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Slickhorn Canyon 1997

Short movin' day

Another day that did not turn out the way we planned. Our goal for the day was the San Juan River, and to camp at one of the beaches near the water. The only problem with this is that we knew the canyon lost a tremendous amount of elevation over the final mile and a half to the river. In addition, to pick up the abandoned road bed along the Hermosa formation, we would have to climb about 750 feet from the mouth very steeply. This old road would then take us to the mouth of the East Fork of Slickhorn. Someone had asked about the possibility of contouring around at constant elevation. A good idea in principle, but I was concerned about one obvious gully we would have to cross, and without being able to see the terrain, to count on such an easy solution was, I thought, overly optimistic.

Anyway, we (Susie and I) got started at 9:15 am. For some reason, the rest of the crew (sans Barbara and Will, who we did not have a clue as to their whereabouts), got far ahead of us, and we could not effectively use their movements to help us route find. The going was pretty rough. At one point, we just gave up and plunged into the water (we had be successful to date at keeping our boots dry) and wade a pool, cause there seemed to be no other way to go. But after perhaps an hour and a half, we could see Lance way out in the distance, walking easily in the stream bed which was solid slickrock. So we knew that we would have some smooth sailing at least for a little while. But not too soon after we saw Lance, we found our crew stopped and obviously broken up to do some recon work. Apparently, the couple that we had seen just as we were plunging into the pool had spent a lot of time answering questions from George. Apparently, they were doing an exact opposite of our trip. Following the loop, but in the reverse direction. So anyway,the story that they told was that it was possible to stay up on the Hermosa formation (or whatever the formation is that runs at about 4400 feet) from the old road out along the shelf above the San Juan to where we were stopped right now, about a half a mile or so above the mouth of what I referred to as Hanging Canyon (the last side canyon before the main canyon dives toward the San Juan River). So George and Ray were out trying to scout, to see if the access to the shelf which we would be walking on would be easy to get to. The place where we had stopped (about 11:30 am) was not all that great for camping, (no shade except for one lone big juniper, that everyone was trying to figure out how to put their tent under), but it did have lots of nice rock shelf in the stream bed, so there would be a nice breezy place to cook. I went off in search of a better camp, and ran into both Ray and George, separately, who indicated that accessing the shelf would be no problem. I asked George what the couple had said about the gully, cause it looked like it could get tight and nasty, and he indicated that it had not been difficult for them.

There were no other places to camp in the main canyon that were any better than the spot where we had dumped our packs, so we decided to spend the night where we were, and spend the rest of the day exploring. Basically, we were opting not to burn the energy to scramble down to the river only to have to climb up the 800 feet or so to the old abandoned road bed in the San Juan canyon that would lead us to the mouth of East Slickhorn. Ray and Barbara Allen had reported on finding an incredible pool at the mouth of "Hanging Canyon", so I knew where I wanted to spend at least some time that afternoon.

After a brief lunch, Susie and I and some other folks decided we would go down and take a look at the pool and then maybe walk up into Hanging Canyon. (I have to come up with all these names cause there are none on many on the topo maps.) We went down to take a look at the pool. Boy, it is huge. Probably the biggest one I have seen in canyon country. Not as deep as the one at the mouth of Young's Canyon, but much bigger across: maybe 30 yds across. Anyway, we are standing on the south side of the bench above the pool, when we noticed a red bandana that looked to be lying on the rocks. Turns out it was left deliberately by Will and Barb, 'cause just then, our long lost compatriot, Barb M appeared. Turns out that she and Will had come down to this place yesterday, and were camped up in the mouth about 200 meters. So all the chicks were at least accounted for. Moma Rog was happy again.

The walls of the side canyon were big and steep. Just the kind to be inspiring. We had to backtrack a little to get around the first or several pour-offs. We got up in the side canyon about 3/4 of a mile. We came upon Will coming back down. He had tried to go up further, but was blocked by a huge pour off that would require technical climbing to get up and around, so on future trip, we know we need to come to this spot from the top. We let Will know what we had learned from the other party, and that the main crew was going to take the high road, up on the shelf just below 4400 feet. It turns out that the last 1.2 miles to the River is no picnic. Ray and Andy and Sue, and several others went down to the River, and Sue indicated that she would not want to do it with a pack on. There were a couple of places that would be very difficult to do with a backpack. It would be necessary to take them off and drag them across the really bad section with a rope. Hmm..... Sounds like the Goat Trail (in Chitistone Canyon in Wrangell-St. Elias) only worse. So Susie and I went down to the pool. She claimed that it was too cold to jump in (well, it was pretty "refreshing"), but think modesty was the primary driver. Me, I don't care. I don't flaunt myself, but don't fear anyone attacking me on account of my Adonis-like body, either. Anyway, the pool was outstanding. There were only a couple of spots over my head, but it was so delightful. I always feel one-with-nature when I take a dip like that. Interestingly, the water coming off the two pour-offs that fed the pool was very warm. Like a warm shower. Strange, and delightful!

There were several springs around our location. We were at just the right elevation, so we had nice spring water for dinner. No pumping required. We ate dinner in the creek bed, spread out all over the place. Susie and I had our great Penne Pasta with Prosciutto and peas for dinner. What a fine dinner for a nice short day.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 1997, 2006; Photo of swimmer Suzanne A. McDonald, 2006