Horsethief to Horseshoe – a November packraft trip
The river canyon is a frigid inhospitable defile this time of the year. Cold still air, heavy and shadowy and unwanted elsewhere, silently settle in, wrapping the occasional stir in a promise of death. Glaring rays of low winter sun, finding their way down through a rare dip in the canyon walls, feel feeble in their brief sparkle. Sluggish tan water moves slowly, thickly. Testing the surface one is painfully reminded how dangerous 40 degree water is.
Paddling the river in a single chamber packraft, we stay close together, cautiously viewing the other boat as a life raft should unseen spiky things catch the thin rubberized material. A low, flat paddle stroke keeps the icy drips from bare fingers and important layers. To keep our naked, damp feet from going completely numb they rest muddily on a small square of Ensolite pad.
The transitions are the magic moments in our packrafting adventures, the distilled essence of this activity. From float to foot and back again, with simple means. An unseen burden in the pack transform effortlessly into little boats, capable looking and surprisingly roomy, ready to set off around the next bend. An equal lack of flaunt quickly hides them and again we’re explorers of ridges and mesas.
On this trip of 2 days we started and ended with 6-8 miles of paddling to create a loop taking in two great canyons of the northern Orange Cliffs area. To make it possible we had to find a cpouple of historic cattle routes, the Horsethief Trail out of its namesake canyon and the Angel Trail leading into lower Horseshoe. Connecting them is the wide expanse of the Spur.
Notes: The north facing, shadowy Angel Trail has a couple of spots where even a light veneer of snow would make progress quite risky.
Never been in lower Horseshoe before, but the amount of quicksand present this November was downright scary. One is walking directly in the stream bed for the last mile and a half before the river.
On the river, once the sun drops for good in the late afternoon, be prepared for very frigid pack rafting conditions.
We have done three historic cattle trails in this region: these two, plus the Devil’s Slide trail out of lower Millard. The Angel trail is the one in best repair with up to date cairning. Devil’s Slide is almost gone, as is most of the lower two thirds of the Horsethief. But at least it is straight forward to locate the general area of the latter.
All images with my old GoPro.
Staying out of the shadows, after an early morning launch a Mineral Bottom.
Readying for the hike up Horsethief.
Horsethief. Mostly a scenic, easy stroll with intermittent water.
The upper part becomes entrenched and dark. More water too.
Near the top of Horsethief trail.
Morning at camp on the High Spur.
Campfires, and the legality there off with land managers, dictate our route choices in the colder seasons.
Hiking on the Spur.
An upturned juniper. No roads, cowboy camps around. Wind?
Given Kelsey’s in-depth descriptions (!) and excellent cartography (!) we found the top of the Angel trail no problem.
Skirting sure quicksand in lower Horseshoe.
Arriving a the huge flood plain at the mouth of Horseshoe.
Multi use of Thermarest.