Mar 29, 2010 at 12:54 pm #1257080
Many BPLers have spent time in the Escalante region of Utah. It hosted an October 2008 BPL Wilderness Trekking Course, and is the focus of a BPL photo essay by packrafters Bill Stadwiser and Andy Heath, who ran the Escalante River in March 2009: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/escalante.html. Alongside much older specters, Edward Abbey's ghost still wanders moonlit stretches of slickrock and shaded hanging gardens clinging to alcove walls. I have backpacked in Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef NPs, and the Grand Gulch and Dark Canyon Wilderness Areas, but this was my first visit to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. As Bill and Andy mention, March is definitely a shoulder season in Escalante. After a winter of plentiful snowfall, my girlfriend and I were prepared to be flexible and adapt our plans to the conditions. Steve Allen's "Canyoneering 3: Loop Hikes in Utah's Escalante" is an invaluable resource for planning the trips you would like to undertake and modifying your agenda on the fly.
We were gratified to find Escalante Outfitters open late Sunday afternoon, and encouraged by their advice that the 57 mile long Hole-in-the-Rock Road, the primary access to THs west of the Escalante River, was in good condition. The town of Escalante was covered under a few feet of snow earlier in the winter, but most of it had since melted. Despite various plans over the years to develop Hole-in-the-Rock in the name of economic productivity, it remains unpaved and can become quite muddy where the flats dip into washes. Be prepared to spend an extra night or two at the TH, and consider it a small price to pay for the absence of exit ramps, scenic rest areas, and exhaust fumes. We camped near Early Weed Bench that night, and continued to Red Well TH the next morning, some 30 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock. The Subaru's AWD was helpful, and in other conditions would either be essential or just plain inadequate.
Fiftymile Bench and the Straight Cliffs to the west dominate the view from the flats.
Coyote Gulch is probably the most popular route in the Escalante. Unfortunately, LNT principles are practiced with great inconsistency during peak seasons. Insert stories about destruction of habitat, camping directly beside prominent features, excessive experimentation with echoes, and toilet paper in bushes here. From the Red Well TH, it is about 13 miles down Coyote Gulch to the Escalante River. The landscape inspires both exhilaration and introspection.
For more photos, please see this album:
My girlfriend and I spent three nights between Coyote and Hurricane Gulches, exploring down to the Escalante River, across the flats between Crack-in-the-Wall and Hurricane, and back down Hurricane to Coyote. Nights were near freezing, and days warming perhaps into the 60s. The Escalante is a place where UL practices can really shine. Even with certain luxuries, we traveled light but, importantly, not necessarily fast. These canyons lend themselves to a variable pace and a mindset that allows for pauses and detours. I'm uncertain of our total mileage, and not particularly concerned to calculate it!
A few gear thoughts. We chose to bring my Lunar Duo as opposed to bivies and tarp. While the space of the duo was lavish and appreciated, bivies still cannot be matched in their ability to tuck into spaces where secure staking and open ground are issues, with minimal impact on extremely fragile environments. Wading and wet shoes are a fact of life in Coyote, and I had wonderful results with a new pair of New Balance MT876OR based in part on Roger Caffin's review of their predecessors: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/nb875_review.html. Over several days of water, sand, slickrock, boulders, and mud, they kept my feet more comfortable than they had any real business being. Very quick draining, decently quick drying, and plenty of room in size wide. Two thumbs up! I brought plastic bags to wear between dry socks and wet shoes in the evenings, and did not envy those who were carrying huge leather boots or multiple extra pairs of shoes on their backs.
Due to its remoteness and challenges to access relative to other areas of southern UT, the Escalante does not lend itself to quick visits as much as, for example, Arches or Canyonlands. Try and give yourself some time there. If others are heading that way soon, I am happy to answer questions.
JamesMar 29, 2010 at 1:16 pm #1592027
@trevor83Locale: ATL -- Zurich -- SF Bay Area
Sounds like a great trip James. Thanks for sharing. I've only been to Southern Utah once but I can't wait to get back!Mar 30, 2010 at 8:18 am #1592368
Thanks, Trevor. It is an amazing area of the country. Hope you get back there soon!
JamesMar 30, 2010 at 9:43 am #1592397
@paulhansbargerLocale: Western Montana
Going there next week! How was the weather?Mar 30, 2010 at 12:17 pm #1592466
No significant snow on the ground in the canyons, but we did experience some intermittent snow squalls and pretty strong winds. Days were near 60, nights near or just below freezing. This time of year, you want to be prepared for a pretty wide range of conditions. At least most of the wading we did was ankle height or shallower, because that canyon water is chilly! Have a great trip.
JamesMar 30, 2010 at 5:09 pm #1592587
@davecLocale: Crown of the Continent
Glad you enjoyed yourselves!Mar 31, 2010 at 5:52 am #1592747
@paulhansbargerLocale: Western Montana
thanks for the info james. can you post a gear list, or at least your sleep system and cold weather items? piecing together my kit for next week…Mar 31, 2010 at 9:16 am #1592806
I don't really have a gear list. When I hike with my girlfriend, I go light in most things so I can go heavy in others and carry most of our stuff, i.e., extra layers of puffy insulation and ground padding, more alky fuel for hot drinks. If she is comfortable, everyone is comfortable. Much of the time, southern UT is an ideal place to apply UL practices, but as always it depends on your preferences, experience, gear, and the conditions. There are plenty of nights this time of year in the canyons when you could easily get by cowboy camping with a 30F sleeping bag, a light down puffy, wool hat, and a decent ground pad. The chances of extreme cold are very slim, and bugs are probably not yet a major issue (we encountered just a few poorly motivated mosquitoes). Just depends on how far you want to stretch your system, and take chances with the likelihood of precipitation. Do take an upper body layer that can at least cut the wind.
A few thoughts:
*you may appreciate carrying a pair of lightweight very breathable gaiters- there are plenty of sandy stretches in the canyons, and some also like them for wading, which is a fact of life in places like Coyote
*I brought one pair of trail runners, and they were wet most of the time, so in the evenings I wore plastic bags between socks and shoes, worked great, much lighter than the "camp shoes" I saw being carried- others swear that hiking boots are essential in the canyons, so as always HYOH- if you aren't familiar with Hydropel, consider bringing some to help feet deal with prolonged wet and cold
*I am a big fan of the humble, absolutely nonessential sit pad, just a square piece of closed cell foam from the hardware store- seat during breaks on slickrock, neat space to keep stuff out of the dust, stand barefoot on it during the cool of evening or morning, extra ground padding at night, just awesome!
*as always, make sure that whatever slips or trips occur along the way, you have a DRY sleeping bag at the end of the day
*have a plan for sun- I like a broad brim hat, long sleeves, and in most cases long pants because I would rather avoid sunscreen
*if you anticipate camping at all in exposed areas, i.e. not in the canyons, have a plan for strong wind, blowing dust and sand, poor stake purchase, and limited open flat space- some extra line for tent or tarp helps with creative staking challenges
*have extra water and food waiting in the car at the TH, just in case
Hope this helps. If you have questions about specific gear choices, I'll do my best.
JamesApr 23, 2010 at 10:25 pm #1601470
@snowguyLocale: Boulder Colorado
Nice trip report for an early season Escalante trip.! A friend and I did a 3 night loop into Death Hollow wilderness area near Escalante Utah last October. We started at hyway 12 state bridge and came back out at the Boulder Airstrip.(We closed the loop by hitching back to our vehicle.) For a photo story of this trip type earthwalk.shutterfly.com into your browser address bar.
cheers David Heath
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