Prologue (Day 1)
Recently, I've been on the lookout for snow-free areas to go backpacking and the Black Ridge Canyon Wilderness in the McInnis Canyon National Recreation Area has been near the top of my list. To get an idea of the snow cover, I'd been tracking the weather reports as well as the webcam in the nearby Colorado National Monument. It had snowed Monday but it looked like it had mostly melted out by the weekend. I made the 5.5 hour drive out to the Grand Junction/Fruita area Friday night and camped near the Coal Canyon Trailhead in the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Area. This is one of the other areas I've wanted to explore. I got there well after dark and while it appeared to be snow free I wouldn't know for sure until the morning.
My plan was to start at the Pollock Bench tailhead and head up Flume Canyon, traverse across Glade Park, then head down into Mee Canyon, and finally over to Rattlesnake Arches for a 30 mile loop.
Map here: caltopo.com/m/V10R
I ran into a couple hiccups and ultimately decided to save the Mee Canyon Alcove and Rattlesnake Arches for a later trip.
I decided to take the west fork of Flume Canyon because I'd read online that there was a reasonable way out of the canyon. As I neared the terminus of the west fork I saw an intimidating vertical headwall directly ahead of me. I pressed on hoping that a route up a ramp on the western wall would become obvious as I got closer.
As I got closer to headwall I realized that if there was a way out of the west fork of flume canyon it wasn't near the canyon terminus. Maybe it was on the ledge system behind me?
Ultimately, I had to admit that the west fork had gotten the best of me. I never found a easy way out. I decided to head down and try the east fork. If that didn't look any better this would be a short out and back.
The east fork probably wins my award for the most hellaciously steep dirt and scree (loose tiny pebbles) I've ever been on. The closest competition for this title is the valleys on the southern face of Dinosaur Mt in the Flatirons and the base of the southern face of the Mickey Mouse Wall near Eldorado Canyon.
Once I got out of the canyon I realized how the "Black Ridge Canyon Wilderness" must have gotten it's name. While the lower parts of the canyons were very similar to the the sandy soil in the Needles District of Canyonlands NP, the mesas at the top were covered with a dark soil. The melting snow had turned them into energy sapping mud. Ultimately I decided to camp on a the crusty snow to avoid it.
My planned route had been more unknown than my usual trips. Most of it was off trail and I had to admit that I didn't really know if I'd find a way out of Mee Canyon to cut over to Rattlesnake Canyon. My experience in the west fork of Flume Canyon was also prominent in my mind. At worst I could simply turn around and go back the way I'd come right?
My route plan also assumed that I'd find water in all of the canyons. I'd passed a couple of isolated pools of water in Flume Canyon but I hadn't filled up on water when I saw them since I was at near full capacity at the time. By the morning I was down to less than half a liter and I didn't know if Mee Canyon had water in it. If I'd brought a stove I could have melted snow but I'd left it at home since I didn't bring food that needed to be cooked.
The previous evening I'd hopped over a weak stream but avoided it because it was muddy. Now I didn't really have a choice-it was my best option. My water filter should in principle get rid of the mud... The next morning however, the snowmelt situation had changed dramatically and this stream was now dry. I followed it uphill for half a mile or so until I reached what my map indicated was the source. Now I had no choice but to turn around. I could eat snow as long as I was up on the mesa but I couldn't risk dropping into another dry canyon.
Drive back home
On the way home I left I-70 and took the Grand Mesa Scenic Bypass for ~10 miles.
Near the town of Mesa, I took the "De Beque Cut off" back towards I-70.
It was a short trip with a lot of driving but I'll definitely be back.