Monday, October 20, 2014

Upper Calf Creek Falls to McGath Point, 6,759'

Essence: A world of stone in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Hike offers a point of access to endless exploring on the Navajo Sandstone expanse and domes seen from The Hogback on Hwy 12. Visit Upper Calf Creek Falls, top and bottom. Experience deep tanks with clear water, flat bottom stone washes, sheets of inclined slickrock, and old growth ponderosa. Beautiful McGath Point has sterling views.
Travel: The trailhead is north of Lower Calf Creek Falls and south of Boulder, Utah. At mile marker 80.8 on Hwy 12, turn west and go 0.1 mile on a dirt road suitable for 2WD vehicles. Park on the rim of Calf Creek Canyon.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 7.6 miles, 1,825 feet of climbing
Time: 4:00 to 6:00
Difficulty: Trail, off-trail; navigation considerable, map reading an essential skill; no exposure
Maps: Calf Creek, Utah 7.5 Quad; Trails Illustrated, Canyons of the Escalante #710 is a poor substitute
Date Hiked: October 20, 2014
Quote: To me everything is supernatural.  Richard Jefferies

This image was taken at the beginning of the trail leading down a sandstone slope to the upper waterfall. Calf Creek is in the trench. McGath Point is on the left horizon.

Route: This route provides an alternative to the historic McGath Bench Road which goes south from the Boulder Mail Trail by the Boulder Landing Strip. Follow the trail to Upper Calf Creek Falls. Cross at the top of the pourover and walk cross-country on sandstone to Saddle 6,640'. Walk the mesa top to McGath Point.Visit the bottom of the falls on the return. Note: This route to McGath would be impossible in high water.

From Trailhead, 6,530', the route makes a direct, steep but comfortable friction descent on sandstone. Trust the grip. As if the bedrock formation wasn't enough, it is decorated with volcanic black boulders carried from Boulder Mountain by glacial meltwater. Follow cairns, losing 300 feet, onto a sandy bench where the trail takes over. This image looks back towards the trailhead.

At 1.0 mile Upper Calf Creek Falls comes into view. Reach the top of the cascade at 1.1 miles.

Several deep pools with pristine water are just upstream. The second pool, perfectly symmetrical, is ideal for cliff jumping and swimming.

Since we were exploring without a plan, we decided to start up Calf Creek. While there were very occasional remnants of social or game trails, the riparian vegetation made progress almost impossible. We turned around after 0.6 mile of thrashing through cottonwoods, ponderosa, junipers, rose, gamble oak, buffaloberry, and unavoidable poison ivy.

Back at the waterfall we came up with another plan to broach the slickrock seen from the trailhead and this proved fortuitous. (I have corrected the mileage, docking our upstream foray but my subsequent numbers could be off a tiny amount.) This image shows the stone drainage west of the falls.

In low water only, cautiously step across the top of the plunge. Climb 20 feet to a lateral social trail that leads directly into the drainageway.

The edge of the pouroff affords a good view of the upper cascade.

Confront a barrier fall and pool at the beginning of the dry wash. My hiking partner's boots were not quite sticky enough to bypass on the right. He is shown retreating down the wall. Bypass up-canyon-left via an easy, short climb.

Regain the wash. Walk up the pleasurable passageway on bedrock with pockets of fine, cream colored sand.

At 1.7 miles, the wash splits at a venerable double ponderosa, shown. Studying the map under this tree, we decided to make for the highest thing around, McGath Point.

To get around the dryfall seen above, climb to the west for 100 feet and then turn back south to parallel the drainage which is pocked with gigantic tanks filled with crystal clear water. These waterpockets are one of the keenest features of this hike. (THW, photo)

Pass the "White Castle", shown, heading south. Old growth ponderosa thrive in the depressions.

While there appear to be several viable approaches to McGath Point, the friction climb south to the saddle (seen from the trailhead), is by far the most appealing. Most of the pitch is entirely comfortable. Steep sections can be negotiated laterally. 

Reach Saddle 6,640' at 2.8 miles. The view to the west is endless. The McGath Point Road (jeep trail) ends just northwest of the saddle. If anyone is traveling on that road, they aren't going beyond. There were only two sets of very old footprints on the mesa. This image shows the mesa from the saddle. Turn southeast. It is mostly a flat walk on spongy ground to the point. There are a few step-ups requiring easy scrambles.

At 3.2 miles the last short climb to the high point appears. Do a fun Class 3 scramble up the nose or walk under the cliff band to a break on the right.

Reach the top of McGath Point at 3.4 miles. The wide swing view is astonishing, absolutely outrageous. Photos don't even begin to capture it. Boulder Town is visible in the north. This image displays the Henry Mountains to the east with the Calf Creek defile directly below.

Navajo Mountain is south. The Straight Cliffs, the edge of the Kaiparowits Plateau are southwest, shown. One thousand feet below the southern edge of the point is Willow Patch Creek running into Sand Creek. In October all the drainages are burning with cottonwoods. Predominating is the omnipresent roiling sea of Navajo Sandstone.

From Saddle 6,640', return to the double ponderosa, either by retracing steps or continuing to explore. We decided to circle towards the small, red streaked mesa, 6,420 feet, seen below and from the trailhead. Drop off the saddle to about 6,300 feet and then contour north on angled sandstone. The mesa appears easy to climb. Meet the drainage northwest of the double ponderosa. Recross the top of the waterfall at 6.0 miles.

Finally, descend to the bottom of Upper Calf Creek Falls. We over-shot the trail, expecting something more obvious. It is a thin track marked with a cairn about 0.3 mile up the trail from the upper falls, or, 0.8 mile from the trailhead. It is 0.5 mile roundtrip. The path goes down a slickrock pitch which leads to a well-trodden trail along the northeast side of the creek. In the riparian area be on the lookout for poison ivy. Looking back at the junction, the main trail is on the right and the trail to the creek, on the left.

A thin stream of clear water plummets effortlessly into a pool surrounded by seeps and hanging gardens.

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