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Day 5
May 19 - Lower Sand Slide and Overland to Harris Wash Trailhead

A change in the weather came with the final day of our five-day backpack. Where the first four days had been calm, still and warm, the transition into our fifth day was marked with clouds, breeziness, and a marked drop in temperature. It was now genuinely cool out.
Lookout above Harris W Confluence
With thoughts now turned to the completion of our backpack, we had to figure out how best to get back to the start point, and the completion of our loop (as you may recall, at the end of day two we abandoned our original point-to-point itinerary and had crafted a loop that returned to our start point).

There were essentially two options to get us from where we were -- at the confluence of Harris Wash -- back to the Harris Wash trailhead. One was to simply walk up Harris Wash. Simple, straightforward, and with no meaningful obstacles. It was, however, quite a sinuous walk, and that meant a relatively longer hike.

The other option was to take what is known as the "Lower Sand Slide". This was a route we had taken in 2011 and provided a way to get out of the Escalante Canyon and onto the desert land to its west. This would then in turn allow us to hike cross-country in a more-or-less direct line back to the Harris Wash trailhead, which, according to my quick calculations, would save us several kilometres of walking. There was a minor obstacle in the sense of the tiring climb up the sand slide itself and then a small scramble right at the rim, but because our group had existing real-life experience with this route, there was little anxiousness about that.

As we ate breakfast, the options were presented to the team and collectively we decided that we'd like to take the overland option - up the Lower Sand Slide, and across open desert terrain. It would be faster, and a nice change from the last two days of canyon bottom / river bottom hiking.
Morning day 5, camp #4
Chris - Breakfast Day 5
Breakfast, Day 5
We were packed up and on the move pretty much right at 7:00 a.m., much to the satisfaction of drill sergeant Brancatelli (Gino). To get to the Lower Sand Slide, we had to continue up the Escalante for a short way, so we marched back down Harris Wash to the Escalante, crossed over to the good track on the far side, and turned left (north). The weather was mostly cloudy, blustery and cool.
Another view from great lookout
Departing Camp 4
Morning Light
By now we were well-accustomed to travel in the floodplain of the Escalante River: locate the good herdpath; try to cross the Escalante River at right angles; immediately find the continuation of the good herdpath on the other side. In this way, you will achieve good forward progress and minimal bushwhacking.
courtesy BConnell
courtesy BConnell
Heading Up-Escalante
Cutting a corner
Crossing #9
Crossing #10
It is about six big turns in the canyon from Harris Wash to the Lower Sand Slide. In less than 90 minutes, we were starting to see it come into view above us on the left.
Slide coming into view
The Lower Sand Slide
Final Crossing
As it became clear we were heading too far north, we just decided to bushwhack left, eventually hitting the Escalante at a point with a fairly steep bank. We worked our way back south along the banks until a reasonable crossing point presented itself. On the far side, we found signs of the faint route leading up out of the trees to the base of the dune slope. Perfect. We dropped our packs for a final filter/top-up of drinking water, and to change into our dry socks and hiking shoes. There would be no more water from here until arriving back at the Harris Wash trailhead, which we estimated to be about ten to twelve kilometres away.
Water Shoes Away
The approaching climb
Herdpath to Lower Sand Slide
After a good rest and snack break, and full up with water for our upcoming cross-country segment, we hoisted packs and set off up the route. Within a few moments we were already angling up steeply, and leaving the riverside forest behind. The ground underfoot was very soft orange sand.
courtesy BConnell
Starting Climb
Climbing out of Greenery
Emerging to Sand
Upward progress was quite tiring with the soft sand. There were a few faint indications of prior footsteps, but nothing that at all helped to firm up the ground or ease our progress. I described a few long switchback-ish diagonal traverses as best I could. We stopped every few minutes for a short rests/pauses.

A wide panorama of the canyon of the Escalante opened up below us as we ascended. The wind, too, increased as we ascended. what was a mild breeze down at the treetops turned into fairly noticeable gusts. Combined with a now-overcast sky and lower temperatures, it felt quite chilly.
courtesy JInnes
Half the Crew
Nearly at the top
The tip of the slide
Upward progress was quite tiring with the soft sand. There were a few faint indications of prior footsteps, but nothing that at all helped to firm up the ground or ease our progress. I described a few long switchback-ish diagonal traverses as best I could. We stopped every few minutes for short rests/pauses.

A wide panorama of the canyon of the Escalante opened up below us as we ascended. The wind, too, increased as we ascended. what was a mild breeze down at the treetops turned into fairly noticeable gusts. Combined with overcast and lower temperatures, it felt quite chilly.
Deadwood Aid
Tiring back-and-forth traversing finally brought us up to the apex of the Lower Sand Slide. The very tip was just shy of the rim of the canyon, and left perhaps fifteen feet of sloping slickrock from sand tip to rim. Some helpful hikers had in the past lugged up some old deadwood and laid it against this slickrock, providing something to clamber up on while attempting to gain the rim.

I reached the tip of the sand first, and worked my way up the old wood and frictioned up the remaining bit of slabby slickrock. The wind here at the rim was wild, whipping the sand around and off the ground, occasionally stinging us in the face. Chris soon scrambled up and joined me at the rim.

The group felt that a hand line might be useful, especially with the wind and the blowing sand, so Chris and I set up a little sitting belay and fed the line back down to the others.
courtesy BConnell
Scrambling up
Topping out, Lower Sand Slide
Grand Sweep of the Escalante
With everybody safely up on the rim, we took one last look at the grand sweep of the Escalante River, then headed off west, across the slickrock flats. The blustery, windy conditions must have somehow been a localized effect of the dune slope / canyon rim, for as soon as we walked a few hundred yards west, it was nearly calm again.
courtesy JInnes
A helping belay
Across the V
Around the V
After the fun exit out of the Lower Sand Slide, things settled down. We charted a course a little to the south and west, skirting around the bottom of the formation known as "The V", and then turned pretty much straight west, trying to maintain as direct a course as possible to the Harris Wash trailhead. We only veered from the proper course when encountering some sort of obstacle, like a hoodoo or a stretch of soft sand. As much as possible, we kept to solid bedrock.
courtesy JInnes
Western Spiderwort
Across the flats
Hiking above Harris
courtesy JInnes
Flowering Prickly Pear
Mini delicate arch
Things got pretty monotonous as we charted our course westward, and we settled into mostly silent trudging. Gino and the others got the sense that we were not actually making very good progress, but my GPS indicated otherwise. By lunchtime, we were in need of a solid break. We dropped our backs and had a good half-hour of downtime.
Upper Harris Wash
Very close to Harris
Earthy Path
By 2:30pm, seven and a half hours after starting out, our course had brought us quite close to the northern rim of Harris Wash, and we could look down into the winding course of greenery, now only fifty or sixty feet below us (the canyon walls had lowered considerably as we travelled west). Ahead, we crossed a low ridge where the slickrock ended and a different kind of gravelly terrain began, likely because we had crossed into the different strata in the environs of Red Breaks. We soon encountered a very distinct herdpath that was going in the right direction, so we took it. It led very nicely across some ledges and then gentle slopes that led us directly into the bottom of upper Harris Wash.
Down into Harris
Back in Harris Wash
Those in the group who had felt that our walk back was dragging on and that it seemed we were still miles away were pleasantly suprised to hear when I called out that we had only a few hundred yards of travel left before arriving at the Harris Wash trailhead. And, sure enough, at 3:25pm, the jeep track across the wash came into sight and a few minutes later we were standing by the car.

Arriving at one's destination after a long wilderness backpack is always a mixed-feelings sort of moment. On one hand, your body is super happy that the exertion and soreness will soon be alleviated, and that some scrumptious "civilization food" will soon be had. On the other hand, there is that thought in the back of your mind that you are finishing what was a beautiful wilderness experience, one that happens far too rarely in our lives.

In any case.... this was the end. Five days, and roughly 80 kilometres of covered ground (83-86 kilometres if you count the mistake up Choprock Canyon). Not exactly the adventure we planned to have, but a fulfilling and worthwhile outing nevertheless.
Harris Wash trailhead
We now had to retrieve the other rental vehicle, which was still patiently waiting for us to arrive down at the Redwall Trailhead. Rather than have a group of us wait here at the Harris Trailhead, we figured that we could carefully cram all six of us into the Jeep, packs on our laps if necessary, and drive out to the Devil's Garden along Hole-in-the-Rock road, which has picnic tables and an outhouse. Gino could then ferry me down to the Redwall trailhead to fetch the other car.
The plan worked, saving us a good chunk of shuttle time and giving Chris, Jenn, Alana and Brian access to a few welcome amenities while the shuttling happened. It wasn't long before we were travelling in convoy again, back north up the Hole-in-the-rock road, back to the town of Escalante. Alana had hoped that we'd finish early enough to stop for lunch at the old-timey Nemo's burger joint, but it was much closer to dinner than to lunch, and by the time we had moved into our rooms at the Prospector Inn, it was definitely dinner time. We wanted to try a different restaurant, but none of the still-open options were appealing to all, so it was once again back to the Circle-D, directly across the street.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Escalante 5-day Miss-Mash backpack - click map to view
Backpack Day 1 - Hike Data
Start Time: 11:53a.m.
End Time: 6:03p.m.
Duration: 6h10m
Distance: 13.72 km (8.53 mi)
Average Speed: 2.2 km/hr (1.4 mph)
Start Elevation: 4896ft (1492m) *
Max Elevation: 4926ft (1501m) *
Min Elevation: 4707ft (1435m) *
End Elevation: 4717ft (1438m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 40ft (12m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 251ft (77m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Backpack Day 2- Hike Data
Start Time: 7:34a.m.
End Time: 8:32p.m.
Duration: 12h58m
Distance: 15.46 km (9.6 mi)
Average Speed: 1.2 km/hr (0.7 mph)
Start Elevation: 4750ft (1448m) *
Max Elevation: 5798ft (1767m) *
Min Elevation: 4586ft (1398m) *
End Elevation: 4650ft (1417m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 1217ft (371m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 1313ft (400m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Backpack Day 3 - Hike Data
Start Time: 9:43a.m.
End Time: 5:57p.m.
Duration: 8h14m
Distance: 12.5 km (7.77 mi)
Average Speed: 1.5 km/hr (0.9 mph)
Start Elevation: 4661ft (1421m) *
Max Elevation: 4684ft (1428m) *
Min Elevation: 4434ft (1352m) *
End Elevation: 4498ft (1371m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 96ft (29m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 276ft (84m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Backpack Day 4 - Hike Data
Start Time: 7:45a.m.
End Time: 6:52p.m.
Duration: 11h7m
Distance: 26.19 km (16.27 mi)
Average Speed: 2.4 km/hr (1.5 mph)
Start Elevation: 4424ft (1348m) *
Max Elevation: 4671ft (1424m) *
Min Elevation: 4418ft (1347m) *
End Elevation: 4662ft (1421m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 554ft (169m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 319ft (97m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Backpack Day 5 - Hike Data
Start Time: 7:02a.m.
End Time: 3:28p.m.
Duration: 8h26m
Distance: 17.33 km (10.77 mi)
Average Speed: 2.1 km/hr (1.3 mph)
Start Elevation: 4718ft (1438m) *
Max Elevation: 5226ft (1593m) *
Min Elevation: 4639ft (1414m) *
End Elevation: 4928ft (1502m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 809ft (247m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 592ft (180m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
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