After wandering among the needles on the awesome Chesler Park/Joint Trail Loop the day before, we followed the crowds and did the other seemingly most popular hike in the park: Squaw Canyon to Lost Canyon.
An 8.7 mile hike with between 500-600 feet in elevation change, it seemed like a welcome reprieve from the prior day’s 11 miles and 1600 feet of ups and downs (with practically no water for the last three miles). The description in the park newspaper said to expect some “difficult climbing between the two canyons” and that one ladder must be climbed (an apparent trend lately for us). Looking at the map, we guessed that the most difficult portions would be completed earlier on if the loop was done counter-clockwise, so we decided to do it this direction to get the harder parts over with sooner. After following the relatively flat first 1.1 miles out to the loop, we learned that this was not the popular way to complete the loop, but stood by our decision with one other lonely hiker taking it this way along with us. In the end, I was glad that we took it this way, though some obstacles would have admittedly been a little easier coming from the other direction.
The 1.7 mile stretch at the start of Squaw Canyon was not too bad as it crossed through vegetation with some minor ups and downs and tiny water crossings along the way. Our surroundings were getting scenic as the canyon walls loomed next to us.
We soon started to follow the cairns up and over some taller slickrock ledges.
Before we knew it, we were climbing higher up on some hefty smooth, sloped slickrock that felt a little exposed and steep for my liking even though it was plenty wide. Footwork wise, momentum was our friend, it was just my mind that sometimes got in the way as we had to climb over to the other side and start making our way down some rocky ledges into the canyon.
Some of the ledges were easier than others and there were only a few portions that felt uncomfortably exposed – at least for me. The worst was a pretty scary obstacle where we had to climb down a 3-4 foot tall slope with only two or three feet of sloped slickrock to catch our fall. It was more manageable from there. This is probably the number one spot that would have been easier coming from the other direction.
Getting “lost” in the scenery
As we lowered ourselves into the canyon and the sky started to clear up, our surroundings got very pretty for the next 3.3 miles as we walked the canyon floor. Surrounded by dense, sometimes bright green vegetation and trees, we took in great views of the surrounding rock formations against a pretty and somewhat muted sky that seemed to make everything to stand out.
You went into the canyon; now you have to get back out…
Turning back towards Squaw Canyon (as opposed to continuing right towards Peekaboo), it wasn’t long before we started to climb out of Lost Canyon. Getting out felt less challenging than coming down into the canyon, and I don’t think it was just because I prefer going up over going down. The ledges were not as narrow and there were more alcoves for footing than the previously singularly sloped slickrock. The exciting part of this section was a small metal ladder that wasn’t too bad as there was a very wide ledge under it. The only tough part was that since the trail was apparently meant to be done the other direction, there was nothing to hold onto once you reached the top to pull yourself up (which was upwardly sloped slickrock) other than the handles at the top of the ladder and a boulder a foot or two in front of you. It was a little tough to fling myself forward to reach John’s hand but it’s funny what you are capable of when you really have no choice.
A little more climbing on wide slickrock ledges took us to the point of going up and over the canyon wall yet again. Some intense winds blew us around a bit on a briefly exposed part, causing us to seek temporary shelter in a little alcove to figure out where the trail went from here. It turned out the trail took us down some boulders and higher ledges that had me sidestepping and sliding down on my butt.
I was relieved to see flatter ground soon after that as we started to make our way back to the parking area. Overall, the scenery on this hike was not quite as grand or varied as the Chesler Park/Joint Trail Loop, but was still beautiful and I felt proud that I continue to challenge myself on hikes. That being said, I’m not sure I can say that this was one of my favorite hikes, but I would still recommend it for a complete Needles District experience.