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Moody Canyons, Utah

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Queen of the Walkabout

Joined: 15 Jan 2004
Articles: 35
Comments: 1
 Posted: 9/9/2004, 6:31 pm

This is the ultimate get away from it all hike in the Escalante area that is not some sort of technical canyoneering or cross country hike. It is in a fairly remote area and does not see a lot of use. It is written up in Steve Allens' Canyoneering 3 book, but I saw only two faded footprints the entire trip.

This hike promised to be a little tougher than a stroll down a canyon, so I decided to do it lightweight for me--- a tarp, no tent, rebagged food etc to watch weight.
I do not have mileage for this hike as Steve gives time in motion but I do not think it over 20-22 miles, if that. I met Steve a few years ago on Nipple Ranch Road near No Mans' Mesa----he's a tall strong guy with a big smile and easy going attitude. I like his guidebooks for their excellent road descriptions and his obvious love of the land.

The loop is Middle Moody Canyon to the Escalante River, a short hop to the mouth of East Moody downriver, up to the canyon head, locate an old mining road, over the top by some building remains, line of sight to your vehicle, downclimb a gully and cross over the Middle Moody to your vehicle. Water was an issue for this hike with unreliable springs in both canyons; the Escalante being the only reliable water source. I found excellent springs in East Moody near the river and continuing upcanyon a ways; Middle Moody a few potholes and damp sand.

The trailhead is at the end of the Wolverine Loop road; it becomes the Moody Canyon road. It is at the edge of nowhere. There are no signs or developed trailhead, you just park and look at your map. When I was there I saw no one else on the road or the parking area. One utah guide states about this area" you must be comfortable with remote desert backpacking as you will probably be the only one around for miles". Yep, that's about right.

The fun starts right away to get into Middle Moody. Taking a large pack down a rock fall is a scramble with stepping gingerly between boulders without falling 10-15 feet in between. Then a steep scree slope to the canyon bottom and you stroll in a canyon within a canyon. The Moody canyons here are very big and open-there are two forks- the main and the middle. What I was walking in was a downcut, slot like but not terribly deep or narrow. It was pretty and provided some shade, with water sculptured walls, boulders from the tall Wingate walls that rolled down, and enough dampness to support small trees and other water loving greenery. It was short and soon I cut a meander on an old mining road that had degenerated into an animal trail.

As I continued downcanyon I was in the Middle Moody main watercourse, broad and bouldered. Several large boulder chokes made life interesting to climb thru and around. Good to get that heart rate up to make up for the lazy hiking in the canyon bottom. Up on the talus slopes the Chinle formation added attractive colors in the clay, rainbow like, blues, grays, maroons and other pastel shades.

Arriving at the Escalante I paused to check the river out then contour along the bank. I would not have to cross the river this trip as I was simply hiking downriver to the next canyon on the same side. Horse packers apparently use the other side of the river; I was fighting willow branches trying to pull my pack off my back.
The river canyon here is relatively narrow with tall beautiful walls. I negotiated a steep scree slope; then tamer hiking. It's brushy at the mouth of East Moody and narrow, I hike up the dry stream bed bordered with thick vegetation to get into it. Along the Escalante I had discovered I had left my topo in the Jeep. I went to pull out the map to see if there were any debouches before East Moody that might throw me off; I didn't have the map anywhere.

I knew I could reverse the route, but having studied it quite a bit and Steve's description was copied and I had that I elected to continue.

As usual I had some motivation for this hike, this time not in the form of words but photography. Phillip Hyde and David Muench had photographed the beautiful walls of East Moody. I opened David's coffee table book to the photo I nearly fell off my chair. OMG--- the wall were PURPLE-- with a blue hue. It was unreal, even without filtering the colors were incredible. This particular book he decribed by thumbnails in the back what the exposure was and how he took the shot. Though I knew I couldn't take photos like that I wanted to see it, in any light, and take my own recollections of such a place.

I hiked up East Moody in spring waters, lovely as the water snaked around great boulders and over small ledges. The Escalante is filterable if not during floods but it is recommended you use springs due to the agricultural run off in the river. I planned to camp soon near the tapestry walls to see them in the late and early light. The main area was about 2 miles up from the Escalante. I picked up some water and renewed my Camelback here; as you prodeeded upcanyon water would be non existant. The sky was getting darker with big clouds and ominous rumbling. Uh-oh, I had not checked the forecast like I usually did. I located the beautiful walls, took some of my own photos, then looked for a place to go to ground.

I picked a large flat rock with a slight slope for run off. It looked like it was going to rain like hell. I located a couple of rocks to secure the edges of my tarp. Of course, the next day when I hiked up canyon there was an alcove; it would have been a difficult climb up with a pack but would have offered shelter in the wild weather. I was up on a bench to avoid potential run off in the stream bed.

The sky was an angry blue red tinge with thunder and some lightning on the rim. I hurridly ate, laid out my ground cloth and bag, covered my pack and camera and crawled into my cave. Right after that here came the rains, at times in sheets. Fortunately not a lot of wind, it seemed to funnel down the canyon proper and I was somewhat protected by peripheral boulders. Thunder boomed, lightning crashed and it poured. I got some sleep but had to rearrange things several times to prevent rivulets from entering my space.

The morning still some light rain, everything was soaked around me, I had stayed dry as had my gear. I was glad I was on a rock, not in the mud. It is hard to pack a backpack under a tarp, I found out. I ended up dressing in my rain gear and sitting outside as I organized things. The tarp I shook out, folded and stuck in a garbage bag to prevent from wetting things in my pack, covered my pack and started hiking. The sky was dull gray and weeping big rain drops. The upcanyon hiking was slow, lots of boulder chokes, hard to climb the slippery rocks in wet shoes. Little canyons shot off everywhere, I walked up a couple. The correct exit canyon was the head but would be a left branching canyon so many hours up from the Escalante according to Steve Allen.

Soon the canyon walls had a break in them, it was a weakness in the Wingate cliffs that spelled the way out. I would ascend a mining road over the top, short and not much elevation gain. The bad part was it was thru the Chinle; this was the slowest and toughest part of the trip. Part of the Chinle formation is the Bentonite clay. This is the greasiest, stickiest substance known to man when wet. You cannot get thru it with the gnarliest 4wd vehicle if its' really wet. My waffle soled boots picked up the stuff and even my trekking poles had globs of the stuff sticking to them. Soon it was like I was walking in platform shoes---I had anywhere from one half to an inch of the stuff on my boots everytime I picked up my foot. It was take 20 steps and try to clean the shoes. Not only was it extra weight , it was slippery and it had a suction like effect that was hell on my body with the pack and the uphill.

It was raining, I was terrified if I fell I could not get up in the slick mud. I mean truely---at one point I was standing still and my feet slowly slid apart like I was on ice. I wanted to sit down and whine and cry like a baby. This was not a fun wilderness experience!!! The top at this rate looked impossibly far away, I might have to camp in this muck!!! Of course I made it to the top, then had to cope with the slippery down side. I saw the old mining buildings and sighed in relief; I was on the right track. I still could not see my Jeep, after I passed the mining buildings and was out of the Chinle, I saw my vehicle several air miles away.

It was a nice trek over slickrock that was filled with tiny waterpockets. I immediately recovered my enjoyment and wonder at the hiking. A larger pothole offered a chance to clean my muddy boots and lower rainpants. I came to the gully I must descend, a cairn marking the route. I had to rope my pack off a 15 foot undercut ledge, back off it and lower myself using my arms with my boot edges as friction against the smooth walls. Lowered my pack once again to the top of a bench, slid down , then down and climb over the rockfall to my Jeep thru the Middle Moody inner gorge. This hike was a pretty good work out. It took a day and a half. It was still raining some and I was concerned driving out over the clay based road.

I made it into Escalante no problem. I holed up in a cheap motel one day and it rained like cats and dogs. For some reason I was tired and enjoyed sitting out on the porch with a book, the rain dripping off the aluminum awning, and watching the world go by. I was at peace and felt renewed, as if this trip was more than just a hike. It is ------in southern utah.
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