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Packraft Day 1 - The Hike to the River
Sunday, May 12
Gino the Taskmaster had issued a decree the night before: he wanted to be on the march down towards the Escalante River by 7a.m. That was met with a round of raised eyebrows and perhaps a snicker. Gino relented a little at pushed that back to 7:30, but with nine people not fully revved up into backpacking mode, that still seemed like a stretch. In any case, we rose out of our tents roughly when the morning twilight was bright enough for us to see without headlamps (perhaps roughly around 5:45 am).
Egypt First Light
Escalante Skyline
The Hazy Flats
It took a fair bit of time for everyone (well, except Gino, of course) to get their stuff organized, breakfast completed, morning constitutionals finished, and packs readied. And, by 7:30 a.m., Gino's new no-later-than time, we were ... I'll say... mostly ready, with a few final things being packed, a final scan of our rental vehicle, and some futzing to figure out how to pack this strange rafting gear onto our packs. At 7:45 a.m., only fifteen minutes behind schedule, we posed for a group "before" picture. Let the adventure begin!
Trip Leader, Ready
Corralling the troops
Ready to start
The hike from the Egypt Trailhead to the Escalante River is really fairly straightforward. From the parking area, a couple of small cairns mark a point at the edge of the plateau we were on. From this point, a large expanse of the Escalante drainage dropped away before us - at first smooth slickrock, followed by some scrubby flat desert. In the mid-distance, we could see a shady low point in the landscape - and in that low point, the Escalante River flowed.

The route (marked by the occasional cairn) led back and forth down steep slickrock. Following the cairns is fairly important since it charts the least-steep route down the slickrock, which was probably a good idea given the fairly heavy loads we were carrying.
courtesy BConnell
Setting off
Descent off the rim
Parade of Paddles
courtesy SWard
courtesy BConnell
Happy Hikers
Down the slickrock
A Happy Alana
courtesy JInnes
A resting Andrew
Cairns continued to lead us downhill on smooth slickrock, and within about 30 minutes we had descended to a flat area of scrubby desert, where the slickrock ended. A very distinct trail led through the vegetation, alternating between stretches of sand and bedrock. A lot of hikers (a lot of hikers in the context of the Escalante, which is not really all that many) use this trail, and so it is prominent and well-trodden. We soon passed by a Glen Canyon National Recreation Area sign, marking the point where we departed the lands of the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Although our packs were full with seven days of backpacking gear and food, in addition to a full-sized packraft and paddles, our packs were not immensely heavy. Perhaps I'd say 50 ish pounds. Let's just say I've carried much worse over the years.
courtesy BConnell
courtesy SWard
Glen Canyon NRA
Looking back towards Egypt
After a kilometre or two of hiking along the flats, we came to the rim of one of the arms of Fence Canyon - a fairly short y-branched side drainage that descended to the Escalante River. The prominent access trail we were one followed along the top of one of these branches, and below we could see a line of puffy green cottonwood trees that was a sure marker of water. Ahead, we could now see the T-junction with the Escalante, and a broader swath of green cottonwood crowns.

It was a clear and still morning, and although it was not desert-class hot, it was still warm enough and we were still exerting enough that a decent packs-off rest break - in the shade - was soon warranted.
courtesy BConnell
Already far from Egypt
Fence Canyon
Along lower rim
Morning Break
After our break, it was time to tackle the final descent to the Escalante River. The trail was well-marked and exploited some convenient ledges as it wound back and forth, switchbacking down into the southern branch of Fence Canyon. Soon we were only a few tens of feet above the line of Cottonwoods that marked the bottom of the canyon, and we could indeed see the small flow of a creek and a rich little environment of various happy river plants. Our trail followed along above the greenery until we got to the junction of Fence canyon's "Y", at which point we descended into the thick river vegetation and started following a distinct path through it.
Descent into Fence
Almost in the trees
Arriving Escalante
From that point, it was only another few minutes of walking, through the beautiful green cottonwood forest near the mouth of Fence Canyon, to the banks of the Escalante River. The river looked.... placid and shallow. But it *seemed* like it was floatable. Hopefully floatable.
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