Backpacking in the Robbers Roost Canyon

5/27 - 5/29 2000

Memorial Day weekend means three work free days in a row and thus an opportunity to set out for a longer trip. This time, the destination of choice was Robber's Roost Canyon, about 30 km long box canyon complex about 30 km south-east of Hanksville, Ut. The canyon drains to the Dirty Devil River. On its western rim is located a trailhead from which one can access the Dirty Devil canyon and its tributaries in more than 10 km radius.

Check out the Photo tour of the Robbers Roost Canyon for map and pictures.

We have set out of SLC late on Friday, at about 9pm, which turned out to be a wise choice. The roads were not very crowded, families in SUVs and minivans were probably already at their destinations. On the last stretch of highway to and thru Hanksville were many trucks with boats, a difference from last trip in the mid March when the road was totally empty. Still, we were able to maintain constant 80 mph and around 1am, after a 1/2 hr. rattling ride of the last 15 kms on dirt we pulled to a parking lot on the trailhead. To my surprise, there were about 5 cars parked there already. We did not worry about this much, though, and just crashed in the open next to the car.
In the morning we ate, packed and set out. It was not very easy to find a shortcut trail on intermediate navajo sandstone bench, as suggested in Kelsey's "Hiking Robber's Roost Country". After about 6 kms we finally reached the river, about 500 m from the Robber's Roost. The river bed is pretty wide, maybe 50 m, but water was much narrower and maximum half calf deep. We waded in the river to the RR entrance, and then had to battle through the bushes for about 150 m before we reached firmer ground. On the way back, we found that it is better to get out of the river before the RR estuary, and walk directly towards the Dirty Devil canyon for about 200 m. It was about 11am, when we stopped in a shade of a first cliff for a break. The canyon at this point was pretty wide, maybe 300 m. Until lunch we walked a probably another 4-5 kms. By then it was getting pretty hot, and we discovered another nuisance, horseflies. The higher up canyon we went, the worse it was. They seemed to gather expecially around wetter places. We had a long lunch break and then walked for about another hour, and stopped again for a lengthy nap, as it was still very hot. We reached a planned campsite at the cofluence of White Roost Canyon sometime before 6pm, just left the packs there and went about an hour up the canyon. The White Roost gets narrower about 1.5 km above the confluence (to about 10 m). There were several clear pools a section of a running stream. On a top of that, there were no horse flies. Then the canyon widened again and looked less interesting, we just went and checked out a small side canyon on the right which ended in nice dryfall. On the way back we took a dip in one of the pools, which finally cooled us down a bit.
On Sunday we tried to wake up early so we hiked up the wider section of the canyon when it is still relatively cool. The plan was to walk all the way to the top of the North Fork, which ends in a slot canyon, and back to the base camp. We took off at about 8.30 am. The horse flies were there too, unfortunately. Dina was pretty well off as she walked in a long skirt, I was making fun of her as she looked as a Mormon settler 150 yrs. ago. Anyway, the canyon turned into a lush area full of cottonwoods right above the Middle Fork junction, and after that it narrowed. There were a couple of nice overhangs and water. The last 2 kms were again drier, although still relatively narrow, about 50 m. I was a bit confused where is the canyon with the right slot, as there were several side canyons which looked promising. Although we had the 24k topo map printout (link), we were happy to follow some footsteps in the dry creekbed. We ended up taking the right turn, and ran into a group of four people who were just getting out of the slot. They were camping near the Middle Fork, and it took them two days to get there. The slot was pretty narrow, about 100 m long. Still, nothing spectacular. It was pretty cool under the dryfall at the end. It seemed that the slot continues above the dryfall. Here we were also caught by a couple from Colorado, who camped a bit below our camp. Them and the people we met before were probably the only people in the upper canyon, which is pretty good for a busy Memorial Day weekend. We sat there for a good hour during the hottest part of the day, and then set out. We refilled water at a nice spring about 3 km down the canyon. When we got out of the narrow part, we noticed clouds. It was actually quite nice, since we hiked most of the wider canyon section (about another 2 hours) in the shade. Several times, there fell few drops, but nothing serious. The only drawback of the rain was, that it got more humid and so the evening was pretty hot. Also the horseflies seemed to be encouraged more than normal. We went to bed before sunset, because we wanted to get up early again to avoid the mid-day heat.
On Monday we got up with the sunrise, which looked quite spectacular, packed out and at about 6.30 am started hiking. At moderate pace, we were at the canyon mouth in 3 hours. Then we ate breakfast, and went into Dirty Devil River. We waded down river for about an hour past the Angel Cove spring, which is a big alcove on the right side of the river. We went out of the river at the Beaver Box canyon estuary. It was a bit tricky to get on the first sandstone bench. Then we lost the trail on the slickrock (there are just cairns and some are far away). We found the trail after about 20 min. and one a bit scarier climb up the slickrock. Once again on the trail, it was easy walk up. We got to the car quite dehydrated at ca. 1 pm. After refueling in Hanksville, we set out home.

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Last updated: 09-Jun-00 / mc