Backpacking The Needles Canyonlands Sept 2018

Backpacking The Needles Canyonlands Sept 2018

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 26, 2018
Activities Activities: Scrambling
Seasons Season: Fall

Backpacking The Needles Canyonlands Sept 2018

Just back from a four night backpacking trip in the Needles with a friend.

Due to the heat and lack of water I broke up our itinerary into two trips starting from 2 different trailheads. This shortened the mileage to bear all that extra water weight (11-12 liters per person per trip.) My pack was around 43lb and I’m 108lb.): Trip 1: We started from Elephant Hill trailhead, backpacked in for two nights in Chessler Park then headed back to the car, drove to Squaw Flat trailhead for two more nights at Lost Canyon. This may not be necessary for everyone but it worked out very well for us all things considered. Taking available water from potholes is not ok as I’ve seen other posters do. Information on why, is available through the park’s website. 

Before heading out to either trailhead we confirmed with the visitor center that in fact, there was no water in Chessler Park at the time. I’m glad I ignored rumors there was water! At Lost Canyon, somewhat near LC2 camp there was a scummy pond that if you were really pressed, could filter with a pump but there was a fine film of algae floating on top.  By the end of the trip I’d used all but a half liter of what I brought. In 4 days we ran into 4 separate distressed hikers 3 of whom were young, fit 20-somethings. None of them brought enough water, one poor girl broke down when I gave her some of mine and some electrolytes. One needed to be rescued out of the park. Although the trails are an easy to moderate fun scramble, the short trail mileages can be deceptive as the heat and exposed trails are no joke. For us the temps were mid/high 80s in the day and 50s at night. We caught a light sprinkle on our last day headed out.

Overall I would rate the trails as easy (with a day pack) for regular hikers and backpackers. The trails were well marked with cairns but they can be spaced quite far apart so you do need to keep alert. 

Having scrambled over these boulders and ladders both with and without a fully loaded overnight backpack, I have to say the weight factor changed things snificantly FOR ME. Again, my pack was over 30% of my body weight. A ratio like that can make fun boulder scrambling, dissents and ascents on ladders and narrow-ridge walking into quite a daunting challenge especially if you have a fear of heights as I do. We used ropes to raise and lower our packs in certain areas that were't safe to go over with them on our backs as the weight easily set us off balance.

We managed and all things considered, it was an extremely enjoyable trip with intoxicating views. Had I seen Lost canyon before Chessler park I would describe it as stunning. But we went to Chessler park first and it took my breath away. The beauty and charm I found there was moving in a way I cannot describe. So I was spoiled for anything else after that. Also I am not a fan of walking in deep powdery sand which is a major characteristic of the Lost Canyon trail. 

Couple details on the campsites: CP1 is nowhere near where it appears it on the AllTrails map if you plan on using that. The National Geographic map specific for the Needles zone shows a tiny line indicating where CP1 actually is located. You must walk a quarter-mile farther from where it shows on AllTrails (coming in from elephant Hill Trail head). The campsite marker is directly on the trail and very obvious. Despite leaving in plenty of time to beat sundown (we got to the park too late for a morning start to beat the heat so we waited and left around 3pm), we wound up searching for the site marker for an hour in full dark. Not fun.

Also, LC1 is not on the lost canyon trail as it appears on AllTrails or the National Geographic map. Both of these maps make it look as if you need to take a right at the at Lost Canyon trail coming in from Squawflat trailhead. In fact you must continue straight past the junction of Lost Canyon trail and Squawflat Trail, at the start of Peekaboo trail. Again The campsite post will be very obvious to see.


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