Red Breaks Slot Canyons Escalante Utah - Turktacular 2017

  • Updated: November 25, 2017
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

November 25th, 2017
11 miles, 1,400'

After yesterday's rougher than expected climb of Fiftymile Mountain Kristen and I were both really excited to get back to more slot canyons.  And today was going to be the main attraction of the entire trip!

Red Breaks are some of the numerous slot canyons located in the area around Hole In The Rock Road though they seem to be less well known than a lot of others.  Yet when you're doing research on the area everyone talks about how they are the greatest thing out there.

And you can add this write up to that chorus of praise.  Compared with everything else we saw over the six days of the Turktacular this stands out easily.  We spent the day going up Red Breaks West and then down Red Breaks East and the route had everything from deep narrow slots, countless amounts of scrambling, tight squeezes, and two rappels.

In addition to where we came in Red Breaks can be accessed from the north along Spencer Flat Road though I really liked the way we did it.  Climbing up Red Breaks West let us do the more memorable of the two canyons first and then down East let us finish on the more technical one.

There's also an interesting geological formation you can access from the north end of the canyons called the Cosmic Ashtray.  We ran short of daylight but I would have liked to make an excursion in between the two canyons.

We left the cars at 10 am, reached Red Breaks proper around 12 pm, finished Red Breaks West around 2:45 pm, finished Red Breaks East around 4:30 pm, and returned to the cars around 8 pm.  But YMMV depending how long you want to spend taking pictures and how much trouble you have route finding.

The pictures also don't do this area justice.  Due to the amount of scrambling involved I was using my Olympus TG4 instead of my iPhone so low light pictures were a struggle in the deeper sections of the canyon.

It also took a toll on our gear with both of our packs and shirts getting several new holes before we were out.  So don't wear anything you care about too much and bring the most durable and compact pack you own.

Because Red Breaks East has two rappels we had along a 30m rope and harnesses.  We had been led to expect just a single rappel so I had along one long 50ft piece of webbing figuring that would be plenty for anything we had to leave behind.  In actuality there were two rappels and though we were able to use what was already there you should come prepared to set up your own.  By the time you get to the rap points you're already committed and past some areas that would be tricky to reverse.

We spent the previous night off Hole In The Rock Road again which was unfortunate because once we started down the road to Harris Wash we realized how much better the camping was out here than anything else we'd need.  But hey, live and learn.

The road continues past here but there's a sign saying Authorized Vehicles Only so we parked and walked the rest of the way. 

The road crosses Harris wash and continues northwest.  To get to Red Breaks you follow the road across Harris Wash and then head north along an unnamed wash.  (We missed it initially hence the northern track)

We saw a fair number of footprints to this point...until we dead ended about 3/4 of a mile in.

We had to backtrack out of the canyon and found a duck we'd missed leading up the western side.

The trail continued here but considering how many more footprints there were below I suspect some people give up at this point.  Once up top a use trail and periodic ducks take you back into the main wash which turns to the northeast.

At the point above it started to get fun.  The canyon narrows and to proceed you have to climb over a series of chockstones.  Hopefully you know how to chimney but on the plus side if you don't you're going to be an expert by the time you get out of here.

A few of them were a little awkward and it helped to have someone else there to pass packs to.

We got to this point which is where you would think Red Breaks West started from the map.

However turning left brings you to this which is pretty damn impassable.  (To the right takes you to the base of Red Breaks East which also ended in a rappel which might be climbable but wouldn't be trivial)

We had to backtrack to this point where we found some ducks we'd managed to walk right past (again) leading up the side of the canyon.  That got us around the cliff and into Red Breaks West proper.

This canyon was the highlight of the entire trip.  It starts out relatively open with high walls and then by the end has an extended section where you can't even get by wearing a pack.  There are deep red sinuous sections, plenty of scrambling, and even better it goes on for a good long while.

The are a few more chockstones along the way but they were easy to get past with a few 3rd class moves or squeezes beneath the rocks.

Near the end the canyon had an extended period where things got really tight.  Like take your pack off and carry it over your head tight.  Brace yourself off the other wall with your thighs to avoid slipping down tight.  If you have claustrophobia you probably want to avoid this and you definitely want to avoid the east canyon.

I was rather glad I'd dropped some weight over the summer...

We popped out the far side laughing over how much fun we'd had.  Looking at the time we couldn't do Cosmic Ashtray unless we wanted to do the second canyon in the dark but we weren't too upset since both of us were fully on board with doing this again sometime.

We cut over towards Red Breaks East climbing a ridge with a few scrambly bits.  And looked down the other side into a deep canyon.  It took a little bit of exploring before we figured out how to make it down.

Red Breaks East is a more difficult than West.  Again if you were not comfortable with the tight spaces or scrambling to this point I'd strongly recommend skipping this.  It also requires two short rappels so make sure you have webbing and a rope along.

Even figuring out how to drop down into the canyon was a bit of a challenge requiring some slightly exposed slabbing here and there.  Kristen managed using trail runners but I was rather happy for my approach shoes.

Where West started gently this one gets tight right away.

This spot occurs early on and requires a partially controlled slide to get down.  Reversing it would have been possible but not trivial.

We had expected only a single rappel but neither of us saw a comfortable way down past this without a rope.  We found a piece of black webbing slung around rock a short distance back that we felt ok using but be aware you might have to build your own and leave webbing behind.

And then we spent a good long while in a section so tight we couldn't wear our packs.  I didn't even get many pictures since the light was low and I couldn't really get at my iPhone.  It was fun but we were quite happy when we were finally past it.

It was a relief to be able to spread out our arms and breath again.

The second rappel had another piece of black webbing already set up.  It was using a tree that I wasn't completely in love with as an anchor but it's fine for body weight if you're gentle.

I've read that at times there can be water at the bottom of the rappel but we only had to deal with damp sand.  We spent a little time feeling out how we'd have climbed up this if we had to and determined it's possible but neither of us would have wanted to try it without a belay from above.

After the second rappel the canyon opens up and it's an easy stroll out.  We exited Red Breaks East around 4:15 so of course it got dark during the several miles back to the car.

It was 8 pm by the time we made it back to the Jeep and we decided to camp at a pull out a short distance back from the trailhead.  This was a far nicer camp than the last few nights and there were a lot of options back there.

Red Breaks lived up to it's reputation as a relatively unknown gem and for us it was the highlight of the trip.  I'd recommend coming when the days are a little longer or else starting earlier but it was nice to not have to deal with any water hazards along the way.

Sadly this was our last slot of the trip as we planned to spend the next day exploring Smokey Mountain Road and heading for White Pockets in Vermillion Cliffs.  But we'll be back!

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