ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SOUTHWEST
Hike B7. Fry Canyon
- Hiking time: 3.25 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 4 miles
- Elevation gain: 180 feet
- USGS Topo Map: Jacobs Chair
- Difficulties: One 80ft rappel, a 30yd swim and some muddy wading
- Special equipment: Rappeling equipment, 50 meter rope, harnesses, helmets and dry bags
- ACA Rating: 3B III
The southeast corner of Utah, contains one of the most remote wildernesses in the United States if not the world. It is a land of tortured rock, crenelated and crevassed by the movement of the earth, wind and water and baked dry by the scorching summer sun. Not much lives here: a few hardy shrubs and small animals capable of finding coolness deep within the ground. Some pioneers survived their travels through this land; virtually none stayed for it was not possible to live here. When the Glen Canyon Dam was completed, Lake Powell flooded a spidery maze of canyons and men came by boat to enjoy the beauty of the rock and the water. Roads were cut and paved to allow access to several marinas within this network and the beauty of the wilderness in the areas surrounding Lake Powell began to be appreciated and enjoyed. But there are still very few human settlements. Fry Canyon Lodge on US95 at 37o38.09'N 110o9.41'W (about 23mi southeast of the Hite marina on Lake Powell) is the only human habitation for nearly 50mi.
Fry Canyon itself is a small tributary of White Canyon, a fissure that parallels US95, running northwest to join Lake Powell. There must be tens of thousands of gullies like Fry in this vast wilderness. But unlike most this one is readily accessible because of US95. It makes for a short and enjoyable adventure hike, perhaps a break in a journey across this land.
Fry is typical of the small canyons in this area. The rock does not permit the long deep slots one finds, for example, in Zion National Park. Because of the variations in the horizontal strata, the canyons are wider where the water has scoured the harder layers. But where it encounters softer rock in the watercourse, the water can cut short sections of much narrower slot canyon before broadening out again. And in the cool, sunless depths of these slots there are often deep, year-round pools of water, some so deep they must be swum. Fry Canyon has two such sections of narrows within a couple of miles of the US95 road bridge. This adventure drops into a slot just upstream of the bridge, continues on down to a second section that requires a rappel and a swim, joins the much larger White Canyon and then exits White for a rim-top hike back to the bridge.
Park at the side of US95 at either end of the bridge over Fry Canyon (37o38.16'N 110o9.04'W and elevation 5280ft). The bridge is about 200yd east of Fry Canyon Lodge, the area being about 23mi southeast of the Hite Marina on Lake Powell and about 60mi west of Blanding, Utah.
The first of the two sections of narrows in Fry Canyon lies below and just upstream of the road bridge and so it is wise to examine the slot bottom from the vantage point of the bridge before venturing into it. Then hike about 50yds up the west bank and drop in a short distance below the start of the slot at a place (37o38.09'N 110o8.98'W) where you can easily reach the streambed. This is just upstream of the first deep pool. Downclimb to the lip upstream of the pool and wade the thigh-deep, 20yd long pool to the sandy slot bottom beyond. After crossing another mud patch or wading pool, the slot proceeds under the road bridge and you reach the end of the first narrows. It is then easy going for about a mile along a sand and gravel bottom in a broad 20-30ft wide canyon. There are several places on the left side and one or two on the right where you can climb out if you wish. About 0.8mi and 40min from the start, a large tributary enters on the left (37o38.53'N 110o9.35'W). This branch originates in the vicinity of Fry Canyon Lodge and is used for a short round trip hike by adventurous lodge guests. Downstream a couple more large tributaries enter on the left (one at 1.3mi) and could also be used as exits.
Pool in first narrows
Then, 1hr and 1.6mi from the start, you arrive at a place (37o38.94'N 110o9.53'W) where a narrow and deep vertical slot has been cut into the bedrock of the canyon bottom. You can walk along either side of this slot for some distance and peer into its murky depths. Ominously you will spy much water in the bottom and the downstream end of this cannot be seen. After seeing all that can be seen, look for a solid two-bolt anchor on the shelf on the right side of the slot (there is also a single bolt a few yards further downstream and a little further back from the slot). Rappel in to the slot off the two-bolt anchor and descend about 60ft (mostly free rappel) to a shallow pool. The pool is just upstream of a lip that was jammed with logs when I came this way. Continue your rappel downstream of the logs, descending an additional 20ft down a sloping slot to a small lip just above a large deep pool. Fortunately there is just room to stand here to pull the rope and prepare for the swim to come. The pool in front of you is deep, dark, cold and muddy and there is no end or light in sight. There is only one option but to swim for it. After about 20yds you swim around a corner and can see the end. I swam about 30yds before encountering bottom. I then waded another 50yds, often with difficulty because of the very soft footing in the pool bottom. It is probably easier to swim. You will reach the end of this second narrows about 1hr 40min from the start.
Second slot in bedrock
Fry Canyon opens up abruptly at the end of the swim, allowing you to warm up in the sun. Stow your harness and rope for this is the end of the technical section of the hike. Ahead of you down the canyon you will see a beautiful little Anasazi ruin in a horizontal niche high on the right wall of the canyon (37o39.05'N 110o9.58'W). It is hard to see how they could have reached this place without a very long ladder. Proceeding on down the sand and gravel bottomed canyon, the walls heighten and within a few hundred yards you come to the end of Fry Canyon and its junction with the much larger and majestic White Canyon. You should reach this junction (37o39.22'N 110o9.76'W and elevation 5100ft) 2.0mi and just under 2hr from the start.
Looking back into second slot
White Canyon is a great rectangular cross-sectioned fissure with a mostly flat sand/gravel bottom and vertical 100-200ft walls. It runs for more than 50 miles toward its junction with Lake Powell. Though it is easy to hike along the canyon bottom there are relatively few places along its walls where you can climb out. On this hike we turn right and proceed up White Canyon to find such a place. About 10min or 0.3mi from the junction, there is an escape route on the right or south side of the canyon. It is hard to miss the many ducks (cairns) that mark the start of this ascent route (37o39.40'N 110o9.48'W) which climbs up to the rim using a series of ledges. As you ascend be sure to follow the ducks and the use-trail, for there is only one easy way up. You should reach the rim (elevation 5250ft) about 1hr 25min from the start. From here follow the sparsely-ducked trail for 1.5mi back along the rim to the bridge where you left the car (37o38.16'N 110o9.04'W). The completed hike should take about 3hr 15min.
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Last updated 4/1/02.
Christopher E. Brennen