Trip Report: Dark Canyon backpack

Dark Canyon backpack
By L Beth Blattenberger
HIKE 05/27/2021 MOD+

Dark Canyon Wilderness backpacking, Memorial Day weekend, 2021
By Beth Blattenberger & Ron Bauer

Our party of 10 spent 4 days exploring the remote and scenic, Dark Canyon Wilderness in southern Utah. Russell, Dawn, Ron, Leli, Thomas, Lonnie, Shawn & Beth met and camped on Thursday evening at Hite Campground near the upper end of Lake Powell. Julia and Tony joined the group early the next morning. Our group then drove 14 miles down a dirt road to the Sundance Trailhead after a highway pull-out stop to take photos at the White Canyon scenic overlook.
At the trailhead we found two young women who had just returned to their car to discover a flat tire. Some of us stayed to help, while others started down the trail mid-morning. The trail begins by following a rough 4WD road along the canyon rim, then branches off with little initial elevation loss. The group reunited at a rest stop before arriving at a breath-taking view and equally breath-taking drop off into Dark Canyon. From here the cairned route/trail plunges 1300 vertical feet down many, steep, boulder-strewn, hard-to-follow switchbacks. The hot day took its toll on the group. Upon arrival at the small stream that flows down Dark Canyon, we took a long rest, waiting for a bit of shade and cooler temperatures before continuing two miles upstream to make a camp for two nights. Our first camp was on both sides of the stream. We fell asleep to the sounds of frogs and crickets with stars overhead. We saw just one other party camped in the canyon that night, and met no other campers in the next days.
On Saturday eight of us day hiked five miles upstream past the intersection of Young's canyon. Be it rock benches, sandy trails, or the water-worn rock of the stream bed, there were multiple ways to hike up the creek, and the route finding was interesting. Young's waterfall and rock art were underwhelming, but we found deep pools along the way to soak or jump in and cool off. The pool jumps were a source of much fun. We returned to camp, had a great dinner, and played cribbage before turning in for the night.
On Sunday we moved camp back to the point where we had first reached the stream. Shawn and Beth then day hiked 3 ½ miles to the confluence with the Colorado River and back. Near the confluence they encountered two substantial beaver dams, silt beds left by the once-higher Lake Powell, tamarisk, cheat grass "meadows", and quite a few other invasives. Sometimes the water disappeared under the silt and sand of the streambed. Some rafters were hiking upstream to a pool. Others from our group hiked varying distances downstream and swam in deep pools in the gorge. Group members agreed that we would spend more time in pools and less time hiking if visiting this area in the future. A short afternoon thunderstorm finished out the day as we hiked back to camp.
Monday morning some of us started hiking as early as 4 am to avoid the heat, while others slept in until 5:30. We were all back to the cars before 10 am and grateful for some morning clouds that gave us protection from the sun. Our final gathering point was at the popular Stan's Burger Shack in Hanksville for burgers and shakes. All in all, it was a great trip with good camaraderie and adventure.

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