I drove down from Salt Lake City on Friday morning and arrived at the town of Bryce about 1 p.m. I jumped on the next shuttle into Bryce Canyon National Park. I’d never been here before, so the excitement factor was high.
First stop inside the park was the Visitor’s Center to visit the ranger’s desk and purchase a $5 backcountry permit. I always enjoy talking to the park ranger, it’s either incredibly helpful or comically odd. Today was the latter. I always feel like they’re sizing me up for my suitability to venture into the backcountry on my own, because to get a backcountry permit you usually have to tell them where you plan to camp and answer other questions they deem pertinent. Usually it’s a helpful dialog where I too get to size them up for helpful info like what water sources are likely to be reliable, which camping locations are optimal for proximity to water, good views or a warm night’s sleep. Today I got three questions: where am I camping, do I need them to give me a bear canister and how much water will I be carrying?
In response to the first of these, camp site selection, I asked if she had any recommendations to which she said, ‘they’re all pretty much the same’. Okay…
The second, the offer of the bear canister, I simply said ‘no’, to which I was expecting a range of questions about bear preparedness, but got none. I hang my food from a tree in camp, which is sufficient and was the reason for my decline.
The third, water, was just: ‘you should carry lots of water’. I asked her if any of the water sources in the park were likely to be reliable for the next few days, to which she offered the helpful response that I may or may not find water anywhere ‘down there’, but that Yellow Creek should be okay. ‘Great!’ I reply, ‘that’s where I’ll camp tonight then’. I select my 2nd night’s campsite and we get the paperwork thing done and permit issued. Just to be sure, because I tend to think that way when it comes to water, I close with ‘so I really don’t need to carry much water down there at all, because i’ll be camping at Yellow Creek tonight, which should have reliable water, right?’, to which she says ‘no, you should carry lots down there’, to which I reply ‘in case I get thirsty on the way there, or in case there’s no water at Yellow Creek when I get there?’, to which she says ‘yes’. She pauses briefly and then says, none of us have been down there for a while, so, we’re not really sure, you should just carry lots of water. Okay.
I sit on a bench and contemplate the situation and decide that i’m going to put more weight on some trip reports i’d read recently online reporting that water supply was good at a few locations in the park. Water is heavy, 2lb per liter, so you really don’t want to carry more than you need. I fill up 2 liters of water for the 5.5 mile hike in and jump on a park shuttle to Bryce Point.
There’s people everywhere; the Visitor’s Center is crowded, the shuttle is full, the viewpoint at Bryce is teaming with cars and cameras… i’m starting to feel very claustrophobic. I took a few quick obligatory photos from Bryce Point, which, to be fair, deserved far more than that as it’s totally stunning. The crowds dissipated after a quarter of a mile and ceased completely as I pass the ‘Bryce Wilderness Area’ sign. Let the adventure begin!
Bryce Point to Yellow Creek
I’m here to hike the Under the Rim Trail, a 23 mile hike from Bryce Point to Rainbow Point. Bryce ‘Canyon’ isn’t really a canyon, rather a series of huge amphitheaters below a rim where water and erosion over millions of years has caused the creation of massive rock spires called hoodoos. Going way back, like 60 million years back, most of southern Utah was a giant freshwater lake. Sediment of clay, silt and sand settled on the lake floor into limestone layers. Fast forward to 16 million year’s ago and the land sheered up in this area from sea level to 8,000ft and created a plateau. Since that time water has eroded the limestone layers at different speeds and created the space as you now see it.
Anyway, back to the trail, it drops from the rim at Bryce Point at 8,300ft onto the valley floor at 6,800ft and then winds along under the rim before it climbs back up at the south end of the park to Rainbow Point at 9,100ft. This a photo looking back on the area from the end of the trail with approximate locations of my camps and the trail:
This afternoon i’d planned to go 5.5 miles to the Yellow Creek campground, the one that may or may not have water. The trail wound it’s way down through some incredible landscapes, the highlight definitely being the ‘Hat Shop’, which my gps describes as a collection of red gravel pillars topped by non-eroded grey cap rocks resembling hats. The camp site was nice, with two welcoming signs, one each for the recent bear and mountain lion activity. And indeed it did have a healthy flow of nice water! I finally got to test out my new camp stove too, I traded in my 12oz Jetboil stove for a 2.8oz setup (canister stove and 16oz pot); I’m happy to report it’s a great little stove for the weight. I used some aluminum for a wind shield, but probably need to craft something up that will be a little more durable for the Continental Divide Trail next month. I fell asleep feeling very grateful to be on my first backpacking trip in 6 months!
Day 1 pics:
Yellow Creek to Natural Bridge
Today was great! Blue skies, massive vistas, empty trails. A hot dry heat that felt at the same time wonderful and exhausting.
In the 48 hours on the trail I encountered a total of 5 hikers, 2 ultra-runners and a pair of lost French day-hikers. The lost French day-hikers were pretty freaked out, they’d come down from the rim along a day-hiking trail and somehow gotten themselves 2 miles south of where they thought they were and didn’t know how to get out. ‘I feel we are quite concerned for our safety’ (say with thick french accent and wide eyes). I looked over the map with them and showed them my gps pinpointing our location and showed them where they were sure they were not. After showing them their route out one of them exclaimed quite seriously ‘or maybe we just go with you, can we go with you?’ I looked over at their tiny day pack and told them they definitely didn’t want to follow me. I walked with them a ways to show them their route out and when they were happy said au revoir.
I crossed paths with a couple of hikers yesterday that told me aside from Yellow Creek, there is only one other decent water source along the trail and is about 6 miles past Yellow Creek and 11.5 miles from the end of the trail. There are others, but they have a lot of sediment and iron in them. So, I carried a couple of liters out of Yellow Creek which got me through the first part of the day until the second water source at Swamp Canyon. Not wanting to carry too much water weight, i decided to ‘camel up’ by drinking as much as i possibly could there. I also decided to cook my dinner, which uses water, there in lui of when i got into camp in a few more hours. The vista from my dinner table was incredible, as you’ll see below in one of the pics.
Day 2 pics:
Natural Bridge to Rainbow Point
Last night i fell asleep to light drizzle on my tent, a strong wind bending and ruffling the trees and lightening filling the sky. I slept well and was happy to see the rain had cleared by morning. Even more exciting than sleeping well is waking to no sore body parts! I was very diligent on this trip to stretch well. I broke camp and was hiking by 7. The cloud cover made for a nice morning of cooler hiking. I didn’t see anyone on the trail today. How lucky are we that there are still places like this to come to experience wilderness and solitude? The miles went quickly and soon I was ascending to the rim. The views were incredible!
Day 3 pics:
I jumped on a park shuttle to get me back up to the north end of the park. After eating a filling meal at the Ruby Inn buffet (not recommended, it was less than average quality and totally overpriced) I jumped in my car and started the 5 hour drive back to Snowbird. Fantastic weekend, it was so great to be out hiking again.
Thanks for reading!