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Packraft Day 1 - First Float: Setting off from Fence Canyon
Sunday, May 12
Inflating the rafts
The next hour could best be described as a semi-unorganized fumbling of gear. While many of us had done some form of paddling before, most of us had never handled a packraft, and we were therefore unfamiliar with the unpacking and setup. Which way was up? How did the inflation work? what were all these little small pillow things and where did they go? How best to securely mount one's pack onto the raft?

Eventually we got things sorted out. The actual inflation part went faster than I had expected, which used a large synthetic bag to capture a large volume of air which you then squeezed into the main inflator port on the raft. The various little "balloons" were actually parts of the internal seat and floor of the raft, and they fit into special pockets meant to hold them securely inside the inflated body of the raft.

They looked pretty legit and cool once fully inflated. Our little watercraft of the Escalante - The Watercraft of the Fellowship.

The Hatkos' homemade raft, which they had dubbed Tony the Tiger (of Frosted Flakes cereal fame) was also pretty cool. It had a slightly different construction than our rental Alpacka rafts, being a bit longer and narrower, but ... for a homemade raft... pretty good. The question was, how would it do on an adventure like this? Probably not too bad, considering that this theoretically should be an easy float with minimal obstacles.
Inflator bag
Almost there
Configured and ready
By about noonish we had finally managed to get all nine of us standing next to our inflated, loaded packrafts in the gently flowing water of the Escalante River. It was time to resolve one of the big unknowns of the trip: how well would we be able to float down the river? Would we mostly be able to float it - or would we be consigned to a slow, tedious hell of dragging and walking.
courtesy JInnes
courtesy JInnes
Escalante near Fence Canyon
The group is ready
Preparing to sit
We each settled into our rafts, somewhat clumsily. It quickly became apparent that positioning ourselves first in the deepest part of the river's flow was important, as the lowest part of our packraft (the bit under our butts) would graze the riverbed if we did not. Still - it was a relief that there was generally at least one channel that would support a full float.
courtesy JInnes
courtesy BConnell
courtesy BConnell
Figuring it out
Easy Waters
The first hour - at least for me - was becoming accustomed to the parameters of my new watercraft: how did it respond to paddling inputs, how best to seat myself in order to get the best or easiest strokes, at what point would the water's depth be insufficient to fully float the boat. One thing became quickly clear, and that was the raft had an inherent instability that caused it to swing around 180 degrees if you stopped giving it paddling inputs, and it would continue to swing back and forth like a huge slow pendulum until you did. This made it surprisingly hard to take a photo or a video, with the boat often swinging around before I could take the shot or complete a clip.
courtesy BConnell
courtesy JInnes
Getting the hang of thingq
Lots of traffic
A lazy stretch
courtesy BConnell
A lazy stretch
Nearing Neon
We had planned - in addition to the core paddle down the Escalante - to visit a number of easily-accessible side attractions. The walk to one such attraction was rapidly coming up on the left - the entrance to Neon canyon and the short walk to the Golden Cathedral. Many of us had visited this always-impressive location just two years before, on our "Escalante Missmash" backpack. I myself was a bit concerned about the late start to our paddle and the necessity to make a certain amount of river distance per day, so if the decision was left up to me, I probably would have chosen to skip it. But, Gino and others were still of the opinion that it would be nice to visit it again.

We pulled our rafts up onto the sandy beach at the mouth of the damp but unflowing creek at the mouth of Neon canyon, secured our gear, and then started an easy walk, pack-less, up-canyon. Neon is a deep and shady place, and the walking is essentially flat for the 1.5 kilometres of distance to the massive overhanging (and unclimbable) pouroff that is the Golden Cathedral. It truly is a magical place, full of deep ochre and orange colors, with two colossal potholes that water has drilled straight through the roof of the overhang, creating these great vertical tubes that descending canyoneerers use to do a final free rappel into the shallow pool below. Today we had arrived at just the right time for the sun to reflect off of the shallow pool, creating a mesmerizing rippling reflection on the glowing orange walls above.
courtesy BConnell
courtesy JInnes
A walk up Neon
Neon's Shady corners
Goat's Beard
Lunch at the Golden Cathedral
Lunch at the Golden Cathedral
We stopped and had our lunch under the soaring orange walls, but not for too long - it was already 1:30pm and we still really needed to get some river miles under our belt.

Back floating on the river at 2:30pm, we continued downstream. For the most part the river was placid and unruffled, and in these sections, we could float freely - provided that we chose the correct channel that provided the necessary depth. Every so often the river would encounter a slight downgrade, and here, the water's flow would spread very thinly across river pebbles. we soon learned that it was especially critical to locate the one narrow little path of riffles that was juuuust deep enough to keep the raft moving forward - and even then at times it wasn't enough. If that happened, we were essentially grounded and had to get out and pull the raft past that section, which was typically only thirty feet or so, before the river resumed a flatter grade and a slightly deeper depth.
courtesy BConnell
courtesy BConnell
LC on the Escalante
Desert Walls
Ringtail Stop
Back in 2022, again on our "Escalante Missmash" trip, we had intended to visit a small and dark slot canyon known as Ringtail Slot. Unfortunately, however, I had mis-placed the location of Ringtail on my map, and by the time we turned off to visit it, we had long since passed its actual location. We had another opportunity to rectify that today, and again, although I was concerned with making good time on the river, Gino and Chris Waddington were especially keen to visit it. So, we stopped again, this time roughly at the point where the unnamed drainage for Ringtail came in on the left. It wasn't obvious where to stop, so we just picked the next reasonable place (mostly it is brushy unsuitable bank along this bit) to stop and tie up the rafts.

It had been a long time since I visited Ringtail (all the way back to 2007's "Amazing Trip to Color Country" with Luke, Sophie, Jenn and Ewart). Looking at my GPS and doing my best to read the features of the terrain above us, I headed across the forested floodplain of the Escalante to the point that seemed to be the mouth of the side canyon containing Ringtail Slot. When we got to the mouth of this little side canyon, it didn't seem familiar - but I wasn't 100% sure. Gino and Chris W's enthusiasm spurred us on, although Brian and Alana and Sophie were not spurred to a sufficient extent, and chose instead to stop and chill out (i.e. wait for us). The rest of us followed Gino and Chrs W as we surmounted a few easy dryfall and boulder obstacles and continued upcanyon. Soon we heard a muffled shout from Gino and a callout about a triangular-shaped opening. That certainly did sound promising, because one of the distinctive features I did remember about our 2007 visit to Ringtail was a triangular-shaped opening to the slot.
courtesy SWard
Across the floodplain
Sure enough, we came to a boulder jam with a dark, triangular cave-like opening beyond, and instantly I knew this was indeed Ringtail Slot. We scrambled over the boulders and plunged ourselves into the slot.

Ringtail is among the darkest of slot canyons. The entrance is quite wide down below, but about twenty five feet above one's head, narrows down to an incredibly tiny crack, perhaps only a few inches wide. It creates an extremely dark space, one where really you should have a headlamp (which we had forgotten to bring). Still, there was barely enough light to see, if one let one's eyes become dark-adjusted.
courtesy JInnes
The Triangular Opening
Ringtail Slot
Enjoying the cool and the tight
We proceeded deeper into the slot of Ringtail. It quickly narrowed down, even at ground level, to a point where the walls were only about a foot and a half wide, and even less in spots. Back in 2007, this stretch of slot had contained about 3 or 4 feet of chilly water, causing us to not be too enthusiastic to fully explore. Today, however, the floor was dry, and passage was easy. We wormed our way upcanyon until we reached a dryfall that would require some technical scrambling. A very impressive and very tight and deep and dark bit of slot this was! I'm glad, in retrospect, that Gino and Chris pushed to visit it. Worthwhile.
Ringtail's Nighttime interior
Hidden Hatkos
Album Cover Entrance Shot
Having explored as much of Ringtail as we could without expending significantly more effort, we turned around and were soon blinking against the brilliant light of day (after having fully dark-adapted our eyes in the near darkness of the slot). From there, it was a short walk back to collect the waiting Brian, Alana and Sophie, and then back across the forest flats of the Escalante to our parked flotilla of rafts.

With the side-trip sightseeing now out of the way, it was time to make some more serious river distance, and soon we were again floating southward down the Escalante. The condition of the river remained much the same (although the more paranoid among us imagined that the flow seemed a little less than earlier in the morning), with us managing to float most sections of the river with the occasional short drag across a troublesome section. Each stint of paddling, however, saw us grow a little more capable, a little more confident in our packrafting skills.
courtesy BConnell
Continuing beyond Ringtail
Nearing Twentyfive Mile
Beautiful Walls
We paddled for a nearly two and half hours on this next stint, good enough for us to cover an additional nearly 7km (4.5 miles) of river distance. As it was now after 6pm, thoughts now turned to finding an appropriate campsite - one with enough space for all nine of us and hopefully with a source of water that was less silty and cloudy than the Escalante River itself.

The mouth of Twentyfive-mile wash soon came into view - a small trickle of a creek compared to the Escalante River itself. Our group had at various times camped along Twentyfive-mile wash before, so we knew there were campsites about, and that clear trickle in the creek was attractive from a drinking-water perspective. After some searching, Jenn located a fairly spacious open area a few minutes' walk up the wash, and even though it was a detour (a very minor detour) off of our path, we got out and dragged our rafts up-creek to that location. It was indeed the best choice for our group. We quickly tied up the rafts and set about erecting our camp.
courtesy BConnell
Sunny Wall
Arriving Twentyfive Mile Wash
Up Twentyfive Mile Wash
25mi Wash Camp
25mi Wash Camp
The light of mid-May (sunset at 8:27pm) gave us plenty of time to set up camp and have dinner in daylight.

Looking back over the day's accomplishments, we had managed the five kilometre descent from the trailhead with little difficulty, managed to visit both the Golden Cathedral and Ringtail slot, and had covered a total of 11km of Escalante "river mileage" since putting it at Fence Canyon. Now, that was only a little under seven miles - well under Gino's planned twelve-ish miles (he had originally envisioned us getting as far as the mouth of Moody Creek). Gino called a general counsel meeting to discuss.
Fully set up
Evening Chat
Gino put on his best team leader voice and asked us how we all felt about the day - how did we feel it went, any issues, anything we'd like to see done differently. Possible tips for the tomorrow. And then a little bit of talk of possible alternative shorter exit points, which to me plainly meant there were already thoughts floating in his head about what to do if we weren't able to pick up the pace.

Largely Gino had felt it had been a success, despite the serious talk. However, It had been rather harder than we had expected, and certainly the act of doing a segment of the river after hearing about a pleasant-sounding "float down the river" was illuminating. It wasn't the exertion of a heavy pack on the hike down to the river; rather, it had been the time futzing around getting the rafts set up, the unfamiliiarity with the rafts and using them to negotiate the marginal river conditions, and the somewhat hurried nature of trying to fit in our two side-trip walks while still trying to get some amount of decent river mileage under our belts.

Yet, tomorrow would be another day. A day where we would focus entirely on paddling and making progress down the river. No hiking, no confused set-up - just a regular camp morning and then paddling for the day. Hopefully that would get us back on track. We really did not want to consider an early emergency exit, especially at this point, with most of our days still ahead of us.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Escalante Packraft Day 1 - click map to view
Egypt Trailhead to Escalante River - Hike Data
(Track color: )
Start Time: 7:46a.m.
End Time: 9:59a.m.
Duration: 2h12m
Distance: 5.0 km (3.11 mi)
Average Speed: 2.3 km/hr (1.4 mph)
Start Elevation: 5609ft (1710m) *
Max Elevation: 5609ft (1710m) *
Min Elevation: 4548ft (1386m) *
End Elevation: 4549ft (1387m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 21ft (6m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 1065ft (325m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
River Day 1 Segment 1: Fence Canyon to Neon Canyon
Start Time: 11:39a.m.
End Time: 12:44p.m.
Duration: 1h4m
Distance: 2.15 km (1.33 mi)
Average Speed: 2.0 km/hr (1.2 mph)
Start Elevation: 4534ft (1382m) *
Max Elevation: 4550ft (1387m) *
Min Elevation: 4514ft (1376m) *
End Elevation: 4534ft (1382m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 18ft (5m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 26ft (8m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Golden Cathedral - Hike Data (one way)
(Track color: )
Start Time: 12:47p.m.
End Time: 1:33p.m.
Duration: 0h45m
Distance: 1.59 km (0.99 mi)
Average Speed: 2.1 km/hr (1.3 mph)
Start Elevation: 4532ft (1381m) *
Max Elevation: 4643ft (1415m) *
Min Elevation: 4531ft (1381m) *
End Elevation: 4643ft (1415m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 98ft (30m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 1ft (0m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
River Day 1 Segment 2: Neon Canyon to Ringtail Slot
Start Time: 2:31p.m.
End Time: 3:17p.m.
Duration: 0h45m
Distance: 2.25 km (1.4 mi)
Average Speed: 3.0 km/hr (1.9 mph)
Start Elevation: 4492ft (1369m) *
Max Elevation: 4510ft (1375m) *
Min Elevation: 4482ft (1366m) *
End Elevation: 4499ft (1371m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 16ft (5m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 6ft (2m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Ringtail Slot - Hike Data
(Track color: )
Start Time: 3:17p.m.
End Time: 4:07p.m.
Duration: 0h49m
Distance: 1.27 km (0.79 mi)
Average Speed: 1.6 km/hr (1.0 mph)
Start Elevation: 4505ft (1373m) *
Max Elevation: 4560ft (1390m) *
Min Elevation: 4486ft (1367m) *
End Elevation: 4506ft (1373m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 49ft (15m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 52ft (16m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
River Day 1 Segment 3: Ringtail Slot to 25-mile Wash
Start Time: 4:07p.m.
End Time: 6:27p.m.
Duration: 2h19m
Distance: 6.74 km (4.19 mi)
Average Speed: 2.9 km/hr (1.8 mph)
Start Elevation: 4504ft (1373m) *
Max Elevation: 4507ft (1374m) *
Min Elevation: 4418ft (1347m) *
End Elevation: 4466ft (1361m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 30ft (9m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 66ft (20m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
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