Jug Handle Arch
After another long 10 hours of sleep (generally we had 9 to 10 hours of sleep time per night), it was definitely time to get up. The high haze was back in the sky above, but it still looked like another relatively pleasant day, weather-wise. We took the usual 1h 45m that we usually took to filter water, cook breakfast, pack up the tent, and get everything ready in our packs (Generally we got up around 5:30 to 6am and were ready to go shortly before between 7:30 and 8am). We said goodbye to our little private campspot and recrossed the stream and the thick brush to get back to the trail.
Just around the corner from our campsite was Jug Handle Arch, a neat arch high on the wall of the canyon. It looked like.. well, it looked like a jug handle. The character of the canyon started to change shortly thereafter. The canyon had from this point on now dug itself down into the Kayenta sandstone that underlied the navaho sandstone. This sandstone erodes more readily into a series of ledges, so we started encountering small downclimbs and the stream started flowing over small waterfalls. Pretty, but a few more routefinding problems getting around some of the drops. There were quite a few more backpackers in this lower part of the canyon. My guess was that they had come in from the lower coyote gulch trailhead and had backpacked up from below.
First Glimpse of Stevens Arch
It wasn't long (actually it took me a bit by surprise) before we reached the exit point out of Coyote Gulch, not long before Coyote Gulch emptied into the Escalante River. This would be the most strenuous part of our backpack: an 800-foot climb up a sandy trail out of Coyote Gulch.
Pu and Jenn dwarfed
Before doing this, however, I wanted to head down to the confluence and get a good look at this lower section of the Escalante River. I'd heard that it was quite beautiful and that there was an excellent view of one of the premier arches of the Escalante region, Stevens Arch.
Pu and Jenn above Escalante
Since we'd be returning to this point to head out of the canyon, we dropped our packs and head off without weight to a lookout near the confluence of the Escalante and Coyote Gulch. It was indeed a grand spot, with the wide and eroded canyonlands of the Escalante winding around before and below us. Not far off in the distance to the north was the strking cutout of Stevens Arch. The arch is high up on a fin of rock next to the Escalante River, and it is quite large; the guidebook I have heard of claims that there are rumours of daredevil pilots flying through it. I can see how a pilot might be inspired to do such a thing in this amazing place.
Stevens Arch Closeup
Another interesting and somewhat heartening thing I noticed from our perch was that the long arm of Lake Powell was nowhere to be seen. According to my topo map, the 'full pool' level of Lake Powell should have reached all the way up to the junction of Coyote Gulch and the Escalante river. Apparently, however, drought conditions have reduced the level of Lake Powell more than a hundred feet, and so the end of Lake Powell was now far down stream, out of sight. I say 'heartening' because I've heard that many beautiful desert landscapes have been inundated by Lake Powell, and it is heartening to see a bit of that landscape being re-exposed.
We then returned to retrieve our packs and to have some lunch. It was quite warm, even approaching hot, down here in the lower bowels of Coyote gulch. Jenn's 5-day unwashed hair was starting to bug her, and we discovered that Pu's term for hair loss was 'hair falling off'. For some reason, that was really, really funny.
Oh yeah - that feels good!
Wonderfully sculpted slickrock
After shouldering our big packs back on, we started the long trudge up the exit route. The exit route out of Coyote gulch is a path that goes up a huge, sand-filled Rincon. The sand on the trail was quite soft, making the 800-foot climb a good workout. As we climbed, there were fantastic views back to the smooth, tilted sandstone pinnacle in the center of the Rincon. Steven's Arch could also be seen in the more distant background.
The huge amount of sand that filled the Rincon did not quite fill it up to the rim. At the very top, below the rim, was a bit of cliff still exposed - maybe 30 vertical feet. It would have normally been a tricky bit of climbing, except for a bit of fortunate weathering that had created a way up for us.
noticed, from our perch, that the long arm of Lake Powell was nowhere
to be seen."
This fortunate weathering is known as 'crack-in-the-wall'. It is a detached block of sandstone that has separated away from the main wall of the canyon, leaving a very narrow but climbable, slot-like crack between it and the main wall. It is barely wide enough to shuffle sideways through without a pack. Hmm.. How were we going to get our big, bulky packs through here?
It didn't take long to realize that the best way was for someone to go through the crack and throw down a bit of rope. Then, someone down below could tie a pack to the rope, and the pack could be hauled up the cliff, bypassing the crack. I went up top and Roland stayed below and we set up a little system whereby I'd through down some twine, he'd tie it to a pack, and I'd haul it up. Everyone then inched through the crack and retrieved their packs at the top.
Crack-in-the-wall from above
Video Clip: Coyote Gulch, Day 2
We were now completely out of Coyote Gulch, and suddenly the open and nearly featureless desert that we beheld when we first arrived two days ago appeared once again. We stood around for a bit at the top of the cliff and looked back down at the spectacular scenery of lower Coyote Gulch and of the Escalante River. In the other direction we could see a low rise and the glint of auto glass at the lower coyote trailhead, about 2 or 3 miles away.
Now that we were back 'topside' again, it was interesting to think about these two different worlds of scenery, intertwined together yet both not visible from each other. When you are in Coyote Gulch you can't see any of this flattish, far-reaching desert scenery, and when you are on top in the flattish, far-reaching desert scenery, you don't see any of Coyote Gulch!
Trudge back to the trailhead
The walk back to the trailhead over the flat and open desert terrain was straightforward and even a little boring. There were a few cairns here and there to guide the way over bare rock, and where there was sand the track was easy to follow. It took us about an hour to trudge to the lower trailhead. We still had another two and a half miles along a gravel road to the car, an extra distance we didn't feel like making with our packs. So, we dropped our packs, and Jenn and Pu stayed behind to look over them while Roland and I half speed-walked, half-jogged back to the car at the 40 mile ridge water tank trailhead. It took us about 35 minutes to cover the distance - not bad.
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Arriving at trailhead
Roland wanted to try his hand at desert 4x4ing, so I handed him the keys and he drove. He immediately went into some sort of bonzo-mode, flying semi-out of control over deep sandy dips and bumps all the way back to where Pu and Jenn were waiting. Ease into it, man!
Fetching the car
Ok... so, our backpack went well, but now it was over. We had one last full day to go in the Escalante area. We still wanted to try our hand at a more technical slot, and I had the long and somewhat well-known 'Egypt 3' slot canyon as my primary pick for that. But first, I wanted to be sure on the weather before we did a long slot. So... back into town along Hole-In-The-Rock road for a quick check on the weather and a stop at the Canyon Country gas station (btw, this gas station is the only place where I've ever seen a do-it-yourself self-serve burger stand).
The weather looked good for tomorrow (Friday), so the trip down the slot was on. We stocked up a bit on water and some food and headed (where else?) back down Hole-in-the-rock, turning off at the 'Egypt' side-road. This side road was the roughest and most 4x4-worthy of all of the roads we'd been on so far, but even so we didn't really need 4wd capability - the high clearance of our trailblazer was the important thing. There were many nice bits of almost badlands-like scenery to be seen along the road, especially in the late day light.
We found a good open camping spot not far from the start of the route and set up camp for the night.