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Day 1
May 16 - Harris Wash

All right! so, after a day and a half of flying and driving we are in the Escalante, bright and early on a Monday morning. The first leg of our journey isn't predicted to be too long, allowing us time to get to the trailheads and do the shuttle between them, and also letting us stop in at Escalante Outfitters for a coffee and a chat with the owners (Gino wants some beta on a possible raft-down-the-Escalante on some future trip).
Morning Pre-backpack Prep
Heading over to the outfitters
Antique-ified Phone Booth
With all of that out of the way, we head south out of town, soon turning on to the "main drag" of the Escalante backcountry: Hole-in-the-Rock road. I'm surprised and happy to see that the surface is.... chip-sealed! not quite full pavement but close enough. This makes for fast, smooth and dust-free driving, but just as I wonder if they've done the whole length, it turns back to gravel (perhaps after 5km or so?). I'm appreciative for the bit that's done.
Driving south out of town
Harris Wash turnoff
Harris Wash Road
The turnoff to Harris Wash isn't too far down Hole-in-the-Rock, and soon we reach it. we turn off here and proceed in tandem for another 20 minutes or so to the Harris Wash trailhead. The side-track is in pretty good shape and is likely even traversable with a low-clearance 2wd vehicle.
Unloading the Packs
We unload everyone's backpacks and place them in a shady spot. Then, Gino and Chris and I take off to ferry one of the SUVs to the southern end of our intended backpack, way down south at the Redwell trailhead. This takes us about 40 minutes each way, making for a fairly boring wait for those back at the Harris Wash TH. We are told, however, that most of the time was spent lounging in a comfy spot in the shade and only just recently had the sun come around and made things a little too hot.
Arriving Redwell Trailhead
Chris at Redwell
Gino's Technique
courtesy JInnes
Fiftymile Mountain
Harris Wash Trailhead
Completing our Backcountry Permit
Ok, so with the shuttling done and everybody gathered at the Harris Wash Trailhead, we were ready to head off. Chris, as newcomer to the desert, has had many questions and continues to ask them as we fill out the backcountry permit slip, shoulder our packs, take a starting group selfie and begin walking along a short bit of 4x4 road to Harris Wash.
courtesy JInnes
Crew is ready for departure
Ready ready?
Brief Roadwalk
Harris Wash at this start point is your standard nondescript desert southwest dry wash. Sandy, sloping banks, a bit of low bedrock, a slightly thicker band of desert brush along either side, and a few small groves of green-leafed short cottonwood trees. The floor of the wash was completely dry here, and likely is almost always dry, except in times of flash flood.
Dry Harris Wash
Chris' new jaw
Will this work on Gino?
One of the things that I find cool about many of the side-canyons of the Escalante is the way they develop - and Harris Wash is no exception. Gradually, as we hiked along, we noticed increasing signs of water. At first, it was just a little bit firmer underfoot, the ground a bit more damp. Off to the sides, low outcroppings of sandstone became a little less low. Smooth, sloping slickrock became more prominent as well. And the cottonwood trees slowly grew in stature.
courtesy BConnell
Damper Ground
Stagnant water
Spreading Out
Then, we came across a very thin puddle of water, stagnant and slimy. And then another. And then, at a particular point which is always difficult to pinpoint -- a little tiny flow of water was detectable, flowing into or out of one of these puddles. The transition beyond this point was more rapid, and soon there was a distinct little channel of flowing water, not very wide, not at all deep, and still possible to hop across. A creek is born!
courtesy BConnell
courtesy BConnell
Walls Rising, Water Widening
We've now got a little flow
The vegetation explodes
More impressive walls
Cattle Control
With the flowing water came an explosion in Harris Wash's vegetation: the cottonwood trees were tall and thick; a linear forest, really. Streamside water-loving bushes crowded along the edge of the water's flow.

Beyond the immediate edge of the water, beyond the cottonwood forest on either side, the walls of Harris Wash markedly deepened, developing into a clear canyon. The height of the walls were now 50, 60 feet high, and the erosive effects of the now-curvy watercourse created frequent overhangs in the bedrock. We soon came across one particularly pretty and shady alcove that had a firm bench of sand. A perfect place to stop for our lunch break.
Shady Alcove Stop
Lunch stop
Continuing on, the width (not so much the depth) of the creek continued to grow, prompting me to recommend that we switch to our water shoes, as I felt that very soon, we wouldn't be able to do the hoppy-hoppy thing anymore.
courtesy BConnell
The beauty increases
Water Shoes Time
We were now in water-shoes mode: that meant that the water was no longer the enemy, and in fact, it was very much your friend. The creek had now developed into a beautiful, clear flow, sandy bottomed and very pleasant to splash through. With increasingly thick brush on either side, it would have been much more of a pain to make progress while staying out of the water, not to mention the difficulty of crossing over to the opposite bank at the next inevitable water-meets-canyon-wall.
courtesy BConnell
courtesy JInnes
Wading from here on down
Pleasant Channel
A Deep Curve
courtesy BConnell
National Recreation Area
This splish-splashy down a placid desert creek, with soaring sandstone walls rising above on either side and an oasis-like strip of lush vegetation on either side.... this is one of the sublime pleasures of hiking in the Escalante. Chris was suitably impressed with the grandeur of the place.
courtesy BConnell
courtesy BConnell
courtesy BConnell
Idyllic canyon walking
Shallow Underhang
Sunny Stretch
courtesy BConnell
The Gate
Light and Shadow
The rest of our afternoon was more of the same, albeit with ever more impressive canyon walls on either side of us. Sheer, desert varnish-streaked walls of Navajo sandstone often stretched unbroken from the water's edge all the way up to the canyon rim - often overhanging, and often forming huge deep alcoves. The inside of hairpin bends often had high tiered terraces of firm sand, which (so long as the weather forceast was good) made for excellent campsites.
courtesy BConnell
Shady Stretch
Canyon Conference
Ditching his shoes
courtesy JInnes
Big Walls
Le Brian
Varnished Beauty
Unfortunately, we couldn't choose any of these choice campsites. The parameters of our itinerary were such that it made more sense to hike further down Harris Wash, to a location close to the start of the next day's segment. So, on we marched.

At one point, Gino and Brian (or Brian and Gino, but more likely Gino) decided to stop while we were in the creekbed, rounding a corner. When we turned back and didn't see them, we stopped. And waited, and waited. and waited. When I went back to see what was up, they were no longer there. Fun! the often-encountered "we've somehow gotten split up and now where the heck are they" scenario!

After some bush thrashing, back-and-forth walking, and then resignation, we headed downstream where we eventually found Brian and Gino sitting on the creek's bank, waiting. They had chosen to take a detour across that bend, and, of course, bypassed us, without us seeing. Tch, tch, tch.
courtesy JInnes
courtesy JInnes
Afternoon is drawing on
Spring flowers
Afternoon was edging into evening as we reached the 14km-ish mark from the trailhead. I was monitoring our progress on the topo map closely, and we were now near the location where tomorrow we would climb out of Harris Wash. That meant finding a campsite in the immediate vicinity was the next order of business.

As is always seemingly the case, the really great campsites seem to vanish as soon as you start wanting one. Still, we chose a pretty decent area of hard raised sand under an overhang and next to the streambed. It wouldn't be a safe place if there was any question about the weather (owing to flash flood risk), but we had looked closely at the forecast and there was zero percent chance of rain anywhere in the area for the next several days.
Streamside Camp
The Waddington Relaxes
Gravity Feed
courtesy BConnell
courtesy JInnes
View upstream
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