Trail Report - Helldorado

Report and photos by: Randy L. Wheeler & Vance Anderson

Cliffhanger - Only the Demented Need Apply

Trail Rating: Lower +4, Upper 5
Location: The Helldorado Trail is located south of Moab near Upper Kane Springs Canyon.
Trail Condition: The Lower section of the trail is mostly boulders, rock ledges and sand. The Upper section is pure terror. Obstacles include large rocks, boulders, and huge boulders. All that followed by more boulders and some really large rocks. The final obstacle is a near-vertical waterfall that must be winched.
Obstacles: Numerous rock ledges, boulders and stair steps on the Lower Section. On the Upper section, the entire trail is 1/8-mile of Nutter-eating terror!
Approx. Mileage: n/a

The Helldorado Trail has two components. The Lower section winds its way through a steep creek bed with numerous boulders and rock ledges to negotiate. The Upper section is guarded by a giant slab of sandstone that must be negotiated. If you cannot make it over this obstacle, you'd better just turn around and go home, as there are no bypasses on this trail! Once you clear this obstacle, many, many more await you around each corner. The trail is only a couple hundred yards long, yet it can take all day to traverse. The finale to this trail is a near vertical waterfall that must be negotiated using a winch. Rigs get so inclined that often times their spare tires are dragging on the ground behind them as they winch themselves up and out of the canyon.

The "Can Opener" obstacle. Terry Howe in his flat fender on Lower Helldorado. Vance Anderson in his 1999 TJ on Lower Helldorado.
The "Can Opener" obstacle. Terry Howe in his flat fender on Lower Helldorado. Vance Anderson in his 1999 TJ on Lower Helldorado.

The last Friday of Easter Jeep Safari, our group of 4x4Wire.com staff members and friends planned on running Lower and Upper Helldorado to finish out the incredible week of four-wheeling. This Friday trip to Helldorado has become a yearly ritual for us and this year was no exception. As with most years, our trip leader was Jefe Reynolds in his tan CJ8. The rest of the group consisted of TJs, XJs, CJs, YJs, and Terry and Diane Howe's flat fender machine.

We all met up at the McDonalds on Main Street for the chilly run down Highway 191 and the turn off to the trailhead. Once we all got to the trailhead, we aired down our tires and locked in the 4WD. The Lower section of the trail follows a twisty creekbed where large boulders, off-camber sections and some rock ledges await those willing to negotiate this section. Lockers are recommended, but not required for this lower section. One particularly tight squeeze, dubbed the "Can Opener" tested both driver and rig. You had to put your rig high on the right side, which caused you to tip to the left and come perilously close to the rock ledge on the left. Most of our rigs made it through unscathed, however, some rigs, particularly one full size Cherokee, came away from this obstacle with a little memento of Lower Helldorado...

John Nutter finding his line on this off-camber section. Brian Simon entering the Can Opener. Dave's TJ negotiating the final obstacle on Lower Helldorado.
John Nutter finding his line on this off-camber section. Brian Simon entering the Can Opener. Dave's TJ negotiating the final obstacle on Lower Helldorado.

Once past this section, the trail winds up, around and through the tight spots and rock ledges and finally emerges with a sharp right turn, up a rock ledge and out onto the main trail. From here, just follow the trail up to the top of the ridge and then down beneath the power lines to the beginning of Upper Helldorado. By the time our group got to the upper section, there was already a line of rigs prepared to tackle Upper Helldorado. The group ahead of us consisted primarily of Suzuki Samurais and one Suzuki Sidekick. This Sidekick was build by Calmini to tackle the trails of Moab. One by one, the 'Zuks made their way over and around the first obstacle called "Gatekeeper." The Sidekick attempted the first obstacle, but ended up breaking his front left axle and had to be winched out of Gatekeeper to take the only bypass out of Helldorado.

Jefe Reynolds getting a little help. Note the extended counter balance on the right. Berkeley Johnston got hung up on a large rock while coming down the upper trail into the canyon. The Calmini Suzuki Sidekick in Gatekeeper.
Jefe Reynolds getting a little help. Note the extended counter balance on the right. Berkeley Johnston got hung up on a large rock while coming down the upper trail into the canyon. The Calmini Suzuki Sidekick in Gatekeeper.

Our group was up next and Jefe Reynolds was first up in his CJ-8. Since his rig has such a long wheelbase, he had to choose a route through Gatekeeper which put his left front tire on the big rock so that he could swing the front end around and miss the rock wall on the right. Jefe ended up getting pretty tippy and at one point required several "rock surfers" to help balance the weight. Up next was John Nutter in his CJ-7. Last year you may recall John breezed right through, but this year... well, things were a bit different for John. While attempting to get into Gatekeeper, John broke an inner axle shaft near the diff and in the process of being extracted, broke the main leaf spring on the back left pack. It took 3 winches, a tow strap and a Hi-Lift jack to extract John from his predicament. Fortunately, John had a spare main spring back at camp and hitched a ride back to town to get the parts needed for the repairs. While we were waiting for John to be extracted, 4x4wire.com Managing Editor Randii Burleson and Berkeley Johnston showed up at the trailhead. These guys had just spent the past 15 hours on an overnight road trip from California to make it to EJS. Since there were so many other rigs getting stuck and needing a winch, Berkeley wasn't to be left out. While negotiating the upper road into the canyon, he and Randii successfully got their XJ hung up on a large rock. A quick winch from Vance Anderson and Berkeley was on his way. Welcome to Moab, Berkeley!

The rest of the group filed through Gatekeeper and into the steep canyon. From this point on to the end is nothing but a series of rock ledges, huge boulders and a waterfall! All within a span of a couple hundred yards! Most everyone made it out alive and for those who had never run this trail before, they conquered the demons of Helldorado... until next year!

Dave Stauffer negotiating the "Breakover Rock" obstacle. Jefe going through the squeeze rock. Terry & Diane Howe winching up the waterfall.
Dave Stauffer negotiating the "Breakover Rock" obstacle. Jefe going through the squeeze rock. Terry & Diane Howe winching up the waterfall.

For more pictures, be sure to check out Gallery Section in the related links.