a conversation with the earth guidebooks + guided hiking

Posts categorized “Go Far”.

Canyons, Arches, and Slickrock


When hikers think of Utah canyon country, they think of canyons, arches, and slickrock. All these features are common on the Colorado Plateau, which spreads outward from “the four corners”—where the Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico borders intersect. Many hikers, however, are unaware just how prolific these classic “canyon country” features are.

The Colorado Plateau is a vast plate fractured into thousands of canyons. Countless small to medium sized canyons are remote, rarely seen, and remain unnamed. Others are widely known and frequently visited. And, of course, there’s the mother of them all: The Grand Canyon.

Likewise, there are thousands of natural arches on the Colorado Plateau. Many are famous, like those enshrined in Arches National Park. But there are countless others throughout the plateau. Small to medium in size, many are remote, rarely seen, and remain unnamed.

Slickrock, too, is prevalent in great swaths throughout the Colorado Plateau. In ancient times—perhaps 180 million years ago—today’s slickrock domes, reefs, and buttes were sand dunes. Covered and uncovered numerous times, the sand was gradually compressed into stone. Slickrock = sandstone.

Hiking beneath the sheer, desert-varnished walls of a deep canyon is exciting. Coming upon a natural arch soaring above the skyline is a joy. But hiking across a vast expanse of slickrock is a rush.

When hiking slickrock, you’re free. You’re not confined to following a trail. You can follow your bliss. The rock itself is sculpted by the master known as “Erosion” into an infinite variety of sensuous, multi-colored shapes, so it’s always visually engaging, and sometimes astoundingly beautiful. Many associate the phrase “red-rock country” with southern Utah, but the slickrock color-palette extends far beyond red. Rust, mauve, orange, yellow, vanilla, pink, buff, brown, chocolate, coral, mustard, golden, watermelon… You’ll see all these and more.  Contrary to its name, slickrock is not slippery. It has a gritty surface that affords excellent traction even when wet. On slickrock, hikers suddenly have the gecko-like power to safely walk up and down very steep inclines. It’s a gravity-defying thrill. And slickrock, because it’s rock, is largely free of vegetation. So slickrock hiking is usually scenic and often allows 360° views.

Utah Slickrock Guides are based in the village of Boulder, Utah, on the north edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Boulder is “slickrock central.” To put it simply: Boulder, Utah is to slickrock hiking what Moab, Utah is to slickrock mountain-biking. Because that fact is little known, solitude is still readily available when hiking near Boulder. Moab mountain biking, however, is so famous that solitude tends to be hard to find.

If you want to experience slickrock hiking at its wild, lonely, spectacular best, get in touch with Utah Slickrock Guides. A day—or better yet, a week of dayhiking—with us could well rank among your most memorable hiking experiences ever.

Together, we’ll appreciate the wavey undulations, quilted cracks, and corrugated textures of our local slickrock. We’ll find slender balconies (only a couple boots wide) allowing us to stay high, and traverse the shoulders of huge, slickrock formations. Reading the rippling sandstone, we’ll find ramps granting us safe passage down into chasms and ravines, then up gorges and over passes.

Driving Highway 12, between the southern Utah towns of Escalante and Boulder, you’ll see slickrock flowing to the horizons. But there are only a couple, actual trails in this entire region. For a true, slickrock adventure, join us: Utah Slickrock Guides. Explore the extraordinary, unpublicized routes we’ve decrypted in the vast, canyon-country labyrinth near Escalante and Boulder, Utah. The ones we call “Boulder Jazz Festival,” “Witchcraft Caldron,” “Escalante Alchemy,” “Whirling Dervish Reef,” and “Never-Speak-of-It Gulch” are primarily on slickrock. But all our routes traverse a lot of wondrous, swirling sandstone.

For details about our guided-hiking service, visit www.hikingcamping.com, and click on “guided hiking.” We invite you to get in touch with us, even on short notice: <nomads@hikingcamping.com>, or (435) 335-7544.

Click on photo to enlarge, click again to enlarge fully.

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Hike with us in canyon country.

Join Us on Water-Master, spring, summer, or fall. Our 8-hour route traverses the slickrock walls of a perennial creek canyon until we can step into the flow. We’ll hike upstream: often in the water, sometimes beside it. We’ll pierce the sensuous narrows and savor  the canyon’s tranquility. This route took several determined attempts to piece together. For details, click on “guided hiking” above.


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Outdoor Gear Shops Are Off Route Without Guidebooks

outdoor storeBecause we publish hiking guidebooks, whenever we enter an outdoor gear shop we notice if it carries guidebooks. If it does, we always take a few minutes to examine how the books are merchandised. For example, when we went to Yeti—an outdoor gear shop in Montreal, Quebec—we saw it carries few guidebooks and displays them behind the sales counter where customers cannot reach them. Our intention here is not to criticize Yeti in particular. It’s an otherwise well-stocked gear shop. The salesperson we spoke with (regarding waterproof gloves) was knowledgeable and helpful. Our point is that how Yeti handles guidebooks is typical of nearly every outdoor shop we’ve ever visited. They seem to believe guidebooks are peripheral to their business and of scant interest to customers. With the exception of MEC*, the big chain stores are no different. For example, every REI store we’ve visited in the U.S. has only a small, token bookshelf virtually hidden where customer traffic is minimal. This is a mistake. Outdoor gear shops are overlooking the fact that hiking guidebooks ARE gear. Guidebooks are essential to hikers’ enjoyment and safety. Besides, guidebooks drive experience. Experience then drives interest in gear. If outdoor shops recognized this truth and acted on it by stocking more guidebooks and merchandising them more effectively, they’d boost clothing and equipment sales. (Case in point: us. We took interest in Yeti’s extensive selection of gloves because of our experiences hiking with wet, cold hands.) Attention outdoor gear shops: You’re ignoring a significant revenue stream. You’re failing to serve an important customer need. And you’re falling short of what must have been your original goal: help more people enjoy the outdoors.

*Mountain Equipment Co-op stores in Canada do a superior job of stocking and merchandising hiking guidebooks. Way to go MEC!

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Southern Utah: Snow-Free Winter Wonderland for Hikers

The Opinionated Hikers On Patrol For You

Since mid-November, we’ve been hiking in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park, in south-central Utah.

We’ve been alone. Under sunny skies. On bare slickrock, free of snow or ice. And it’s been glorious.

                      (Click on a photo once enlarge. Click on it again to enlarge fully.)

The daytime temperatures have been comfortable: about 54° F  (12° C). The nights have, of course, been well below freezing, but we’ve been dayhiking, not backpacking, so frigid nights have not deterred us.

Minimal daylight (sunrise at about 7:21 am, sunset at about 5 pm) necessitates we start early and be vigilant about our turn-around time. But that’s the only drawback here, in the season when hiking is fraught with discouragement across most of North America.

Looking ahead, into the first week of December, the weather forecast remains optimistic: no precipitation, and daytime highs nipping above 40° F (4° C). So we’ll continue ranging into the backcountry.

Our intention isn’t to gloat. It’s to prod you to consider a winter visit to canyon-country. By February, the high-desert terrain at about 4800 ft (1463 m) will again likely offer the optimal hiking conditions we’re enjoying now.

To plan your trip, get our book: Hiking From Here to Wow, Utah Canyon Country. You’ll find it online at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Hiking-Here-WOW-Canyon-Country/dp/089997452X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448821951&sr=8-1&keywords=hiking+from+here+to+wow+utah

Walk on!

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Where to Road Cycle in Quebec

The following road rides rank among our favourites in Quebec. All are from the guidebook we relied on most often: Le Quebec en 30 Boucles. (A boucle is a loop.) Like the other guidebooks we used, it’s in French. But the maps are excellent, and if you can read of bit of French, you can easily decipher where to begin the ride, then follow the map the rest of the way. The trip numbers here correspond to those in the book:

Trip 2 – The description suggests riding on the roads through much of Gatineau Park, just north of Ottawa. But we preferred staying on the extensive bike paths in the park and along both shores of the Ottawa River.

Trip 4  Laurentides: Brebeuf, La Conception. Often along Riviere Rouge. Length: 57 km. Gain: 267 m.

Trip 5 – Laurentides: Monteregie et Ontario. Along the Ottawa River, passing many historic, stone homes on the N bank. Length: 70 km. Gain: 179 m.

Trip 6 – A beautiful, vigourous loop passing several lakes. Length: 79 km. Gain: 645 m.

Trip 10 – Mascouche / Crabtree / L’Epiphanie. A relatively quiet ride in the countryside just NE of Montreal. Length: 54 km. Gain: 88 m.

Trip 12 – Cantons-de-l’Est (Eastern townships, near  Sherbrooke). Bedford, Dunham. We liked best the section between Frelighsburg and Pigeon Hill. Length: 83 km. Gain: 468 m. But you’ll see options to shorten it.

Trip 13 – Richelieu River: NE of Montreal-St Marc Richelieu /Antoine sur Richelieu / St Denis Richelieu. Length: 47.5 km. Gain: 60 m. 

Trip 16 – Mauricie et Quebec. Cycling on the historic Chemin du Roy, beside le Fleuve St. Laurent, you’ll visit a a few of the most beautiful villages and eglises in Quebec: St. Anne-de-le-Perade, St. Casimir, and Grondines. Length: 62 km. Gain: 146 m.

Trip 17 – Cantons-de-l’Est. Magog, ESE of Montreal. To shorten the ride and avoid some of the Magog traffic, start in St. Catherine-de-Hatley. Visit North Hatley, Hatley, Ayer’s Cliff, and Lac Massawippi. Length: either 58 or 78 km. Gain 600 m.

Trip 24 – Chaudiere-Appalaches. Along the le Fleuve St. Laurent, this ride takes in Beaumont, St. Michel de Bellechasse, and St. Vallier. Length: 54 km. Gain 179 m.

Trip 29 – Bas St. Laurent et Gaspesie. Hwy 132 along the St Laurent is usually very busy, so it’s not enjoyable. If you cycle this, travel from W to E so the prevailing wind is at your back. The section from Metis-Sur-Mer up to St. Octave is tranquil and lovely, with views over farmlands to the le Fleuve St. Laurent. Length: 83 km. Gain: 423 m.

Not Recommended – Trip 25 – I’lle-d’Orleans. There’s virtually no shoulder on the road circling this island outside Quebec City. The asphalt is terribly broken and rutted. Traffic is nearly constant. We didn’t enjoy it. It often felt dangerous.

The following, two road rides rank among our favourites in the Montreal area. Both are from the guidebook titled 15 Circuits Autour de Montréal — Itinéraraires de 63 à 107 km. The maps are detailed and indicate distances between each junction. But the book does not state the elevation gain for each ride. The trip numbers here correspond to those in the book:

Trip 8 – Lachine / Chateauguay / Voie Maritime. We did this 70-km loop on a Saturday, when it seemed all of Montreal was outdoors, in the parks and on the bike paths. It was exhilarating to experience the city by flowing along with the energy and enthusiasm of the locals. Because we were camping at the KOA in St. Phillippe (10 minutes from Sainte Catherine), we started on the Voie Maritime (La Riveraine)—a narrow strip of land in the le Fleuve St. Laurent. The ferry from Lachine departs at 11:15 am, 1:45 pm, 4:45 pm. If you want to shorten the loop, from Lachine you can return on Les Bergers path along the S shore of Montreal to cross Pont Champlain.

Trip 11 – An easy, nearly level loop starting in St. Martine. Traffic was minimal. Pavement was good. The undulating agricultural land was a constantly soothing sight. Length: 65 km or 76.9 km

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Hiking and camping in the wilderness can be dangerous. Experience and preparation reduce risk but will never eliminate it.

Information published in a book or on a website—regardless how authoritative—is not a substitute for common sense or sound judgment. Your safety is your responsibility. The unique details of your specific situation and the decisions you make at that time will determine the outcome.

When hiking, threats to your wellbeing are unpredictable; you must always be aware. In the backcountry, risk is subjective; you must gauge it for yourself. Away from civilization, small mistakes can have severe consequences; you must vigilantly prevent injury and avoid becoming disoriented.

Never hike alone. Before setting out, check the weather forecast and current trail conditions; adjust your plans accordingly. Always carry a map and compass, a first-aid kit, extra clothing, a personal locator beacon, plus enough food and water to survive an emergency.

If you doubt your ability to negotiate rough terrain, respond to wild animals, or handle sudden, extreme weather changes, hike only in a group led by a competent, licensed guide.

The authors and the publisher disclaim liability for any loss or injury incurred by anyone using information published on this website or in the books presented on this website.