Veterans Day Weekend | Friday – Monday, November 8-11, 2019
While we have been spending the long Veterans Day Weekend backpacking somewhere along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon these past couple of years, this year I decided to find something a little closer to home since we just hiked down into Havasu Canyon a couple weeks ago and I didn’t really want to drive back to the Grand Canyon twice within a couple of weeks. After hiking through the Grand Gorge of Muddy Creek last year and then floating through The Chute of Muddy Creek earlier this year, I felt that it was time to get back to exploring more of the brand new Muddy Creek Wilderness area with a backpacking trip into Chimney Canyon. While I have spent a lot of time in the San Rafael Swell over the years, I realized that I have never actually gone on a backpacking trip there, so this would be my very first backpacking trip in the Swell and most likely our last backpacking trip of the year, too.
Last month while exploring the Canyons of the Escalante I had invited my friend Jared along on this trip and he decied to join us. Diane and I left after work on Friday and met up with Jared in Green River while I topped off the fuel tank in my Jeep. We left Green River and drove up onto the Swell to the Temple Mountain exit where we followed the road to Hidden Splendor. Since it’s been a dry summer and fall, there was a lot of fine dust on the road and no wind which made it tough for Jared to follow me in his car since the thick dust was hanging over the road for a while. Jared left his car at the junction to Tomsich Butte and hopped in my Jeep for the remainder of the drive to Hidden Splendor. We drove down the rocky switchbacks at the end of the road next to Muddy Creek and quickly set up camp near the trailhead. We were in our sleeping bags by 9:30pm.
We woke up with the sunrise on Saturday morning and it was a bit cold out. Definitely below freezing. We packed up camp, parked my Jeep at the trailhead and made sure our packs had everything we needed for the next three days. Then we started our hike to Chimney Canyon.
Saturday morning along Muddy Creek as we started our hike near Hidden Splendor.
There were three creek crossings within the first mile of the hike and the water was ice cold and frigid this morning! It was actually a bit painful and we sought out sunlight to warm up as soon as we could find it! There was ice in the parts of the creek that were stagnant.
As we were hiking along the creek we heard and saw three planes take off from the nearby airstip. They must have been camped there overnight. It was fun to watch them fly around until they disappeared out of sight.
After our third crossing of Muddy Creek we changed into our boots in the sunlight to warm up and then started hiking up this narrow side canyon.
Sunstar in the side canyon.
Diane stopped for a photo in this colorful little canyon.
After climbing out of the side canyon we followed an old mining track on the bench above until we reached the remains of the Little Susan Mine. I was disappointed to find this old cabin collapsed, as I have seen photos of it still standing before.
Anyone out there know what this might be? It kind of looked like some kind of a jack to me.
Three collapsed buildings at the Little Susan Mine.
This little shack was one of the few structures still standing.
We also found the outhouse on its side.
Inside the outhouse. It’s a little difficult to use like this…
A bottle found at the doorway to a small dugout.
Inside the dugout was this old can of Cenex Motor Oil.
There was also this cool old fire extinguisher.
After leaving the Little Susan Mine we followed the mining track for a few more miles and then started our descent into Chimney Canyon.
We followed the broad sandy wash up Chimney Canyon to the confluence of the main forks and setup camp near this old miner’s cabin.
Crooked Workbench & Tree
Our campsite near the confluence in the late evening.
We explored the area around camp for a little bit and tried to stay warm in the sunlight as the sun dipped below the canyon walls surrounding us. We had dinner before sunset and were in bed by 7:00pm since it got cold out quick.
It’s the season for long nights in the tent. We got about twelve hours of sleep overnight and woke up after sunrise on Sunday morning. It was another cold night and I’m glad that I had decided to bring my zero degree sleeping bag along instead of my normal 25 degree bag. There was even ice in the water bottles that we had kept inside the tent. After a quick breakfast we started hiking up the main fork of Chimney Canyon to get warmed up. We followed the main canyon until we reached an impassable dryfall and then we turned around.
It felt nice to warm up in the sunlight as we hiked up the canyon.
A close look at a volcanic dike that cuts right across the canyon. We saw a few of these in the area the day before.
A cottonwood tree in the middle of the canyon as it narrowed up.
This ribbed wall was very interesting.
It was still cold in the shade. We would be hiking in t-shirts in just a couple of hours.
This canyon has some of the most unusual textures.
After returning downcanyon from the dryfall, we followed a smaller fork known as the Music of Chimney Canyon. This was a very nice hike with even more amazing textures and views. It was certainly the highlight of the weekend for us all!
Jared checking out the view.
The Music of Chimney Canyon
We followed another short fork that ended in this nice alcove.
Looking up from the end of the alcove.
The view looking straight up was very amazing.
When the canyon split again we went up the right fork first.
The right fork ended at this colorful dryfall.
Then we returned to the junction and hiked up the left fork, which was even better!
This was the pouroff that stopped us in the left fork.
The light during the hike back out was looking good.
Diane hikes under the branches of a cottonwood tree in the canyon.
After leaving The Music behind, we had lunch in the main fork of the canyon and then hiked up the South Fork to visit Chimney Canyon Arch. It was a bit of sand slog through this fork, but the sunlight was warm and it was t-shirt hiking weather!
Chimney Canyon Arch was pretty large and impressive. We climbed up for a closer look.
Looking down the South Fork of Chimney Canyon as we climbed down from the arch. For the first time in a few days there were even a few clouds in the sky!
Here are a few photos I took as we hiked back down to camp from the arch.
Our campsite is near the base of that cliff in the distance and it does not see any sunlight during this time of the year.
This chicken coop was right across the wash from our campsite.
After having dinner I climbed up to the top of the bench across from our camp so I could stay warm in the sunlight longer and watch the sunset.
I found this petrified log on top of the bench.
Not a bad sunset over Chimney Canyon this evening!
Just like the previous night, Jared and I tried to stay out of our tents as long as we could, but we got into our sleeping bags before 7:00pm again, ready for another twelve hours of sleep. While I had slept pretty well the night before, I didn’t sleep as well this night, probably because I had too much sleep, but also because the wind picked up overnight. Thankfully, the temperature didn’t drop as low as it had been and when we woke up before sunrise on Monday morning the temperature was actually pretty pleasant out. That made packing up camp much nicer. Once we had all our gear packed up we started our hike back out. The hike in the canyon bottom and along the old mining track was actually pretty easy walking.
A few views as we were hiking down Chimney Canyon on Monday morning.
A view back across Chimney Canyon as we were climbing back up onto the bench. You can see the volcanic dike below, too.
Leaving the short side canyon as we returned to the banks of Muddy Creek.
I took a photo of this bend in Muddy Creek since I remember stopping here with my boat in June to scout a rapid that is just off to the right out of the frame. We also crossed the river right next to a boulder that my boat got caught on. Ah, the memories of a great river season!
Walking along Muddy Creek and almost back to the trailhead. The crossings of the creek later in the day were much more comfortable than they had been early on Saturday morning.
After returning to my Jeep we headed home to end our holiday weekend adventure. It was a pretty great backpacking trip in the Swell!