How Mosaic Canyon Was Almost the Death of Me in Death Valley

Okay, maybe I’m being a little bit dramatic with this title, but this hike was much harder than I was expecting it to be. It was listed as moderate by the park, 2-4 miles as you wish, with “some” slickrock scrambling involved. Sounded a little intimidating but I figured I could still handle it.

And handle it I did, but there was no way on earth with my puny upper body strength I could have made it through there without the physical help of my patient and encouraging husband.

The trail was beautiful from the beginning, as it takes you through this colorful slot canyon that gets so narrow at points, you can reach out and touch both sides at once.

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The canyon offered occasional shade, but was mostly exposed to the sun in areas where the walls were not high enough or the canyon was too wide to provide cover from the mid-day sun. Despite highs close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day we were here, the highs only read in the mid to high eighties near this trailhead – though this is still hotter than we usually hike in and we still worked up a good sweat. And yes, John ALWAYS wears long jeans, no matter the temperature, in case you were wondering…I still don’t know how he does it!

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The first two miles were pretty level, soft gravel with very minor obstacles to step over if anything. This is why I suppose the park describes the hike as two or four miles roundtrip, as after this is where a rock jam separates the strong from the weak – or in my case, the ones who can squeak by…

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I needed help to get over this. Those rocks were slippery and I’ve never been a big fan of climbing up things.

The rest of the trail was similar to the first two miles, but littered with more obstacles like the rock jam. This one wasn’t too terrible for me, but since my legs aren’t as long as John’s it took a little more maneuvering and grabbing John’s hand to pull myself up.

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There were a few that weren’t so bad and then this one probably took me at least five to ten minutes to get up – or what felt like an eternity as I would try, then step aside and watch other hikers breeze up and down it like it was nothing, then try again. The only thing that made me feel better was noticing the other women’s well-toned arm muscles that I pretty much lack (excepting the slight tone I still have in my right arm from slugging around milk jugs for Starbucks for a few years). John eventually just had to come down and boost me up from my butt and then hold the bottoms of my feet as I clawed my way up. But I did it, and that’s all that matters, right?!

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His feet were at a foot or two off the ground already!

This one was better but I still needed a boost.

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The trail finally showed some mercy and leveled out, before reaching this point where an arrow leads you up a narrow, rocky trail that still involves a small amount of scrambling that leads to the end. Or so we think.

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We spent the next fifteen or so minutes conspiring with several other groups of hikers who couldn’t seem to agree on where the trail was supposed to continue or that they felt like they were going longer than they should and couldn’t find the end. We were told that it culminated with a blue wall, and knew we should follow the arrow. But even after one guy went ahead up the small mountain, he wound up coming down another way and reporting that he couldn’t find the end. We still aren’t sure if he found it and didn’t know it or what happened, but all we knew at the time was that it was starting to feel blistering hot and that we had seen enough awesome scenery on the hike to not feel terrible about missing one wall of the canyon.

So we started to head back the way we came, or so we thought. We detoured slightly to take what we thought was a small short cut down the side of the small mountain that we thought took us onto the bottom of the canyon and back to where we had started to climb. Well, the problem was there was a small canyon between us and that. So after we got our bearings and spotted where we had just come from, back up it was and we continued going down the small switchbacks to get back to the arrow and the rest of the trail.

Getting back was much easier as I could slide down most of the scrambling obstacles on my butt. I clearly didn’t think all of them were terribly easy though as demonstrated by this photo…

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On the final rock jam, John literally had to wrap his arms around my hips and lift me down from the last step as I was afraid I would come down on my ankle wrong as high up as I was. With all of the help I needed, I still felt proud though that I was able to make it through as much as I did, and it really felt like an adventure. These things, combined with the stunning scenery actually made it one of my favorite hikes we’ve done so far. And I even have the fringe benefit of a burning desire to strengthen my arms and core. Let’s hope that lasts because I clearly need it…

4 thoughts on “How Mosaic Canyon Was Almost the Death of Me in Death Valley

  1. That just made me laugh out loud! Haha unless he’s swimming I’m not sure how likely we are to see that, but we’ll see!! And it was quite the experience going beyond the rock jam, but we both agreed that the canyon up until that point still made it a beautiful hike. 🙂

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