A number of years ago I picked up the 6th Edition of "Hiking and Exploring the Paria River" by Michael R. Kelsey. The Author has spent an incredible amount of time traveling the world and an inordinate amount of that time in Southern Utah. The book is a wealth of information. Unfortunately it is extremely difficult to use. Full of hand drawn maps (reflecting his Masters degree in Geography) short descriptions, small print, and no GPS locators it has spent most of the time on my shelf. In 2017 I made a concerted effort to familiarize myself more with the Paria River area. Hiking to Cobra Arch, Yellow Rock, driving and camping along the Cottonwood Canyon Road. Other hiking books are what guided me in the area, and the major attractions but I often used Kelsey's books as a supplemental guide.
Becoming more familiar with Kelsey's book format has helped, but I still have to overlay maps, quads, and sort of "connect the dots" to fully utilize the information. Today was my attempt to utilize the book, given the overlays and GPS data I connected.
If one can ignore the magical pull of Bryce Canyon at the turn off. Stay on highway 12 through Tropic, then turn right in Cannonville following the signs toward Kodachrome Basin State Park. As the pavement ends and Kodachrome Basin State Park entrance is left, go straight onto the dirt road. This road is the Cottonwood Canyon Road and is a maintained gravel road that loops all the way to highway 89 near Kanab, UT. At the first right turn onto the dirt road and engage the 4 wheel drive. The road spiders right and left to camping areas and base camps for ATV users. It's best to use GPS to wander these back country roads or one can end up hopelessly lost which is a very dangerous proposition in this desert country.
The road ends at a circle turnaround with apparent camping available. An ATV trail continues a short while further however, many turns are to tight for even a jeep. Park and hike down the road to the rim.
At first the sight is breathtaking, then transforms into a sense of awe at the shear rugged beauty that is laid out below. Turning left and walking along the rim, wandering toward the high point, the summit of Rock Springs Bench is reached. Double back along the rim once again and follow the U shaped bench to the southern end. You'll pick up the ATV trail again. Follow it to the end.
Here's where the wealth of information from Mr. Kelsey's book comes in handy. He describes a "cairned trail angling down over the rim heading southeast". I didn't find any cairns but the trail was plain enough to see. I suspect not to many people followed it very far down the path. "This is Wallace Ott's old Horse trail" I can't imagine taking a horse on the trail, but even Mr. Kelsey confesses that "Wallace only took a horse up or down this route about 3 times because it was so difficult..." This I fully believe as I pick my way through the first cliff band and onto the sand.
Three quarters of the descent is through a sand dune which has blown up along this prevailing ridge line allowing access to the bench. Looking across canyon at Rock Springs Bench high point it is easy to see how this box canyon could easily be inaccessible if not for this dune.
The sand dune is untouched as I tentatively step onto the dune. My biggest concern is the thought of having to retrace my steps on this steep hillside. I try to angle my descent as much as possible toward the wash below. Mr. Kelsey's recommendation is to stash water near the bottom of the hike for the return ascent, I placed two 1 liter bottles under the shade of a Juniper tree and took a GPS reading in case I lost track of the location. Exiting the dune via a side wash I stop and make a cairn. I have my GPS and mine are the only footprints I have seen since dropping off the rim, but sometime the old tricks are the good tricks so I leave one a few stones tall.
Sitting in the shade of a nearby tree, I have lunch. This is an incredible desolate area. The silence is absolute and I am loving every minute of it. Hiking down wash, I am adjusting my bearings to reach my destination and reason for my descent. The peak is unnamed on maps and as is the norm it carries the designation of it's elevation. In this case it is unnamed peak 6825. My guide book makes a reference to Mr. Ott calling this peak "Little Mollie's Nipple" in reference to the larger peak to the south and west named Mollie's Nipple.
It is a stunning peak to be sure, extremely rugged and as is common with sandstone it contains lots of fractures and choss. According to the various websites I belong to for peakbagging, no one has claimed an ascent of this peak. I find that hard to believe and don't for a minute think I will be the first. As I work my way down wash and around the edge of the rolling hills between Rock Springs Bench and my unnamed peak. I start to look for a route to the top. The sand dune front is the obvious weakness but as I draw near, it appears that the dune leads to a fissure in the summit.
The closer I get, the more concerned I become that perhaps the reason no one has logged a summit is it is a technical climb requiring ropes and gear. I have a small rope I always carry with me, but nothing for a technical summit and I wouldn't attempt such an ascent without help in this desolate place.
As I start up the sandy bank, I spot a horizontal rib on the upper third of the peak. It was obvious one could traverse to the right, but the main summit sits to the left of the cleaved peak. Drawing closer I can see that the rib extends the width of the peak and a ledge goes to the left as well. I'm hoping this ledge is wide and safe enough to cross. Arriving at the rib, I'm excited to see a rubble (chossy) covered ledge that tilts slightly toward the mountain. This is nice as it will carry my weight easily. Only one section has exposure, but there is still plenty of room to walk across. I do so and scramble up to the base of the summit.
As I round the turn I am met with a stunning view of the landscape behind the Peak. It is a shear drop off after a few feet. I am still 35' feet below the summit section with a vertical wall directly in front of me.
I take a few minutes and sit on the rock. The wall looks easy enough (I would rank a 5.2). My little rope will be long enough for a hand line descent. Lots of good ledges for hand and feet holds. The downside? I'm solo and a long, long way from home. Even a twisted ankle is a very bad case scenario. I carry a GPS device which is text capable and has an SOS feature. I weigh my desire to summit against the risks of the short climb. I finally decide the risk reward ratio is acceptable and I make for the face. It is as predicted and I arrive in short order on the summit ledge. Working my way to the actual summit I am thrilled at the ascent and the view.
Miles of sandstone peaks and slot canyons stretch out below me to the south. It is a beautiful sight. I sight in some of the other ranked peaks in the area and take pictures. I make mental notes of terrain for further review as I plan future trips to this area. But I will be back for sure.
I eat a snack and drink a lot of water while taking in my surroundings. I build a summit cairn and look back toward Rock Springs Bench. I'll admit, mild trepidation settles in for a minute as I look back over the return trip.
I spend some time on the summit, but I don't linger for long. A summit nap is always preferred, but in this instance I felt the need to push on. A large bush is handy for my hand line descent. And my return trip is shorter as I am able to hike along the rolling hill and descend into the wash instead of having to traverse around it. I easily spot my cairn and sit under a massive Juniper tree to take a break. I eat some energy snacks, and begin my ascent up the dune. It is every bit as hard as I expected it to be. My "sloping" descent was anything but and I often had to take a break every 10 - 15 steps or so. In all it would take me 1h:45m to climb this section of the hike. My cache of water was a welcome relief (I had plenty, but it's always good to top off) and the stroll back to the Jeep was pleasant and cool. The sun was getting low as I made my way back along the dirt road. What a stunning place. I'll probably find an alternate route into this upper tributary of Hackberry Canyon vs. using the "horse trail", but I'll definitely be studying more of Mr. Kelsey's hand drawn maps.
"Hiking and Exploring the Paria River" 6th Edition by Michael R. Kelsey. Stone Donkey Canyon (Map 24) p.142.