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Boulder, CO

A guide to the wilderness of the West.

A Tower and a Canyon


A Tower and a Canyon

Derek Bartz

Beautiful fall foliage in Lower Muley Twist Canyon

We climbed a tower, and camped in the desert the past couple weekends.  Zach and Kirsten were heading to Grand Junction to climb Otto's Route on Independence Monument and invited us along.  It was exciting to finally climb in the desert, and especially to top out on a freestanding tower.  Otto's Route is a classic, and unique due to steps and holes chipped into the rock by John Otto back in 1911 to aid in the first ascent.  Really fun climbing, with an airy final pitch.  

Sunrise over Independence Monument.  Fruita & Grand Junction behind. 

Independence Monument from the approach

A look back down the final pitch

After the weekend in Colorado National Monument we set our sites on Utah proper and made the 7 hour drive out to Capitol Reef National Park on Friday night after work.  We stepped out of the car at 11:30pm to sub freezing temperatures and the fantastic display of galaxy and stars that this part of the country always produces.  We set up our tent at our usual camping spot next to the Fremont River adjacent to the park boundary and slept well knowing we would be strolling through Lower Muley Twist Canyon in the morning.  

Beginning at The Post trailhead, the cairned trail takes you up over the crest of the Waterpocket Fold with commanding views of the prehistoric looking Strike Valley.  An expanse of white slickrock is encountered during the climb, and it appears as though you are free to roam wherever.  But the Waterpocket Fold holds many hidden crevasses, making cross country travel more difficult than one would wish.  Last Spring we followed an off trail route Through the Waterpocket Fold from Spring Canyon to Capitol Gorge, and I believe it to be one of the best routes on the Colorado Plateau.  Being back up on the Fold I  couldn't help but dream about extending that trip, creating a full traverse of the geological feature; a so called Waterpocket Fold High Route (WFHR).  It would rival other mountainous high routes both in it's scenery and environmental challenges.  It would almost certainly be technical, requiring plenty of class 3/4/5 scrambling and possibly mandatory rappels.  Look for a guide book in 25 years, I've covered about 10% of the route thus far. 

A look at the Waterpocket Fold from the top of the Burr Trail Switchbacks.  

Once down in Muley Twist Canyon, the walls rise and a hidden crack paralleling the Fold presents itself. Something about these canyon bottom hikes never gets old.  Strolling down the nearly level gradient of the creek bed at ease, rounding each bend to a new corner of the canyon, never quite knowing when it will end is serene.  There is a constant mix of sunshine and shade, warm and cool.  The temps were only in the high 40's (low 20's at night), but the blue bird day makes this perfect backpacking weather.  I've been in plenty of canyons narrow enough to "twist a mule", and ironically that isn't the real draw to this particular one.  Lower Muley Twist's enormous alcoves, and sheer 800 foot walls are it's main attractions.  Beautifully carved White Navajo sandstone walls and domes streaked in dark desert varnish line the east side of the gorge and the deep reds of the Circle Cliffs are present on canyon right for much of the nine mile path.  Surprisingly Autumn was still in the air, and golden Cottonwoods dotted the creek bed adding yet another color to the already vibrant pallete of the canyon.

Lower Muley Twist Canyon

One of the larger alcoves in Lower Muley Twist

BIG walls

When I asked the Ranger at the Visitor Center about water, they said we probably wouldn't find any.  They were wrong  Three springs and plenty of huge potholes to fill up at.

Nearing the end of the canyon

Days are short this time of year, and by the time we reached the narrowest portion of Lower Muley Twist twilight was beginning to settle in.  We broke through the Waterpocket Fold by passing through a 10 foot gap sandwiched between 800 foot sandstone walls, and walked out into the equally scenic Halls Creek drainage.  After continuing on in the dark a bit, we set up camp in a dry, sandy wash and settled in for the long, cold night.  The next morning we did our best to follow the faint trail through Halls Creek, but it is easy to get distracted while constantly staring up at the spires and cracks in the Waterpocket Fold.  We chose an especially narrow, prominent chasm to explore, and left the trail.  A short class 3 scramble led us down into the dry creek bed and we began bushwhacking our way up as the walls closed in and continued to rise.  It gave us a remote, adventurous feeling; this place hasn't seen many footprints.  Thirty minutes of walking led us to a huge dryfall and an abrupt deadend, proving the difficulty of covering such terrain.  The entire Waterpocket Fold goes like this, a maze that might not even have a solution.  I look forward to searching though.

One of many narrow, twisting side canyons begging for exploration; this one we did.

The short, unnamed slot

Looking south down the Waterpocket Fold.  Lower Muley Twist comes in somewhere between the all of the fins and domes.

Halls Creek just a short distance from The Post trailhead