Last fall it was a monsoon and a very real threat of being stranded for days. “Bring extra food,” said the NPS. This spring it was cold feet and a nagging voice, "why don’t you run the standard Elephant – Imperial loop first?” Check. But this fall, on Halloween, weather and partners aligned (Chad L, Mike L., and Scott E.) and it went, really went, and an aMazing three day packraft loop through Canyonlands and Cataract Canyon was born.
This itinerary worked rather well:
Drive in: from Hite to Teapot backcountry site, leaving a bike at the Chaffin Cowboy Camp (just west of Easter Pasture Canyon) Friday night. 30.2 miles of dirt to Chaffin, 5.2 miles to Teapot, 2.5hrs. Road grading in the spring should make this a faster trip. Rather slow in the fall, bring a shovel, 2x6’s, and at minimum, a Subie with good clearance and a full sized spare tire.
Hike in: Teapot Rock -> Fins/ Ernies Country -> Dollhouse -> Spanish Bottom on Saturday, 14 miles (4.3 miles 4x4 Road, + 1 mile cross country + 7.6 miles Fin Trail + 1.1 mile Spanish Bottom, 1.5K ft. Good camping and water at Lou’s and Clell’s springs if you’d like to split the hike over a couple days and visit the arches. The last part of the Fin Trail disappears, some cairns but mostly overland route finding.
Paddle Cataract: Sunday, 20 miles Spanish Bottom to Easter Pasture Canyon, class III – IV, some of the best big water in the state. Good scouting and if needed, portaging. Lots of flips! Get your self rescue down. Good camping at the mouth of Easter Pasture. Levels less than 10K are best for packrafts. Note, with the historic lows on Lake Fowell, a whole series of rapids are now present past the Imperial Canyon Exit. Good current all the way to Easter Pasture.
Hike out: Monday, 4.2 miles up Easter Pasture Canyon, 2.5K ft, 4th class with good route finding. There are two huge pour offs in the upper part of the canyon. The 1st you’ll encounter on the way up is bypassed on the right with a long slog up a grass/ loose rock hill followed by a traverse between a red and tan cliff band. Work your way over to and then up the one prominent gully on the right, past the cliff bands, to near the top. Then traverse around the corner and continue to climb and traverse the right side of the canyon until you can see the 2nd big pour off. This is a box canyon so stay high on the right, traversing around until you are on top of the 2nd pour off. Aside from a few boulder hops and a somewhat exposed boulder/ ledge bypass low in the canyon , this goes at 4th class. Instead of hiking up the broad Easter pasture (choked with every thorn bush and pricker known to man), hike from the top of the 2nd pour off, up the left side of the canyon a couple 100 yrds and climb out of the canyon via 4th class rock shelves and slickrock. This is essentially a direct line to your bike drop at Chaffin, take a baring and hike overland. This exit is one of the highlights of the trip.
Head home: Fetch the car with the bike, ~6 miles, and head for Stan’s Burger Shack in Hanksville. Yum.
A Google Earth trace of the route:
It goes without say, get a permit, follow the regulations. Canyonlands NP has been exemplary in facilitating packraft trips. Lets not blow it.