Trip Report: Are you whacking the bushes or are the bushes whacking you? (Haystack Knob/Roaring Plains)

It has been six years since my last trip to Haytack Knob. I have fond memories of camping up there but less endearing memories of the challenges we faced getting there. For this reason, I was sure to warn potential participants of the unmarked/unmaintained trails, long water carry, stinging nettles, and bushwhacking involved in this route. Add in a forecast of potential rain and thunderstorms- what could go wrong?

Karan, Yvette, Logan and I met Abhi at the Flatrock Run Trailhead. We scooped up Abhi and drove a handful of miles more to our starting point at the South Prong Trailhead. It had rained steadily on the drive over but thankfully we started in dry conditions. Mostly dry anyways; the bushes gave us a decent “car wash.”

The first few miles passed by quickly and soon the sun was out bringing unexpected heat. We stopped to enjoy the view at the first overlook. The sunshine was abundant to our left but on the right, darker clouds were brewing. 

At the pipeline, the thermometer read 68 degrees but the combination of humidity and sun sometimes made it feel warmer. Along the rather soggy pipeline section we ran into the last two folks we would see for the rest of the trip. 

We ducked behind evergreen branches to access the Canyon Rim Trail and stopped a short time later to tank up with 4-6 liters of water to last through the night. We soaked up the intermittent views along the rim and took a longer break at the last clear viewpoint. Across the canyon, we could see our destination: Haystack Knob. It looked so close (two miles as the crow flies) and yet so far (6 miles by foot). 

The clouds continued to threaten us as we passed by the TeePee Trail junction. From here on, the rim trail had obviously seen less foot traffic. Fortunately, there were still a good number of cairns marking the way. It did eventually start to rain but it only lasted 10-15 mins. That would turn out to be the only rain we’d get. This section also had a solid stretch of rocky terrain that slowed us down but the route improved when we joined up with the Roaring Plains Trail. The relief was quickly replaced with the challenge of avoiding mud followed by the struggle of pushing through trees and bushes on the railroad grade. 

The path did get easier from there. We made good time and moved steadily other than pausing to put on pants to thwart the stinging nettles. After a few miles, the GPS indicated that we should start making our way up the hill on our right. Karan led the way up the steep climb but it wasn’t far before it flattened out again and we could see our final destination: Haystack Knob. 

I took a break with Abhi while Karan, Yvette, and Logan went up ahead. We all made it to the top as the sun started to go behind the clouds. Locating the actual campsites required pushing through some of the densest paths yet. My memory of there not being a lot of campsites was correct. We took the four best spots we found but could have squeezed in another tent or two if necessary.

After setting up, we went back out to the rocks to cook dinner. Instead of a nice sunset, we watched dark clouds grow closer but luckily they dispersed to the left and right of us. After dinner, Karan made a small fire in the elaborate fire ring and we settled in for the night.

We woke up at 5:30 am in the dark and in a cloud. I had seen lightning during the night but it never rained. Luckily, I didn’t misjudge sunrise and it was light enough to hike by the time we were ready to leave camp. 

After a bit of a struggle with the bushwhacking up from the railroad grade, we found an easier way back. Soon enough we arrived back at the junction with the Flatrock Run Trail. Finally it was smooth sailing again. We took a break at the intersection with the barely visible path towards Mount Porte Crayon. 

After the break, it was essentially a fairly pleasant descent back to the trailhead. The stinging nettles weren’t nearly as bad as I remembered. We didn’t even need to put on pants! Once we all arrived back at the Flatrock Run Parking lot, Karan and Abhi reversed the shuttle for us and we were on our way to a celebratory meal at Big Belly Deli in Davis.

I enjoyed revisiting this route after so many years. Haystack Knob is a special place and the trip is made more rewarding by the challenges getting there!

Google Photos Album: https://photos.app.goo.gl/UsqFkXM8hvyVCC5M6

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