Adventure 2021: Capitol Reef National Park — Upper Muley Twist, Day 1 (May 16)

Scroll down to content

“Uh oh”. My foot slipped on the slickrock, as I scrambled for a better hold. Pebbles fell away beneath my feet. I started to rocket up the slope in a panic before forcing myself to take a breath and at least pretend to plan where my next few handholds were going. I scooted up the last few feet, still refusing to look down and behind me. The domed Navajo sandstone plunged down hundreds of feet to the valley floor. The exact number of hundred was purely academic.

Drop to the valley floor
Drop to the valley floor

“Well, that was terrifying,” I exclaimed.

“I saw that, are you ok?” asked Doug.

“No, not really” I was rattled for another mile or so as the trail continued along a knife edge of Navajo.

Knife edge of Navajo sandstone
Knife edge of Navajo sandstone

The morning had started at 6:00 am, with an early breakfast and a drive to the Upper Muley trailhead in Capitol Reef National Park . Music had made the 4WD road especially delightful. We went in about a mile or so from the cars, found a campsite, emptied out our packs and started our day hike.

Doug hiking into Upper Muley Twist canyon
Doug hiking into Upper Muley Twist canyon

It was spectacular, easily a top 10 lifetime hike.

The author in Upper Muley Twist canyon
The author in Upper Muley Twist canyon

We found a side canyon with a gigantic Douglas Fir tree, towering against the cliff in the narrow defile. The trail took a turn up the river left canyon wall, but we first explored a short narrows section that extended forward, complete with a few pools.

Douglas Fir
Douglas Fir
Looking skyward
Looking skyward
Doug in the narrows
Doug in the narrows

After exploring the slot, we took the trail up the side, precarious in places. Circular scones of Wingate adorned the opposite wall.

Circular scones of Wingate
Circular scones of Wingate

Like Lower Muley Twist Canyon, the left wall was white-yellow Navajo sandstone, the right was red-pink Kayenta and Wingate. The Navajo culminated in domes, the Kayenta formed shelves, and the Wingate wow’d with sheer faces.

Dome of Navajo sandstone
Dome of Navajo sandstone

We climbed up, twisting and weaving out onto the Navajo. We took an extended break on the top- in the sun, but with a steady breeze to make it comfortable. Across the way spread the Halls Creek valley, the Henry Mountains in the distance (notable for being the last mountain range in the lower 48 to be discovered by the white man). The parallel ridges of the Oyster Shell Reef and the Waterpocket fold extending in both directions out of sight.

Oyster Shell Reef (background) and Waterpocket Fold (foreground)
Oyster Shell Reef (background) and Waterpocket Fold (foreground)
Panorama of Navajo sandstone
Panorama of Navajo sandstone

The trip down was challenging, as mentioned above. I mentally recovered as we went close to the edge but always veered aside. Eventually I realized that the National Park trail hadn’t killed me yet, and probably wouldn’t. We came across a curious set of yellow mini-sand dunes at the top.

Mini-sand dunes
Mini-sand dunes

Once we continued along the ridge far enough, the cliffs petered out and the descent was actually quick and easy.

“Twelve minutes to the bottom,“ quoted Doug, reading from a trail guide on his phone.

“Is that free fall?” I quipped.

We hung out in a shady spot of canyon before returning to camp. After setting up our tents I sat down to journal. In the sideways evening light, I looked up to see bighorn sheep carved on the nearby sandstone wall. Petroglyphs! We shot some photos, then kept far away to leave them pristine.

Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs
Narrow and steep canyon walls created hilariously inaccurate GPS tracks
Narrow and steep canyon walls created hilariously inaccurate GPS tracks

8 miles

Strava link

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.