Ascent of Snow Benchmark on 2020-03-27
|Date:||Friday, March 27, 2020|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Elevation:||5570 ft / 1697 m|
Ascent Trip ReportCanaan Mountain (7,363ft) and Snow Benchmark (5,570ft)
March 27, 2020
Friday morning I drove from my campsite at the edge of Cottonwoods Canyon wilderness to the Red Mountain Wilderness trailhead. A few inches of fresh snow covered the ground and I was the only one there. I hiked into the wilderness, catching a great view down Snow Canyon at sunrise. After an hour I left the trail and bushwhacked up Snow Benchmark, the highpoint of the wilderness.
I made it back to the car mid day and started driving south through St George and then to Hildale and the Water Canyon trailhead. The trailhead is in the bottom of a very colorful and deep sandstone canyon with huge cliffs on both sides. There were a few other cars parked, but I only saw one other group of hikers.
I left the car at 1:15pm, probably a bit late in the day to be starting a 17-mile round trip hike in marginal weather, but I brought a headlamp in case I got caught in the dark. The route started as a descent sandy trail winding up through the canyon, and I even got a view of a natural arch in the sandstone cliffs above me.
Eventually I reached a waterfall that at first looked like the end of the trail, but I was able to scramble through it, then do some more class 3 scambling up the ledges on the side. It was all very fun. I scrambled and hiked up a trail until I reached a big sandstone plateau with intermittent trees poking out.
Here the trail basically vanished, and I don’t think many people venture up this far. But the highpoint of the wilderness, Canaan Mountain, was still much farther in. I bushwhacked down to a stream, crossed, then hiked and scrambled through open sandstone terrain to reach a set of white sandstone cones. The wind picked up and a pretty strong snow squall started. I hunkered down behind a cone until it abated.
By then the terrain was shin-deep snow and there were no other footprints. Surprisingly I stumbled across an old jeep track, which I was not expecting. It went in my intended direction so I postholed along it. The track at times was easy to follow through the trees, but then would go over long stretches of sandstone and I would lose it. I’m amazed a vehicle could get over all that terrain, though the area is a wilderness now so no more vehicles are allowed.
Snow squalls came and went, and eventually I reached an old wooden windlass structure on the edge of the cliff leading down toward Hildale. Maybe it used to be for hauling materials up to the plateau, but it was long-since abandoned. Interestingly the jeep track went a bit farther, but then it fizzled out and I continued bushwhacking along the cliff edge.
By 4:45pm, about 3.5 hours after starting, I finally reached the summit of Canaan Mountain during another windy snow squall. There were a handful of sandstone cones near the cliff edge all of similar height, so I scrambled up all of them.
I was a bit concerned about getting stuck up on the plateau after dark, so soon retreated. It was much easier hiking back when I could use my posthole tracks both for navigation and for ease of walking. Somehow I made much faster time back, and managed to find the trail back down the canyon without to much difficulty. I scrambled and hiked back to the car by 7:15pm for about a 6 hour round trip hike, just beating sunset.
I quickly packed up and started making progress back to Seattle.
Link to full trip report and pictures.
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