Badlands Peak *
Religion is a mental disease, often confused with spirituality. --pjs-1965
The highest point in its vicinity, Black VABM is not a challenging peak or an awe-inspiring one, but a trip up it is worth it for the expansive views, the remoteness, and the colorful bentonite badlands one passes through, around, and over on the way there.
Easiest access is from the Bentonite Hills section of the Hartnet Road. Although the peak is not in the Bentonite Hills-- its slopes actually turn from chossy badlands to being littered with volcanic rock-- and not in Cathedral Valley, either, it makes sense to include it as a child to the Cathedral Valley page since it is located between the two main backcountry roads making up the Cathedral Valley loop drive.
From the summit, views include the following: North and South Caineville Reef, South Caineville Mesa, the Henry Mountains, the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef, and the high-desert plateau called the Hartnet.
There are several ways to approach the peak. I am only going to describe the simplest.
2.7 miles east of the Capitol Reef NP boundary, turn off Utah 24 onto a dirt road that reaches the Fremont River in less than half a mile. Look for a "River Ford" sign. You need high clearance for this crossing, and you should always check the water levels first. This road, Hartnet Road, leads about 33 miles to Cathedral Valley Junction in Upper Cathedral Valley, passing several scenic overlooks along the way.
Hate me if you want for this, but I did not note the exact driving distance to where I parked. It was around 10 miles. The two pictures below show the prominent outcrop by which I parked in a pullout, and the peak is easily seen while driving to the pullout, so there really is no excuse for not spotting the peak and finding a place to pull off from which you begin your cross-country trek.
Depending on where you park, the distance and elevation gain will vary. From my starting point by the outcrop shown in the previous section, the route was about 2.5 miles with around 1000' of elevation gain in all.
My route was Class 2 all the way. After traversing the badlands for a bit, I descended to flat ground and then started finding my way cross-country. Minimizing the ups and downs as much as possible made the route a little longer than a direct line would have been.
At one point, approximately halfway to the peak, I did cross a 4wd road. I have not found this road on any maps and do not know where it begins or ends, and I do not know what the driving conditions are like.
What I really wanted to do was climb Mount Cowen. Said to be one of the best scrambling routes in Greater Yellowstone, going at Class 4 overall with a 5.4 summit block, it sounded perfect for me.
But there were two problems. One was the long hike in, involving a steep descent before climbing to the logical campsite. I hate giving up elevation in order to gain it. The other problem involved time and energy. Climbing Cowen is really best done as a two-nighter; you grunt the 8-9 miles to Elbow Lake and make camp, you climb the peak the next day, and then you hike out the following day.
When you're solo and you can't stand down time and you have to meet your wife the next day, this just doesn't work. In retrospect, given that the weather was perfect, I could have hiked in early, rested a bit, climbed, and then hiked out the next day, but I couldn't have predicted that perfect weather, right?
To be honest, my main reason for bailing on the plan was that I didn't want the long slog up and down, in and out, both ways, for I hate backpacking as well even though I will bear that cross to reach certain places.
So I made a different plan. Crow Mountain was supposed to be Class 3 (easy but still tough enough to make it appealing), and the hike in was supposed to be fairly short and easy. 4 miles and about 1000' of elevation gain to trail's end and camp-- no problem!