The Legend of Faraway Arch

faraway

 

Several years ago Andy Waddington, a noted British photographer (http://andrewwaddington.com/galleries), told me of the existence of a large and beautiful arch near Lake Powell. Known as Faraway Arch, it had never been seen from the ground, though Andy, and others, had seen it from an airplane. It appears inaccessible, as it is bordered by very steep cliffs on all sides. Detailed work with maps and Google Earth indicated that perhaps there was a way to reach it, but satellite images and maps do not tell the full story. Bill Briggs and I were determined to see if it could be done and we planned a reconnaissance mission in May 2016. The arch is located only a short distance from the southern trail around Navajo Mountain to Rainbow Bridge; this trail is on Navajo land so an easily obtained permit is required from the Navajo Nation to hike in the area.

 

On a whirlwind Memorial Day weekend, Bill and I flew from Denver to Page, got a permit, and then spent a memorable day starting at dawn on the 45-mile trip to Rainbow Ridge in a rented boat, quickly hiking the 7.5 miles to the base of the arch, exploring a little, and then returning to Rainbow Bridge and Page. On this day’s tour, we were surprised by a striking arch higher than, but close to Faraway; it was just as large and beautiful, but also just as imposing and inaccessible. Some research, with the help of expert Jay Wilbur, convinced us that this second arch was Number 8-21 in the Vreeland compendium. It deserved a name, so we dubbed it Belvedere Arch. What we learned convinced us that a multi-day trip would be worthwhile and, joined by Jim Illg and Katie Larson, we backpacked to the site in October 2016 to see what we could accomplish.

Faraway Arch from below Belvedere Arch

Faraway Arch from below Belvedere Arch

In mid-October 2016 we headed back, with some friends dropping us off at Rainbow Bridge by boat; we would return to Page on the regularly scheduled tour boat four days later. We camped just where the trail through Redbud Pass strikes Cliff Canyon; the arches are in a side canyon about a mile along the trail up Cliff Canyon from this junction. In the days before Lake Powell, this site was heavily used as a camp for those coming to Rainbow Bridge by horses around the south side of Navajo Mountain. That trail was made, using lots of explosives for the tricky section through Redbud Pass, by John Wetherill and Charles Bernheimer in 1922. It is now unusable by horses because of rock movement, but the route through the narrow pass is spectacular. Bernheimer wrote a superb book (Rainbow Bridge: Circling Navajo Mountain and explorations in the “badlands” of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona) about his many explorations in the area a century ago, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the terrain near Navajo Mountain, also known as the Rainbow Plateau. The 1999 paperback edition can be found on Amazon. The book includes some beautifully drawn maps by Dick Sprang, an Arizonan who was the first Batman cartoonist.

Faraway Arch from Redbud Spine

Faraway Arch from Redbud Spine

 

The campsite was superb with ancient Basketmaker pictographs and petroglyphs on a nearby wall, clear water from the perennial stream in Cliff Canyon, and even a small arch atop a nearby wall. Bernheimer called this spot Arch Camp. That first afternoon we headed to what we thought would provide a good chimney route to a position above Faraway Arch from which we could rappel down to it, but the route was blocked by an overhanging section at its base that made passage impossible. Another pure friction route beside it would likely work at the 5.7 or 5.8 level, but the smooth slab could not be protected, so we abandoned that idea. There are some cracks below the arch, but the climbing they offer is at a much higher level and with our minimal gear, they too were out of the question. One nice surprise from this day is that we learned that one can see Faraway Arch from the canyon floor, right underneath Belvedere Arch.

Belvedere Arch

Belvedere Arch

On our first full day we decided to explore Redbud Spine, a large ridge just north of the two arches that promised fine views of Faraway and Belvedere. We were not disappointed. Some rope work was needed to gain the Spine, but the hike along its top was spectacular and got us fairly close to the arches, though separated from them by the deep chasm of the side canyon.

The Crux of the spine

The Crux of the spine

The next two days were spent finding a viable route to The Hourglass, an unusual feature a little less than a mile northwest of the Aztec\Cliff confluence. Our plan was to descend Cliff Canyon to the Aztec Creek Junction (Aztec Creek is also known as Forbidding Canyon) and then try to find an exit upstream. We did find such an exit, but it was too far upstream to be useful. It did yield some wonderful hiking on the Navajo sandstone domes in the area. On return we checked out a short cliff that looked promising and indeed Bill was able to lead to its top without difficulty. It was pretty clear that this would work for us, so we left the rope in place and returned the next morning. All of us easily climbed this pitch, though an aid move was needed at the bottom. There were some ancient small Moki steps cut into the sandstone here but they started about eight feet off the ground. We concluded that the ground was higher centuries ago, when these steps were made. This view is supported by evidence from other locales, such as petroglyphs carved on a smooth wall twenty feet above the ground.

The Hourglass

The Hourglass

At the end of our Hourglass day we moved camp closer to Rainbow Bridge, so as to guarantee our meeting of the tour boat on Sunday morning. So while we did not reach Faraway Arch, we did get superb views of it and two other spectacular formations. And each day had a bit of roped climbing, so we felt that the overall adventure level of the trip was nicely high. I have hiked quite a bit in the canyons of the Escalante River and some of that terrain is wonderfully wild and convoluted. But the area around Cliff Canyon is a lot wilder. This is most likely due to the extra erosion the area receives because of the greater moisture captured by Navajo Mountain.

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