Welcome to the Jungle- Climbing on the Aquarius Plateau

Aquarius

 

My wife and I had been searching for a nearby crag with decent rock ever since arriving in southern Utah.  The closest we got to this wish were two hour drives to Cedar City or Brian Head.  The area where we live is in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the “rock” here is suspect at best, plus it’s too hot in the summer, so we kept an eye out for any reasonable possibilities.  On many forays to the Aquarius Plateau for other adventures – and there are many to be had – we noticed the volcanic cliffs which surround this plateau as well as the neighboring area of Boulder Mountain.  The large scree fields in places as well as some of the looseness put us off.  However, with no other better rock anywhere near, we took a closer look and to our surprise found much better quality than we had expected lurking intermttently along the band of cliffs that the road bisects.  Some of the trad lines were so good that we knew we had something – something very special!  Reportedly, Johnny Woodward had been cruising the area about a decade earlier for the same reasons we had. The story goes that he checked out the colorful choss out at Powell Point and then headed down.  He was only a mile short of seeing this place.

 

Back in 2009, a climbing couple from Joshua Tree came to visit us at our ranchito.  The weather was poor, raining in fact, and even though the plan was to head up to the plateau to see if we might set up a crack, the mood was not unanimously gung ho. I have a saying, “if you don’t go you don’t know.”  Jim Mathews and I left the ladies in the rain and headed up.  It didn’t look promising but at least the rain had slowed.  Upon arriving at what is now known as the “Upper Jungle,” we hiked down (five minutes) and found the dark colored rock had already dried.  With threatening clouds looming we started up a perfect hand splitter.  The rock was hard and took gear well.  Being an old school dirt bagger, I was not intimidated by the off-width section at the top.  I don’t know what makes this particular line so pumpy, but everybody agrees it is a strenuous line and is underrated at 10b.  Without enough gear, the upper off-width took three or four #4s, I needed to back down to retrieve gear and bump them up.  But the size of my throbbing forearms sent me to my belayer.  With two #4s on his harness, Jim headed up.  As he reached my high point about forty feet off the deck, a low cloud passed between us.  I was in the clear, as was he, but this wispy thin layer of moisture separated us from any visual references.  I knew he was making progress by the rope I was giving him as well as the excessive ape-like grunting he was making.  He sounded desperate.  Then, I don’t know why, it hit me.  The misty morning, his noise making, Jane Goodall’s Gorillas In The Mist.  The Jungle was born and this was the first of many lines to follow, and this first route is now known as “Climbers In The Mist.”  Many have called this particular line a lot of things but the word “classic” is often uttered.  Four stars to be sure!

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There are now well over one hundred routes and more being added each summer.  The place ranges from the 6s through the 13s with a 50/50 mix of trad and sport.  Craggers from all over the country have visited and are impressed with the quality of this alpine area, its camping and lack of crowds.  There are several multi-pitch lines and several towers.  As The Jungle grew we tried to break the line of cliffs up into recognizable sections making reconnaissance easier for the visitors.  From south to north the areas are now known as The Upper Canopy, The Upper Jungle, The Lower Jungle, The Distant Drum Area, The Planet of the Apes, and The Dark Continent Area.  More are likely to follow.  Most of the lines have junglish theme names such as “Jungle Boogie,” “Knuckle Draggers Needed,” and the ever-popular “Oranguterror.”   A new area we are working on will be known as “Pangea” and has lines with fun titles like “Your Substrate Makes My Lava Flow” and “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.”

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From State Route 22 just northwest of Bryce Canyon National Park head up Forest Service Road 132.  Pick your particular passion along the way or make it a long back country driving day by staying on the dirt until you reach Boulder and have dinner at one of the fine restaurants this picturesque little town offers.  This is an alpine setting where the sounds of pikas, fat marmots crossing the road, and frequent storms are common.  Planning for this type of trip is essential.  Phone service is not guaranteed.

 

The single tracks are also good, so bring the bikes!  There are many great rides to be explored that may only get a couple of runs per year.  The Powell Point jeep trail may be non-technical but the views at the end are breathtaking.  Only 30 minutes away are the world famous Red Canyon single tracks such as Thunder Mountain Trail.  You’ll see plenty of tire tracks there.  Not so much on the Henderson Canyon or Under the Point trails behind Pine Lake.  These technical single tracks are remote and demanding.  In the last decade I have only seen two sets of fat tire tracks where I did not know the rider.  These are good to great rides and could use a few more banked corners!

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The brook trout are thick in the many tarns scattered throughout the area and are thriving without too many people distractions.  That might not be the case with Pine, or Posey lakes.  While they do have fish, they also have people.

 

Equestrians will enjoy the many trails and cooler temperatures found in this area.  Camping with the horses and heading off for a full day loop in an alpine setting is a real treat.  Many grass species fill the meadows and afford a luxurious rest for your four legged friends.

 

For those looking to hike and perhaps take advantage of the abundant wildlife possibilities, you won’t be disappointed.  Large mammals such as bear, mountain lion, elk, and deer are common.  Birds are even more spectacular.  From the enormous California Condor circling on thermal updrafts above the cliffs to the tiny emerald green Magnificent Hummingbird visiting the myriad of wild flowers, there are many and varied local wildlife residents to excite the observant hiker.

 

In my humble opinion the best part of this place is the camping.  It does not get much better.  Up near the crag or even higher on the plateau all provide jaw dropping vistas in isolation.  Water and wood are abundant as well as the numerous wildlife encounters.  A camera and a shovel are both essential gear recommendations.  Maps, guides, and road conditions are available in the surrounding communities.  Bring a full tank of both gas and chutzpah. Epic adventures are the norm.

One Response to “Welcome to the Jungle- Climbing on the Aquarius Plateau”

  1. Sounds great….particularly the company and the single track. Might have to drag my better half and our basketball team out there.

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