Trip Number: 13037A
Staff: Mike Abbott
- Follow a unique, trailless route in a rarely visited desert wilderness
- Explore remote slot canyons
- Discover prehistoric pictographs, petroglyphs, manos, sherds, and other
- Meet local Navajo friends and their families
- All meals and group cooking equipment
- Permits and a donation to the local Navajo chapterhouse
"I'd rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth."
-- Steve McQueen
Photo: Richard Fite
Seekers of remote, beautiful places need look no further. Between the blue,
forested volcanic cone of Navajo Mountain and the town of Page, Arizona lies
a high desert wilderness as unvisited and remote as can be found anywhere. Called
the Rainbow Plateau, this small corner of our planet is protected by its extraordinary
difficulty of access. Bordered on the north by Lake Powell and the south by
Navajo Canyon, no roads penetrate the Plateau (no paved road comes even close),
and except for a few no-longer-used Navajo sheep trails, there are not even
footpaths. Home to Navajo sheepherding families in the early-20th century, the
area today is rarely visited even by the Navajo, and almost never by non-Navajo
tourist hikers and backpackers. For those who lust for waking up in the middle
of nowhere, without the flies and mosquitoes of the great white north, there
is no better place.
A labyrinth of twisting canyons, sandstone domes, and high buttes and monuments,
the Rainbow Plateau is a feast of scenic magnificence. On this trip "Somewhere
Over the Rainbow," we will experience canyons that are narrow, dark, and
cold in some places, and sunny and warm in other places, with streams bordered
by cottonwood and willow. We will hike through domelands of red Navajo sandstone
with cross-bedded slickrock and unexpected dropoffs, and enjoy panoramic views
while exploring high mesas close to the original surface of the Colorado Plateau.
Every day will test our navigational skill as we find our way through a tangled
maze of fractured and eroded sandstone. While we may sometimes find and use
old Navajo sheep trails, our route is entirely cross-country, and we will not
follow any maintained hiking trails for the simple reason that there are none.
The hike will explore several major canyons, including Sand Canyon and West
Canyon. We will discover and cross a large natural bridge, find pictographs
and other archeological sites, and climb to the base of Octagon Butte and perhaps
to the top of Cummings Mesa. The interests and capability of the group along
with the weather will determine the precise route of the hike. The rugged nature
of the terrain through which we will travel makes this trip more than an introduction
to hiking the Colorado Plateau. Rather, it is a mini-expedition through a rarely
visited desert wilderness. Once we leave Page, participants are committed to
the entire trip. Other than by helicopter, leaving is essentially impossible.
Photo: Becky Wong
This eight-day loop hike will begin and end at the home of a Navajo friend
and his family -- one of two families living on the edge of the Rainbow Plateau.
Because the route between Page and the Rainbow Plateau includes a difficult
4WD track requiring local knowledge, participants are encouraged to use transport
services provided by local Navajo friends (transportation is not part of the
Sierra Club trip).
Day 1: Starting at the confluence of creeks close to our friend's
home, we will backpack 8-10 miles down a major canyon to our campsite. The canyon
is used for grazing and we may briefly exchange greetings with a Navajo herder
tending his or her flock of sheep and goats, or encounter wild burros.
Day 2: We'll continue to a side canyon where we begin our
climb onto the Rainbow Plateau. We will see the first of many pictograph areas
Days 3-4: We'll explore the high areas of the Plateau -- and
in doing so begin to soak in the remoteness of this wilderness area. We will
explore canyons and hidden pools, see pictographs and long-abandoned hogans.
We will experience the fine details that are unique to the desert in springtime,
from freshly leaved cottonwoods to the various cacti in bloom.
Days 5-8: We will have one layover day to explore West Canyon,
described by Michael Kelsey as the "premier" slot canyon on the Colorado
Plateau. We will navigate the middle and possibly the upper narrows if time
allows by wading and swimming through the narrow passages. On the last day,
we climb the slickrock above the head of West Canyon to the base of Octagon
Butte, then descend from there to Jayi canyon where we meet our Navajo friends
for transport back to Page.
Photo: Becky Wong
Transport between Page and the Rainbow Plateau will be provided by local Navajo
and is not part of the Sierra Club trip. Information on these services will
be provided. The cost of these services, about $70 per person, will be paid
directly to the Navajo and is not included in the trip price.
The trip is entirely on land within the Navajo Nation and through an area normally
closed to non-Navajo visitors (as is most of the Navajo Nation). The Sierra
Club is able to offer this trip only because of the special relationship between
the leaders and the local Navajo residents. Individuals should not attempt this
hike on their own. Those wanting more information on areas open to hiking should
contact the Navajo Department of Tribal Parks and Recreation in Window Rock.
The leader will provide travel information for getting to Page, Arizona, and
from Page to the Rainbow Plateau. Great Lakes Aviation provides commercial air
service to Page and has code sharing with several major airlines. The group
will have a pre-trip meeting in Page on the evening of Friday, April 12, 2012
at 7 p.m. local time.
Accommodations and Food
All meals are included in the trip cost. Meals will be simple and tasty with
an emphasis on high-energy, lightweight foods. We will have no food caches or
resupply, so we must carry our entire food requirement for the eight days. Although
the menu is not vegetarian, participants who wish to avoid red meats can be
accommodated. Strict vegans and others with highly restrictive diets should
contact the leader before registering for the trip. Cooking and cleanup will
be shared by all participants, with guidance as necessary. The first meal is
lunch on Saturday, April 13 and the last is lunch on Saturday, April 20. Because
personal preferences in hot drinks and trail snacks differ so widely, these
will not be included in the trip commissary.
Photo: Richard Fite
This is not a trip for beginning backpackers. Although the total backpacking
distance (about 50 miles) is not exceptional, the rugged nature of the terrain
makes this a challenging trip. Every daylight hour is utilized. Participants
should have reasonable stamina, strength, balance, and a high comfort level
with heights. Participants must be prepared to physically condition themselves
for this trip in order to carry their pack in the full desert sun for most of
the day. Participants must be comfortable walking in soft sand, ascending and
descending steep sandstone slickrock, bouldering, scrambling in joint cracks
with loose rock, and crossing streams. Some days will include walking in water,
which will be deep in places and cold. On one day, participants may have to
swim short distances using their pack for flotation. Occasionally we will be
bushwhacking through dense reeds and willow thicket. Participants must be able
to carry all of their personal equipment, plus a share of the commissary --
perhaps as much as 40-45 pounds total backpack weight at the beginning of the
While the trip does not include technical rock climbing, we will ascend and
descend very steep sandstone slickrock. In at least two places -- and more if
necessary -- we will set a handline for assistance and to bolster confidence.
The Rainbow Plateau is truly a labyrinthine maze. This topographical complexity
and the fact that we are not following an established trail impose constraints
on participants. Most notably we must hike in a reasonably close-spaced group
when we are not in an established canyon.
One leader enjoys playing the flute and recorder, and may bring a lightweight
instrument on the trip. Other participants are invited to do so if they wish.
Consumption or possession of alcoholic beverage is illegal on the Navajo Nation.
We will demonstrate our respect for the Navajo by complying with their laws.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Becky Wong
Springtime weather on the Rainbow Plateau is usually comfortable and pleasant,
but it is also highly variable and participants should be prepared for extremes
of hot and cold. Nighttime lows in the 40s are likely (and low-30s temperatures
are possible), as is snow or rain. Daytime highs in the 60s, 70s, or even 80s
are likely. In April, warm weather is more probable than cold, but come prepared
for both. Parts of some canyons are narrow, dark, and wet, and certain to be
Complete backpacking equipment will be required -- including a reliably dry
tent (not a tarp), backpack, sleeping bag that's comfortable in the low 30s,
sleeping pad, raingear, a bowl or cup and eating utensils, and hiking boots.
Group commissary equipment will be provided. Lightweight equipment is critically
important, due to the challenging terrain across which we will hike and the
need to carry all our food. Participants must minimize nonessential items. The
leader will provide a detailed equipment list, gear suggestions, and other trip
information beginning in January.
Appropriate footwear for hiking in water and lightweight dry bags with sufficient
capacity for personal equipment are also required.
- Roberts, David, In Search of the Old Ones. Simon and Schuster.
- Rainbow Plateau photos taken by trip assistant leader, Richard Fite: http://www.richardfite.com/rainbow-plateau.html
Photo: Becky Wong
Discussion of conservation issues will focus on conservation of public lands
in Arizona and southern Utah -- especially Leave No Trace methods and invasive
species impacts. Insight to power generation and Lake Powell, as it relates
to the Navajo Nation, will be provided.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Mike Abbott currently lives on the Florida panhandle. His 30 years of backpacking and rock climbing experience includes much of the Sierra Nevada, desert Southwest, Rocky Mountains and portions of the wet belt forests of British Columbia. Mike enjoys sharing the artifacts and topography with others as he continues to explore new areas on the essentially boundless Rainbow Plateau. He is a dedicated Leave No Trace practitioner. He is also a big fan of good meals on the trail. Mike is a National Outdoor Leadership School graduate, a Wilderness EMT and PADI dive master. Professionally he is the CEO of a small engineering services firm.
Richard Fite has explored nearly every corner of the Rainbow Plateau. He has extensive experience leading backpack trips for the Sierra Club and other organizations, and is certified as a Wilderness First Responder. With 20+ years of backpacking experience, Richard has hiked in many western states and climbed most of the high mountains in his home state of New Hampshire. Richard is employed as a risk analyst for the United States Department of Agriculture.
Becky Wong is from British Columbia, Canada and is an experienced desert backpacker. She is also a marathon pacing coach and runner. This will be Becky's sixth year hiking on the Rainbow Plateau adding to her many years of backpacking on the West Coast of Vancouver Island as well as in the Canadian Rockies. She believes in spending as much time as possible outdoors. "Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit" - Edward Abbey. Becky is a Certified Wilderness First Responder.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips