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Worth a Shot
The plan was to hike, from the Chimney Rock trailhead, down Shot Canyon, traverse over to Water Canyon, up and out Water, and back to the beginning trailhead. We'd talked with a few Hans Flat park rangers (the folks in charge of the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park) in advance to gain knowledge of the hike, especially the section pertaining to climbing out of Water Canyon. We understood that there would be a couple sections with considerable exposure, but nothing technical in terms of rock climbing. They did suggest taking along a 30-foot length of rope as there's one section that requires friction-climbing up a 30 degree slab of slickrock that tends to intimidate people. Didn't sound too difficult...
From the Chimney Rock parking area you first locate the third trailhead from the left. This is the one for Shot Canyon. All three are cairned and you can see the worn trail for each trailhead. At times the trailhead going into Water Canyon is marked, sometimes not. It wasn't when we were there.
Initially, the cairned trail has you gradually descending over white benches of slickrock. At this point it's unclear which canyon is actually Shot and you're hiking among juniper, Mormon tea, and sagebrush with expansive views of the Maze. About 35 minutes into the hike (0.8 miles) is when you start the serious descent into Shot. You have your choice of going down sandstone stairs (supposedly put in place by a sheep herder) or down a jumble of rocks. Both look very steep until you're right on top of them. Once down this section you traverse to the right and then descend down switchbacks to get to the canyon floor. Be slow and deliberate on the switchbacks as the soil and rocks are loose.
Once down the switchbacks, the well-worn trail takes you across the sandy bottom of Shot. The going is easy at this point and allows for ample picture-taking and oohing and aahing at the colorful rock formations. About 3 miles into the hike you'll see a lot of dark gray bedrock. On the right is a small side canyon entering Shot that also has a floor of the dark gray bedrock. It's here that you want to take a right turn out of Shot. After about 150 feet in this side canyon, watch carefully for cairns on the left. You'll climb up a crack in the rock and continue to follow the cairns. Eventually you come to a dark gray "wall" that you scramble up, making your own switchbacks to ascend, and then turn left at the top of the wall. The cairns then lead you to a saddle of sorts. This is where you get your first glimpse of Water Canyon. Good spot for lunch, too.
From the saddle you descend down another set of custom-built sandstone stairs and then down a series of short pour overs. Once past the pour overs, you turn right to go up Water Canyon. Note that up to this point the trail is, as the rangers put it, "minimally maintained" and sometimes the cairns are nothing but 2 - 3 fist-sized rocks. From here on you really have to pay careful attention to find the cairns and, honestly, I'd hesitate to go up Water Canyon without a GPS device as there are numerous side canyons. If your intent, like ours was, is to complete the loop and hike up and out of Water Canyon you could waste considerable time trying to find the right fork of Water. We had determined the correct fork in advance after a lengthy discussion with one of the rangers and had plotted out our course on our Garmin program.
The going is slower up Water as the faint trail stops and starts. Sometimes you're picking your way around prickly pear, sometimes you're slogging through the sandy canyon floor. The last fork is at 5.4 miles and is, actually, a "T". On the left is a 25-foot vertical dryfall. On the right, the direction you want to go, is a much more manageable pourover. A short distance after the "T" you come to the head of Water. Look for cairns and a trail on the left (south) side of the canyon. An easy scramble gets you onto a ledge. Here's where it got tricky...As best we could see, there's a 12 - 15 foot climb that's completely exposed. Another hiker that we spoke with the next day said, in a very serious voice, that while the climb is not technical (no need for ropes and plenty of hand and foot holds), it would be "really, really bad" if you slipped. The drop would be well over 50 feet. We felt it was too risky for us and, frustrated, turned back and re-traced our steps. The same hiker also mentioned a tree branch that you must shimmy up to get out. We wouldn't know.....If you're unsure if you can make it up and out of Water, start early and take extra food and water as you've got 6 miles to go if you turn around. Good luck and be safe!
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This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.