Gem Canyon return via Poncho Exit Chute from Heck

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Spring, Fall
Time Required:
One to two days
Rock Difficulty:
Class 4

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Gem Canyon return via Poncho Exit Chute from Heck
Created On: Apr 23, 2007
Last Edited On: May 8, 2007


Since this is in Utah, the proper name for the route is the Poncho Chute from Heck. This is the quickest way to do any of the entire Gem Canyon Forks without doing the very long car shuttle.

This is the same basic route as the exit from Enigma Canyon, but the approaches and mileges will be completely different (more to come-still working on it).

Doing the entire Gem Canyon and looping via this exit route is a very long and tiring day. It took us over 12 hours, but we were really moving with few breaks.

Poncho Exit Chute from HeckThis (opposite wall) is what I call the "Poncho Exit Chute from Heck". It's 800 feet of steep and loose rubble, but is the only route I know up up to the rim between Poncho Wash and Gem Canyon.

Getting There

There are several possibilities for starting the trip. For simplicity, I will use the same description as the one for the West Fork of Gem Canyon. I must admit that last time I was there we missed the junction with the hill and cairn mentioned below and we were lost for a little while. A GPS is highly recommended if not absolutely necessary. The maps do not show the roads, but at least you will know where you are!

A journey to out in the middle of no-where............

Upper Trailhead

As mentioned, just finding the trailhead is a navigational challenge. You must do the vehicle shuttle the day before the trip as it will be a long day just getting through the canyon. You absolutely must have the 7.5 minute quads (maps) Big Bend Draw and Ireland Mesa for the drive to the trailhead. Even then, the maps are inaccurate especially near the trailhead. A 4wd is also required. The 63 mile shuttle took us 3.5 hours, but we already knew how to get there, having been to the head of the canyon before. Expect to take longer.

To get to the trailhead at the head of the canyon, drive west from Green River, or east of the Emery area along I-70 to exit 105. You must carefully follow the topo maps for the remainder of the drive. Take the southbound gravel road and veer right after a short distance. Stay on the main road until you reach Kimball Draw at an intersection with a sign. This is at about co-ordinates N38*47'16.47" W111*5'52.69". Turn left onto the dirt road signposted for Copper Globe. After following the bottom of the wash for a while, you will reach an intersection (no sign and it can be hard to spot) at about co-ordinates N38*47'4.42" W111*4'34.19". Turn right onto a seldom used track. Follow the track in and out of several drainages until you reach an intersection at a top of a hill at about co-ordinates N38*46'24.02" W111*3'57.04". Turn right here.

The road weaves in and out of drainages and scenic and colorful badlands and is one of the most interesting pieces of road construction I've ever seen. There are some sections of the road that pass through sparkling gypsum beds. Not too far after the road climbs out of Dizzy Trail Canyon (see the topo map), you will reach a junction next to a small hill with a cairn (pile of rocks) on top. From here on, the topo map is inaccurate as far as showing the many tracks go, so pay attention closely to the topographic features on the map. There are many routes to the trailhead, but here's the route we took. Turn right at the junction with the hill and cairn. You will cross a few very rough spots in the road while crossing two washes. After the second wash, make a very sharp left turn onto a track that heads east [update: this track was just about invisible when we were here in 2007, so see the alternate route below]. The trailhead and where you're aiming for is very near the 6350 elevation marked on the Ireland Mesa quad NW of the word "DIKE" on the map. Park here.

Note #1: In 2004, I found an alternate route to the trailhead. The road is not as rough from this alternate route, but the trailhead can be harder to recognize from this direction, as this route has no landmarks near the trailhead. At the hill with the cairn, continue straight instead of right. Look for a faint track to the right not far beyond the hill with the cairn. This road leads to the trailhead, but it’s hard to recognize. Hopefully the cairn I left will still be there!

Note #2: The main track that continues straight from the junction mentioned in the paragraph above dead ends at Horizon Arch. This is a scenic place and if you hike over the hill and slickrock, you will have an incredible view of the San Rafael Swell.

Route Description

After taking the either fork of Gem Canyon to Muddy Creek, you are now ready for this exit route at the mouth of the canyon.

From the mouth of Gem Canyon, make the long and flat hike up Muddy Creek to the mouth of Enigma Canyon, making many, many creek crossings along the way. Enigma Canyon is reached after 5.5 miles and is worth taking a few minutes to see the lower slot.

From the mouth of Enigma Canyon, hike up Muddy Creek to Poncho Wash (1.4 miles). There will be at least two creek crossings.

Hike up Poncho Wash for 0.3 miles while keeping a close eye out to the right. After hiking up Poncho, you will notice a chute on both the right and left sides of the canyon. This is caused by a fault line. The left chute dead ends on a high cliff above Muddy Creek, so it’s the right chute you want. These chutes are just before a big bend in Poncho Wash. (If you hike up Poncho Wash, you will eventually reach a big falls).

Grind up the chute. Only one place is exposed and it was covered with slippery mud when we climbed it on April 13th and 14th 2007. It shouldn't be bad when dry. Loose rocks are a hazard, so use caution.

After climbing the chute, veer right and scramble up to the top of the rim. There is a nice break in the cliffs making the rest of the route fairly easy.

From here you need a map, compass, GPS if you have one, and navigating skills. Stay on the flat and broad ridge of sorts between Poncho Wash and Enigma Canyon and route-find back to the trailhead. There are few landmarks, so make sure to follow the map very carefully. The Gem Canyon Trailhead is much harder to find while traveling overland than the one at the Stock Tank in Poncho Wash, so if you are planning on doing the entire loop, leaving a car at the stock tank in Poncho Wash might be a good idea even though the approach to Gem Canyon is a bit longer from there. The stock pond is about 2.5 miles from the floor of Poncho Wash and the exit chute.

The Poncho Chute from HeckMap of the exit chute out of Poncho Wash.

Essential Gear

Navigation skills, a map, compass, and hopefully a GPS is standard equipment. See the standard route page for the gear needed to complete Gem Canyon.

Poncho WashThis fall is just up Poncho Wash from the exit chute, so the exit chute is the only viable route out of the canyon when traveling up the drainage.


If doing the Entire Middle Fork Gem Canyon and Poncho Chute Loop, then the round trip distance is about 17 miles. With the technical difficulties, this makes for a long day. Get and early start and be prepared for a very long hike. The loop through the West Fork is only slightly shorter.