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Packraft Day 6 - Hole-in-the-Rock: The Climb Out
Friday, May 17

It took us a good hour to transition from water to hiking. The pack rafts had to be cleaned of major debris and sand, then deflated and packed away. We had the darndest of times getting the carbon fibre paddle poles to come apart so we could stow them, and that burned a bit more time. Then everything had to be properly affixed onto our packs such that we'd be able to haul everything up what looked to be a half-hike / half-scramble.

Shortly after 4:30pm, we started the trudge uphill, and we steeled ourselves for one final strenuous push to the cars.
Ready for climb out
A faint but discernable path led up from the beach and into a zone of large angular rockfall, where the slope was strewn with big, angular boulders. The footing on the path was reasonable, if not a bit rough, and slowly, with breaks, we made our way up towards the end of the boulder field and the bottom edge of clean, sloping slickrock. We knew from pictures and descriptions that the Mormon pioneers had in places put ledges and steps into the slickrock, and I guessed as I looked at the slope above that we must be coming to one such spot - either that or we were going to be doing some rather exposed slickrock scrambling.
courtesy BConnell
Boulder slope
Getting steeper
Nearing the steps
Sure enough, the faint boulder path led to a point at the base of the north-side cliff wall, and from here it turned left and levelled out a bit. Ahead of us we could indeed see how the sandstone had been cut - in fact in places hewed into actual steps. These cut sections gave us easy passage as the route headed into the depths of the cleft ahead of us, where the north and south walls closed in to what amounted to a wide slot of perhaps twenty feet in width.
Mormon Steps
Cut ledge
Negotiating the ledge
Once in the lower end of this narrow section, we could look up and see that the next section of progress was going to be on much steeper terrain. There was no longer an easy-to-follow set of cut steps, but rather now scrambly ledges and chockstones. Fortunately, the closed-in nature of the walls here meant that none of this felt particularly exposed. It was, however, difficult to scramble up these sections with a full fifty-pound pack, a packraft hanging below, and two long poles sticking up. Our forward progress diminished to a very slow crawl.
courtesy JInnes
First of many scrambles
Tough with big pack
Narrow Confines
The pictures here show the rough nature of the Hole-in-the-Rock cleft, but they don't really capture the steepness of the scrambly bits. There are several short ten-to-fifteen foot scrambles that are quite challenging with a big pack. For some, we resorted to doing a pack ferry, where one of us would climb to the top and then grab and haul the packs of those below, allowing them to climb unencumbered. Such was the slowness of our progress that I would frequently look upwards to what I thought was the top and it would never look like it was getting any closer.
courtesy JInnes
Nearing the top
It took us an hour and half to climb the steepest 250 yards (250 metres) of the trail. Perhaps the slowest we've ever climbed anything. Still, we emerged, intact, onto the flats above Hole-in-the-Rock, the late evening sun streaming over us. Just a minute away we could see our two rental cars patiently waiting for us, all alone at this remote trailhead.

We were truly spent - what had started out so innocently and easily had ended up being perhaps our most strenuous day of the trip.

We trudged over to the cars, happy in the knowledge that we'd very soon be free of our heavy burdens.

We proceeded to pack up as efficiently as possible, knowing we were now running against the clock and in the hope of getting far enough up remote and rough Hole-in-the-Rock road before the sun went down. We really wanted to be past all of the slow, rough and tricky stuff before it got dark - and on top of that there was the requirement to take a side-trip to Egypt to fetch the third rental car. That was a nearly hour-long side trip on its own!
Emerging onto the plateau
Hole-in-the-Rock trailhead
After six days in the backcountry, we were really looking forward to some sort of non-camp hot food, a warm shower, and a bed. Based on our experience with Hole-in-the-Rock and the current time, I projected an arrival time in the town of Escalante sometime between 9 and 10pm - and that was not counting the side-trip to fetch the third rental car at the Egypt Trailhead. Nine or ten pm was entering risky territory for a sleepy Utah town such as the Escalante, where there isn't much in the way of restaurants to begin with and everything generally closes early.

We therefore formulated a two-pronged strategy: We'd divide into two groups: A and B. Group A would take one of the rental vehicles and make best time straight up Hole-in-the-Rock, directly to Escalante, where they would try their best to locate motel accommodations, and failing that, to try and find some sort of campground. Group B would take the other rental vehicle and make the side trip to the Egypt Trailhead, which would incur roughly an extra hour and have them arriving in the town of Escalante after ten pm, but hopefully with a couple of nice clean motel rooms waiting for them.
courtesy JInnes
Navajo Mountain
The landscape below Fiftymile point glowed beautifully in the late evening light as we drove north along Hole-in-the-Rock road. Off to our left was a perfect view of ten-thousand foot high Navajo Mountain. A few wisps of late-season snow still graced its summit.

Group A and Group B parted ways at the turnoff to Egypt, shortly before 9pm. It was now deep dusk, but from here Hole-in-the-rock is wide and flat and relatively high-speed, if a bit dusty.

While Group B headed off to retrieve the third rental car, we (Group A) soon arrived in town (Escalante). We had started calling around, and finding that every place we called was full up. Circle D, The Prospector - even upscale places we normally wouldn't consider like the Canyon Country Lodge. We even stopped in at the Lodge to make sure that the person at the desk was giving out the same story as over the phone. No luck. It seemed that two different groups had converged on Escalante this Friday night and had caused more demand than usual: some sort of classic Porsche club (there were many old Porsches everywhere) and some sort of hard-core off-roader group (there were many super-modified and jacked-up 4x4s and pickups and SUVs). We slowly cruised the main strip, not really feeling too hopeful, when we noticed a sleepy little motel that we'd seen on many trips down here, but which had always seemed closed. But tonight it showed a bright neon "open" sign. Hm. And we had not seen this place show up on our online map.

I stopped in front of the quaint old spot - The Padre Model - which was very much in the fifties/sixties style. Sophie was in the front seat and was dispatched to inquire at the front desk. From the driver's seat, I could see her talking with the slightly disheveled-looking proprietor, and the back-and-forth didn't look to me like he was saying no. Eventually Sophie came back and said they had four two-Queen rooms left. She was a bit unsure, though, given the oldish-ness of the motel. I was like... "take them". I really doubted we'd find anything else - especially with four free rooms. Let me put it this way.... there would have had to have been a lot of spiders and cockroaches in order to dissuade me from staying here.
courtesy JInnes
The Padre Motel
We took the rooms, and the proprietor gave us our keys, simultaneously flipping the open signed to closed ("normally we'd stay open 'till 11, but you guys cleaned me out of my last rooms!") and we backed our Group A rental car to the doors of the first two rooms (which fortunately were side-by-side) and we started to unload our stuff. The rooms, although definitely in an old style, were actually really quite clean and nice. The layout was super-unique, too: a kind of entrance and living room, where a small couch and where the TV was located, and then two separate bedrooms - one containing each of the queen beds. I mean, very nice. It was really a small suite, and for $129, it was actually a really good deal - essentially it was like getting two $65 rooms. We excitedly sent off a text to Gino, telling him to relax, we'd scored some excellent rooms, and he'd have his warm shower and clean bed - everyone would!

Gino soon texted back with another unexpected setback: "We got a flat on my car", he wrote. That sounded not great, at night on Hole-in-the-Rock road. Fortunately, not too long after, another text saying "Compact spare is on. We are on our way slowly". I'm sure they were happy to hear that we had managed to secure rooms.

By the time we were all safe and secure in our rooms, it was close to midnight. Nothing was open for food - not even the gas stations. We munched on a few camping snacks, cleaned up, and hit the sacks. It had been a successful day, albeit a ver ylong and tiring one, and full of unexpected challenges.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Packraft Day 6 - click map to view
River Day 6 Segment 1: Lake Powell Camp to Clear Creek
Start Time: 8:10a.m.
End Time: 9:04a.m.
Duration: 0h54m
Distance: 3.16 km (1.97 mi)
Average Speed: 3.5 km/hr (2.2 mph)
Start Elevation: 3525ft (1074m) *
Max Elevation: 3543ft (1080m) *
Min Elevation: 3523ft (1074m) *
End Elevation: 3543ft (1080m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 16ft (5m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 1ft (0m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Side Paddle to Cathedral in the Desert
(Track color: )
Start Time: 9:04a.m.
End Time: 10:40a.m.
Duration: 1h35m
Distance: 4.48 km (2.78 mi)
Average Speed: 2.8 km/hr (1.8 mph)
Start Elevation: 3543ft (1080m) *
Max Elevation: 3602ft (1098m) *
Min Elevation: 3539ft (1079m) *
End Elevation: 3573ft (1089m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 75ft (23m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 44ft (13m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
River Day 6 Segment 2: Clear Creek to Hole-in-the-Rock
Start Time: 10:40a.m.
End Time: 4:38p.m.
Duration: 5h58m
Distance: 10.37 km (6.44 mi)
Average Speed: 1.7 km/hr (1.1 mph)
Start Elevation: 3589ft (1094m) *
Max Elevation: 3636ft (1108m) *
Min Elevation: 3509ft (1069m) *
End Elevation: 3558ft (1084m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 28ft (9m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 59ft (18m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Climb out - Hole in the Rock
(Track color: )
Start Time: 4:41p.m.
End Time: 7:00p.m.
Duration: 2h18m
Distance: 0.79 km (0.49 mi)
Average Speed: 0.3 km/hr (0.2 mph)
Start Elevation: 3553ft (1083m) *
Max Elevation: 4184ft (1275m) *
Min Elevation: 3553ft (1083m) *
End Elevation: 4182ft (1275m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 603ft (184m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 0ft (0m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
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