Forums Trip Reports Desert Pow in the Unknown Range 4/6/14
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  • #579748
    SwitchBack
    136 Posts

    The forecast for this weekend didn’t really make me want to spend much time outside in the mountains. Gloomy and cold but with little fresh snow. :nononno: So I decided to go to the anti-Wasatch. The Henry Mountains.

    The Henry’s are really intriguing to me. They were the last range in the lower 48 to be mapped. They are in the middle of nowhere. They have a free range wild buffalo herd. As far as I can tell they really haven’t been molested by man. They are supposedly haunted. They are mountains that are seen by many, visted by few.

    They are also in the middle of one of the most geologically unique parts of the world. Capitol reef to the West, Canyonlands to the East, Boulder Mountain and Escalante to the South and the San Rafael Swell to the North. All things that come to mind when you think of snowboarding.

    I tried to ride there last year in late April but when I got there, there was barely any snow left, so I aborted and hung out at capitol reef. I figured my window to hit it this year was running out so I decided to go for it.

    I spent Saturday morning trying to get snowpack info and route beta. Since there are no weather stations there, I tried to use snotel data from Boulder mountain, 30 miles to the SW, and the few TRs on the web to figure out where the snow line was going to be. I figured that there was a 60% chance of decent riding conditions (corn). Good enough for me. At the very least it would be a fun drive on dirt roads in a remote area. (mej, how much to get you on retainer for this info? 🙂 )

    I tried to round up a partner for this last minute adventure but couldn’t. I shouldn’t have been so honest with my expectations I guess. Oh well. More solitude for me.

    I loaded up the truck and headed down to the Goblin Valley area to spend the night.

    Sunday was supposed to be sunny and breezy but to that hot. I planned to take my time and get a later start, hoping for softer climbing conditions.

    The high country was looking way whiter that it did last year. Good news. Hope I don’t have to skin on the road to get to the TH.

    The road was rough but not to bad for a pick up. The last 1.5 miles to the TH had intermittent patches of snow that were easy enough to negotiate.

    It climbed up the drainage looking like your standard desert environment. Then you drop over a little pass and BOOM! Your in a more traditional mountain setting

    I see this stud and his harem hanging out by the TH. Lucky dude. And lucky me. If I get stuck up there I have food for months.

    Thirty minutes of dirt hiking on a jeep road and I’m on snow. Ill take it. About a thousand switchback to go.

    The terrain varied from huge well spaced Ponderosa to thick aspens and spruces. There was a fire a while back. The burn area was pretty cool.

    The aspens, not so cool. There were patches of 1 inch thick by 10 feet tall aspen that would pop op out of no where and get trap you. I got captured more time that I wish to count.
    I don’t know how it kept happening but it did.

    Once I was on the snow I realized it snowed recently. Not from the little storm last night but Im guessing mid week when the LaSals got some. There was 4-6 inches of settled, dry pow in the sheltered areas!

    I got disoriented in the thick forest and once it opened up I realized I was on the opposite side of the gully that I wanted to be. Too late to turn back. I’ll make my corrections on the ridge.

    Once I topped out on Mt Ellen, the views were amazing. Red rock as far as I could see. But I also saw rain to the north which was bad news. The road down low had a lot of clay in it and I was a little worried that if it rained enough, the road would become impassible. I took a few pictures and transitioned, hoping to beat the rain.

    The light was kinda funny so my pictures didn’t come out as well as I hoped. I Guess you had to be there.

    Canyonlands and the LaSals

    Capitol Reefs Water Pocket Fold

    I chose to ride a NE facing slide path that went for 1500 feet before it joined a few more paths in a gully for another 500 of so feet. It had a perfect aspect the made you feel like you were going to end up in the Colorado river in Canyonlands, with the LaSals as a back drop. I had to look up every few turns to take it in. It might be the most aesthetically pleasing run Ive ever had.

    The snow was about 4-6 inches of dry soft settled, but wind damaged powder on top of 3 feet of facets to the ground. It rode great.

    I really wanted to take another lap but I was worried about the rain. I had to work Monday and didn’t want to get stuck out there with no way of getting ahold of anyone.

    So I got back to the truck using a combination of glissading, post-holing, bush wacking, dirt hiking and even some riding. I met up with the jeep road I hiked up and realized that I started up one sub drainage to soon on the way up. Now I know.

    My burrito was waiting for me nice and warm on the dash board.

    And of course I had to hydrate.

    But the adventure wasn’t over yet. Those snow patches that were nice and hard this morning were slushy and muddy. After some white knuckle driving I made it back down to desert 7000 feet below the ridge.


    The rain ended up being a short period of a light drizzle/flurries but Im Ok with my decision to skidattle.

    My route. Red = descent.

    It wasn’t the most physically demanding tour or gnarliest line but it was an awesome adventure. I thought it would just be something I would do so I could say I did. But ended up being a great time climbing up and riding down. Its a trip I plan on repeating.

    Each of Utahs islands in the sky brings something unique to the table. The Stansburys have the twin couloirs. LaSals have big lines. The Oquirrhs have a lot of cougars. The Henrys take the cake for scenery.

    PS. Sorry if this is long. Im both hopped up on caffeine and stoked.

    #675659
    BobGnarly
    220 Posts

    Looks like you had fun out there. Some of those pics are amazing

    #675660
    Taylor
    792 Posts

    Awesome. Way to make it happen. Shoot me a pm next time you head out. Several of us northern AZ guys are way keen on shredding obscure Colorado Plateau sky islands.

    @sun_rocket

    #675661
    nickstayner
    700 Posts

    Cool TR, nice to see one from a lesser-traveled area.

    #675662
    wasatch surf
    979 Posts

    super cool! rad photos awesome work.

    #675663
    Rico in AZ
    559 Posts

    Bravo, a really aesthetic line in a really aesthetic place! I’ve always wondered about a trip like this.

    @taylor wrote:

    Several of us northern AZ guys are way keen on shredding obscure Colorado Plateau sky islands.

    Yup!

    #675664
    aliasptr
    282 Posts

    Great trip report! I love the desert and the mountain contrast! Thanks for sharing! :thatrocks:

    #675665
    Snurfer
    1448 Posts

    Nice work Switchback! :headbang:
    I’ve spent a fair amount of time in that area in different seasons. Never gone in winter due to lack of (spur of the moment) partners and snow data. At some point there were weather instruments on Mt Ellen, but apparently they fell into disrepair and were abandoned. Also, a fair amount of prospecting and logging have taken place in the range over the years and there some established climbing areas in the eastern most part of the range.
    The massive slide path just to the west of where you rode occurred in spring 2005 and can only be described as catastrophic. It stripped that line of about 1500′ x 300′ of massive evergreens, making the old mining route up to Mt Ellen impassable at the time. My dog miraculously avoided being impaled in the broken tangle as she charged ahead to play with some locals (mule deer). The scale of the destruction was shocking and to this day it still informs my winter decision making, despite seeing the carnage on a spring hike.

    Michael Kelsey has an informative book on the area
    http://kelseyguidebooks.com/?page_id=83

    At any rate well done dude!

    Shark Snowsurf Chuna
    Voile V-Tail 170 BC
    Voile One Ninety Five
    Spark R&D Arc

    #675666
    SwitchBack
    136 Posts

    Thanks guys. Glad you liked the pics.

    Snurfer, Are you referring to the open SE face of the bowl (pic is East view)?

    I saw some massive debris piles.

    Here Is some debris stacked up on the gully walls.

    A few hundred feet down the gully where it benches there was a pile of mature trees stacked up 30-40 feet off the ground. I took a pic but the lens got wet and it didn’t come out good.

    Scary stuff indeed. I could totally see how monster avalanches would happen. Im guessing that area goes through major dry spells through the winter and all it takes is a good dump and some wind to overload the facets.

    #675667
    buckchow
    356 Posts

    Sweet, switchback, I’ve never gotten up in the Henries but really would like to. I gotta point out, so in your first photo, which is looking west at the San Rafael Reef while driving I-70: that darker brown triangular face in the center, whose summit barely breaks above the horizon line behind it – the climbers call that Death by Chocolate, and I coincidentally got up to within 20 feet of the summit of that on Thursday, really fun terrain to scramble around in:

    A bit off the summit is a massive double arch, prolly 100 ft across:

    Then in your photo of Canyonlands and La Sals, that sprawling canyon complex in the foreground is the Dirty Devil and Robbers Roost area, with Canyonlands farther distant toward the La Sals. I was actually, literally, somewhere in that terrain when you took that photo, cuz I floated the Dirty Devil this weekend, here’s what it looked like in there:

    Sorry to thread drift away from the splitting but I’m caffeinated and post-trip-stoked too. Hope to see you again soon Switchback!

    #675668
    aliasptr
    282 Posts

    Love this thread! Being back east I am loving getting my desert fix from you guys! Thanks for the drift!

    #675669
    SwitchBack
    136 Posts

    Hey, I thought I saw you from up there, Bucky!

    When I was driving back I was looking at that death by chocolate area from SR 24 and wondering if there was access to the area. Guess there is. It looks really cool.

    That looks like a fun trip. Can you drink the water in the Dirty Devil? When I crossed it there were a lot of alkali looking deposits on the sandbars.

    #675670
    buckchow
    356 Posts

    And I felt there was someone watching me. The Dirty Devil river water, we let it settle over night in a bucket, filtered it, drank it. It’s the thickest river around.

    #675671
    Incalescent
    225 Posts

    Don’t you dare be sorry, Great post! Thanks for all the photos of a little-visited area.
    Henrys are one of my faves. I wish I had some photos of my split mission on Boulder Mountain back in 2000.

    http://goldenincalescent.blogspot.com/

    #675672
    Snurfer
    1448 Posts

    More thread drift – Henry’s stoke….

    Had to dig through the archives, but here are some shots of the 05 slide carnage

    After crossing the debris looking towards Bull Mountain – note the large evergreens, the smaller aspens were perhaps a bit more flexible 😯

    A look back as we ascended n/ne flank of Mt Ellen – a nice clean line shaved off the stand of evergreens

    In the belly

    Shark Snowsurf Chuna
    Voile V-Tail 170 BC
    Voile One Ninety Five
    Spark R&D Arc

    #675673
    Taylor
    792 Posts

    Awesome.

    2005 was a regional event in terms of big slides.

    This one happened here in Flagstaff that same year–tearing huge swaths through big, old trees (a good measure of how anomalous such slides are–probably once-a-century-or-two event). Same thing happened in the Abajos too, but I can’t find pics.

    @sun_rocket

    #675674
    SwitchBack
    136 Posts

    Whoa cool photos guys. Snurfer, in that first pic its neat the trees without the snow. gives you an idea of the snow depth when it slid.

    Taylor, in your pic I like how the felled trees are aligned with the direction of the sliding snow.

    Breadbox, nice work getting some turns on Boulder mountain. I drove to escalante a few time this winter and was constantly scouting lines. I was tempted to make my girlfriend wait in the truck while I took a lap. If there was a bit more snow Id have no choice.
    Ive heard tales of lines on the slick rock in the hells backbone area. Talk about aesthetic.

    Drift away!

    #675675
    Snowolf
    86 Posts

    Great stuff SwitchBack!

    Ive done a ton of southern Utah hiking and those mountains are as iconic as Navajo Mountain is in the Glen Canyon area.

    Those aftermath pics are terrifying….really drives home the point of the power of big slide events.

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