesas to the southeast, the Sneffles range to the south, and the Uncompahgre Plateau to the southwest.

Book Cliffs. Roan Cliffs.

Sprocket on summit

Sprocket with Roan Cliffs

After taking in the views, we ran down the trail and made it back to the Jeep pretty quickly. I’m sure this is a hike I’ll do again, the option for snow-free elevation gain in the winter is a huge, huge plus.

Grand Valley

Peakbagging: Wagon Road Ridge

I’ve been trying to get up to the summit of Wagon Road Ridge for a long time. After my first trip to the Bookcliffs when I became rather enchanted with their remote, rugged beauty, I knew that I’d eventually have to check their highpoint off my list (or more specifically, the Lower 48 Range5 highpoint list on Peakbagger).

9 Hole, Right Hand Tusher Canyon

I’d heard that Right Hand Tusher Canyon was a difficult drive but found that it was pretty straight forward to drive so before we knew it, we were at the “trailhead.” The trail is definitely not an official one and climbs really steeply. Fortunately, most of the steepest climb is in some sort of shade although there is a long exposed traverse around “9 Hole” before you make the final climb up onto the ridge. The views (pictured above) are pretty fantastic.

Wagon Road Ridge

I have to admit that the best views weren’t actually on the highpoint but rather just when I reached the road on the ridge. Sprocket and I persevered and hiked the rest of the way to the highpoint just because we needed to and then headed back down to meet up with Amanda.

Wagon Road Ridge

Stats:
Highpoint of the Central Roan Cliffs (aka Bookcliffs): 9,503′
Hike: 10mi RT, 1,900′ elevation gain

4×4 Roads: Right Hand Tusher Canyon

I’ve been trying to figure out how to get myself to the top of Wagon Road Ridge to claim the Bookcliff’s high point but that point is really in the middle of nowhere. I attempted to access it from the north at the beginning of May but was turned around because I was on tribal land without the appropriate permit.

FSJ on Right Hand Tusher Canyon

I’d done some research on approaching it from Green River, Utah and I was excited to try it from there since I really love exploring the Bookcliffs but there appeared to be no good trail reports on the upper part of Right Hand Tusher Canyon Road. There was one post where the drivers abandoned their attempt mid-way up the road because they figured there was nothing up higher for them and another on Peakbagger.com that claimed that the road was really terrible and required high-clearance, 4×4, and possibly a locker or traction control.

Right Hand Tusher Canyon

I finally decided to go for it (and take Amanda along with me for the adventure). Of course, a road of unknown difficulty level is the perfect place to take a vintage Jeep on it’s first off road adventure with you. 🙂

It was a long dirt road that was occasionally a little bit rough but really wasn’t that much of a challenge. I used 4-wheel drive in one place to crawl over a couple of rocks and I used low range 4-wheel drive to drive one step hill with a little bit of a loose, washed out channel. Besides those two places, the road was a really easy drive.

Right Hand Tusher Canyon

This is the hardest part of the road, the rock is loose to the right and necessitates driving fairly far towards the “edge.” I tried going up with just my hubs locked but found I needed to shift into low range to make it easier. A locker may be helpful here but is certainly not necessary.

Hardest part, Right Hand Tusher Canyon

Immediately after a rain, I wouldn’t attempt this solo or without a winch since there are a few places that look like they might turn into some slick, deep mud but overall, it was a pretty drive up into the Bookcliffs (that accesses a prominence point! more on that soon!).

Uintah Basin & Book Cliffs Exploration

I had originally planned to spend my three day weekend heading down to New Mexico and Arizona to grab a couple of county high points but when I needed to look at a Jeep in Salt Lake, plans changed. It was still quite the road trip!

Road Trip May 2015After cruising up to Salt Lake, I had my steering debacle that I handled all #damselNOTindistress style and took the chance to visit with a couple of friends before leaving town. (Thank you to both Josh and Jenn for lending me places to crash for a night!)

I thought about hiking Murdock Mountain and hitting a certain point on its western slope that just happens to be the Wasatch County High Point. I’d packed my snowshoes and it sounded like just the adventure that Sprocket and I needed. Although I looked into snowpack issues, I didn’t think to check for road closures. As I was pulling out of Kamas, I saw a sign that said “Road Closed 14 miles ahead.” My hike was supposed to start 25 miles ahead. I quickly checked the Utah DOT site and found that, yes, the road was in fact closed.

Quickly thinking of another goal, I decided to attempt to reach another point that has been bugging me: Wagon Road Ridge. Wagon Road Ridge is the high point of the central Book Cliffs area and the Grand County Prominence Point. Plus, I thought it would be cool to check out the Unita Basin. Since I was already further north of where I usually hang out I decided to come at the point from the north.

UnitaBasin
Map by Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust

Beth driving FSJ

After gassing up in Roosevelt, I cruised along Seep Ridge Road which is super well maintained (paved!) by Uintah County for extractive industry purposes. It was a super lonely drive of just the kind that I like. Exploring little known corners of the US is one of my favorite things to do.

Oil rigs, Seep Ridge Road, Unitah Basin

Eventually, we turned on to Buck Canyon Road and started navigating up towards Wagon Road Ridge. The road starts off on BLM land but then crosses into an indian reservation Unfortunately, I decided to just “go for it” and didn’t get a permit for travel on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. I wasn’t going to pass through Fort Duchesne where permits were sold and it was a Saturday so I was kinda skeptical that I’d be able to get one. (It looks like they are available at a store too so… I probably could have…)

Map by Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust via Unita Basin: An Unconventional Future

That $10 fishing permit for Weaver Reservoir would have come in really handy when I was within 15 miles of my destination and came across a Tribal police officer. (Even though with that permit I still wouldn’t technically be able to drive to Wagon Road Ridge it would have legally put me within a couple of miles.) I was sitting on the side of the road waiting for Francis to get over one of her vapor lock hiccups. He was very cool and when I assured him that I thought I was on BLM (hmm…) but that as soon as I was moving again I would turn around and head off of tribal land. Since he left me sitting there, I briefly thought about going for it anyway but when I passed him sitting along side the road about a mile after turning around I was glad I didn’t. It would have been hard to justify the time to drive 30 miles of dirt!

The red dot below was my destination but I got turned back at the point marked Black Knolls Road. It was so frustrating! (Although I deserved it…)

Wagon Road Ridge attempt

Fortunately, it wasn’t all a waste. Sprocket and I were able to retrace our steps to Seep Ridge Road and follow it to the end of the pavement then down the Book Cliffs side. The traverse to the east along the top of the Cliffs was spectacular with views in every direction.

Book Cliffs Divide

Jeep on Book Cliffs Ridge Road

Book Cliffs

Love this view of the La Sals:

La Sal Mountains from the Book Cliffs

As we started to descend, we dropped more into the classic Book Cliffs scenery:

Book Cliffs

And then, finally, we dropped into the grassy plains at the foot of the Cliffs and crossed into Colorado:

Foot of the Book Cliffs

Sprocket and I stopped for a few minutes to watch these really curious pronghorn hang out before we continued on home.

Pronghorn

In the end, it was a great weekend even though Francis had some issues (in a parking lot near an auto parts store thankfully!) and we didn’t reach any high points. I always love exploring new places and we definitely added some miles of new roads to the memory bank!

 

Exploring the Book Cliffs

After weather sent us scurrying from the San Rafael Swell, we headed to the Book Cliffs. Although I-70 passes along their base from US-6 east to Grand Junction, they’re a relatively unvisited area. Our adventures in the Book Cliffs started in the (ghost?) town of Thompson. The remaining residents have put up a sign with a map detailing the recreational activities available from their little town:

Thompson, UT map

We camped out for the night as it was getting dark and headed to the petroglyph (rock art carvings) AND pictograph (rock art painting) panels in Sego Canyon. Most of my experience with rock art in the Southwest has been with petroglyphs so I was really excited to see the pictographs:

Petroglyphs in Sego Canyon

Pictographs in Sego Canyon

Sego Canyon pictographs

After we checked out the rock art (and waited for the sun to peak over the canyon walls), we headed up Thompson Canyon to the end of the road then returned to head up Sego Canyon and the ghost town of Sego. Sego was a coal mining town that appears to have operated off and on from the 1890s through 1948.

Sego ghost town

Abandoned building near Sego

Cows Sego Canyon

The road goes about 15 miles up into the Book Cliffs and dead ends at the Ute Indian Reservation. We were able to drive almost all the way up (about 13 miles) and walked the rest of the way. The views were incredible!

Sego Canyon Views

Views from the top of Sego Canyon

I even spotted bear tracks in the sand near the end of the road:

Bear track, Sego Canyon

We headed down the canyon and turned onto Book Cliffs Road (clearly marked as a 4×4 road…). It was quite an adventure, as the road dropped into a deep, narrow canyon and climbing back out wasn’t the easiest thing to do but Forrest and the van managed just fine (I tried to manage the chaos in the van and Sprocket slept…).

Van at the Book Cliffs

Forrest at the Book Cliffs

Book Cliff Road

Van in canyon

Road in Wash

Book Cliffs Canyon

Eventually, we cut back south to I-70 and skipped east to Book Cliffs Over The Top Road. According to the map it was possible to make a loop up one canyon, over the top of the plateau, and then dropping down another canyon.

Book Clifs Over The Top Road

Sprocket

As we suspected, the top of the plateau was still pretty muddy and we had to skip our plans for making a loop. Despite the fact our plans had changed, it was awesome to be that high and have views out in every direction. I’m sure we’ll be back with the jeep in a more hospitable season to explore some more!

Tavaputs Plateau

Tavaputs Plateau