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Thread: Waterpockets, Tank Canyon, Side Step Canyon

  1. #1

    Waterpockets, Tank Canyon, Side Step Canyon

    I thought I should contribute a trip report in return for all the fascinating and helpful ones, and the great photos, that people have taken the trouble to put on this site.

    Mine is something of a salutary lesson on concentrating on your route as it’s a bit embarrassing admitting how stupid we were!

    Myself and another Londoner spent 3 weeks in Utah, but I’ll ignore reporting the areas which are covered regularly here, such as Pine Creek, the Subway, Point Sublime, Coyote Buttes and various hikes off Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Instead I’ll feature the 3 days in perhaps places less travelled.

    First, briefly, we spent a day at Waterpockets followed by Cedar Mountain which overlooks the lower Paria.

    Waterpockets was on the Paria Plateau, north of, and overlooking Buckskin Gulch and The Wave, and about 40 minutes down a 4W road. As we’d never been before, we just explored all the brain rocks and teepee areas randomly and, although not as good as Whitepocket, it was nonethe-less an amazing place to wander for 3 hours.

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    Then, leaving the paved highway at the Big Water Visitor Centre, we made our way to the rim of Paria to look down on the widest part of the canyon towards Lees Ferry.

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    Jumping on a few days, we decided to venture down Tank Canyon and Deer Range Canyon (en route to Escalante). Michael Kelsey’s book had described Tank’s colours as like Coyote Butte South and his book had a photo that had always enticed me. Although he told me there were much nicer places in the area, it was still very beautiful and well worth seeing.

    After being told the area would be hot, sandy and with no water we decided to make it an overnight trip. Our plan was to park early evening just off the Skutumpah Road, hike 5-6 miles down the ATV track with big packs and lots of water, then camp near the drop into Tank Canyon, which we’d enter with just day packs the next day.

    However, we’d made a late start and the light was soon fading on us. But every time we considered setting up camp we kept saying “just a bit further” with our head torches on, as the first 3 miles looking for where the track splits seemed much longer than it should have done.

    In the end we saw a very-rarely-used track split off to the right which was the one we guessed we needed, and so decided to set up camp....finding the best-looking clearing 50 yards further on down the same dirt road that we’d come down on.

    A sleepless night was spent under the rain with lightning and thunder heard before we got going again.

    But unbelievably, (I’ve never done anything like this before), in the morning we continued on the original dirt road both completely forgetting that in the darkness the night before we had actually finally located the Y-junction we were supposed to turn down. (I suppose the previous day had been a long one, long 4WD back from Pt Sublime, other Grand Canyon viewpoints, getting maps/weather forecasts/supplies/a car repair and even a hospital visit in Kanab).

    So we continued down the wrong track looking for the Y-junction and right fork which we’d forgotten we had already passed the night before!

    At least after 30 minutes I had the foresight to see some kind of wash forming to our right and questioned this, as my map said if it was Tank, it should be on my left. But by then we were reluctant to turn back in search of the Y-junction because if we hadn’t reached it yet – still not remembering we had in fact seen the faint track at nightfall – we’d be heading back for nothing and have to turn round again. I did know from my map the fork of the Y that we did not want would eventually reach a dead end, so we pressed on to either find our Y junction turn-off or the dead end. We did get to the dead end confirming our mistake, spent 45 minutes going back to our tent where lo and behold we spotted the junction and realised what idiots we’d been.

    So off we went this time down the correct faint right fork track in search of the off-trail drop into Tank. Carrying a satellite photo and map (but no GPS), we took an educated guess when we saw some sort of dried-up creek on our left (Tank itself was not yet visible). It was a bit of a scramble down, but about half way down we saw some of the beautiful coloured teepees on the opposite East rim of Tank. (ideally for a better view of them we should have walked a bit further staying high and headed through scrub/trees to the West Rim before looking to drop down).

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    Once in Tank, we made our way up canyon to the tiny slot and dryfall that blocked progress. Then we headed down Tank towards the confluence with Deer Range, passing banded slick rock with yellow/orangey tones and a series of dry water pockets.

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    After hitting Deer Range we headed south down it - passing a great huge hoodoo we had no prior knowledge of.

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    After another pleasant 1.5 hours we had lunch before turning back.

    Then we made our second mistake. Heading down dry Tank it had been so obvious where the confluence was with Deer Range’s wash - the wider of the two dry washes - that we thought it would be so obvious on the way back that we weren't even thinking to look for it.

    But when at the bottom of Tank, its entrance must have been a little concealed or over a small hump or round a corner, and so while talking we must have walked right past without noticing.

    30-60 minutes later we had the same dilemma as in the morning – had we passed it, should we turn perhaps for nothing, or should we plough on. We thought perhaps we’d slowed going upcanyon in the heat and hadn’t yet passed it?

    We chose to go on, but after another half-hour and no sign of that huge hoodoo, we’d concluded we’d gone too far, and perhaps way too far? As our maps showed we could keep going right to the head of Deer Range and then on another 4WD road towards Skutumpah Road and then south to complete a very long loop to our tent, so we headed on.

    But eventually the river bed hit a dead end and a steepish scramble lay ahead. It did seem too soon to have covered all the mileage to the head of Deer Range, and looking at our map contours it seemed we probably were not at its head. We decided to make a steepening awkward climb which got us up to the top of a cliff to the west, but there was no sign of any dirt road and all around was trees. So we just headed west through vegetation hoping to hit either Tank, or the ATV track we’d taken the night before or in the morning. Luckily we hit a track and recognised it as where we’d mistakenly been in the morning, and so we retraced the morning steps to our tent!

    The second place I’ve put photos on for is Side Step Canyon. Our navigation was far better, although this time getting there from the parking at the bottom of Wahweap Creek was such a boring hot walk, as was the turn off up the really twisty West Fork wash (the raised banks were all cryptobiotic soil so we didn’t want to cut corners), that it seems to take forever, and again we often questioned if we’d really not reached what we were looking for, or if it was up a side canyon or amphitheatre we'd passed. In the end, after passing a couple of quite interesting looking side canyons that we thought could be Side Step, we reached the one that I thought was it (99% sure I was right), and set up camp near the mouth. It was a beautiful spot and sunset.

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    Waking up at sunrise I explored up Side Step, the wash took me up a slot, and climbed up some of the white banks without going particularly high towards the rim at the canyon head. The rim apparently was the easier start point until the BLM closed off that approach road, but I’ve been told it’s still a bit of a maze working your way down. On my return to the Side Step/West Fork confluence my friend was awake and we explored up some washes and amphitheatres on the other side of West Fork, before heading back to the car without seeing another person.

    The Side Step area is beautiful, but I’d urge any visitors to be careful where they trample as it appears very unspoilt from so few visitors coming up West Fork, which would lose all vegetation and suffer erosion if it was more popular and people didn’t stick to washes.


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  4. #2
    Excellent TR! Glad you found your way back.

  5. #3
    Side Step Canyon is awesome yes!

    https://picasaweb.google.com/1161408...GrandStaircase

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  6. #4
    Hi Paul. Thanks for those pictures. Shame I didn't see it from the top down like you did. I just hiked up about 10 minutes until I hit a slot and went up there until I couldn't hike further. Someone told me it's a bit of a maze picking your way down from the rim to the wash - did you find that easy to route find?. Did you sort of enter in the spot where the rim has a saddle in my photo, and then over to the left hand side of the canyon. From the bottom, I never quite appreciated how far back that white stuff goes to the rim. Ross

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