Ok... time for our final day in the Escalante. And time for a long, narrow, exciting slot canyon. Our guidebook warned us in several ways; about narrowness and length and some water and 'not for claustrophobes', etc etc. sounded fun!
Now, I have been to Egypt3 before - several years ago, with Jody, Lorraine, Bob Finley, Peter Guidry, and Peter Krug. However, we were much less prepared, gear-wise and mentally-wise back then. Today we had all the necessary drybags, ropes, old clothes, old shoes, small maneuverable packs etc, AND we were prepared to get a little wet if necessary. (although with the cold weather the water sure to be chill-llley!). When we were here a few years ago, we didn't get far at all before a water-filled pothole made us wimp out. Today we weren't going to let that happen!!
We walked down the road a little and into the nondescript drainage that eventually widened into the big canyon that forms Egypt3. about ten minutes down the nondescript wash, the ground just ended - a huge dropoff of about 300 feet marked the start of the huge expanse of slickrock that is Egypt 3. Impressive. We heded left and down some steep slickrock around the dropoff, eventually making it into the bottom of Egypt 3.
Heading downcanyon, the route immediately became interesting and very narrow, with a couple of fun little dryfall downclimbs. The walls pressed in so tightly that we took our packs off and drag them behind us - then almost as quickly we put our helmets on, because having them on our heads makes it much easier to get through the slot then having the helmets strapped onto the packs.
"I looooovvvvveeee slot canyons!!!! Getting all ripped up just adds to the delight. Watching Roland use the slot canyon walls to file his finger nails was a little odd. Perhaps he was daydreaming he was back at the spa."
"I like my slots tight. It helps to rejuvenate the skin. Of course it's only confortable for a short while, after which you are rather aware of every shred you leave behind. I think I sanded away several pounds of gear and flesh. Sweet."
"I did not expect the slot canyon could be that narrow and rough. The sound of cloth rubbing against a rough surface caused some concern. Then at one point, I saw a few small holes on my backpack made of sturdy material. I was thinking, man, this is really bad. Well, of course, soon, I felt my finger cracking with pain.... Never go to a
slot canyon unprepared properly."
I was pleased to see that the pothole that was water-filled on my last visit was totally dry today. Perhaps we'd get away with little to no water on the whole descent? In any case, it looked good for the time being. We continued down long, long stretches of very narrow slot canyon. Our clothes and packs got a real good sanding down through here. The texture of the canyon walls varied from ultra smooth to very knobbly and even downright sharp-edged in places. In some places, things were so narrow that everybody but Jenn had to stem up about 10 to 15 feet above the floor and then back down.
We then encountered our first bit of water in a shallow pothole. It was awkward to get around, since the walls were laid back at a gentle angle, but still too steep to walk around. We had a mostly hilarious bit of fun body-stemming across the pothole, with each of us taking his or her unique method of scrambling across.
Innovative pack transport
There are three or four spots where the canyon opens out enough that you could escape if you needed to. We stopped and soaked in a bit sun in this open spots - they were a welcome break from the long, long stretches of narrow slot.
After about two hours of scrambling, edging, scrabbling, and shuffling between two walls of rock, some of which was actually a bit claustrophobic, we reached the final open stretch before the technical section. For those without a rope, this is where you will leave (the canyon). Shortly down-canyon from this spot are a couple of little arches right in the bottom of the canyon, the last of which is where you attach your rope for a 25-foot rappel. Now, you need a longer rope than just for 25-feet, because the arch is probably about 50 feet back from the edge of the vertical section.
Andrew on way down
After anchoring the rope to the arch, we scrambled up and down through a couple of large potholes to the edge of the drop. It really didn't look all that bad, and apart from one slopey exposed section near the top, you could probably solo downclimb it. Overall though, better to rappel it. This was Pu's first try at rappelling, so we worked him through this new skill and he happily made his way down the rope.
We were soon all down and ready to tackle the final section, which the guidebook indicated would have some water, possibly quite deep. We'd seen almost no water at all so far, so we were hoping our luck would hold.
Downcanyon of the rappel, the canyon wound very tightly, in curves, around a few spots. And then - the water. Roland had noticed a fetid, dank smell since the bottom of the rappel. The source of that smell was now obvious. A long, dirty muddy strip of water replaced the sandy floor of the slot. The strip of water continued left around a corner and out of sight. There was no way to tell how deep it was - the water was an opaque muddy color. Yucky!
something psychologically uncomfortable about not seeing
the end of the water..."
We really wanted to finish off the entire length of the slot. My last GPS readings indicated that we were less than 100 metres (300 feet) from the very end of the slot where it opens out wide for the last time. On the other hand, we couldn't see how far the water went, how deep it was, or how cold it was. Considering the snow storm of last week, though, I imagined something a few frigid shades above freezing.
Encountering real water
Roland, publicly complaining about poor conditions (but secretly loving them), offered to go and do reconnaissance for us. He stripped down to his underwear and plunged into the dirty water. In a few steps he was up to his thighs. The water was bone-chillingly cold.
Narrow and COLD!
Returning to a small alcove just outside of the water, Roland endured a bit of mild hypothermia as we diddled about what to do. We decided to give it a try, and we quickly got out the dry bags and packed all of our electronic gear and clothes into them. We then got down to our skivvies and we started to wade in. Or rather, Roland, then Pu, then myself. Roland disappeared around a corner. It was soon after that moment, just as my nice dry sneakers were getting soaked with cold dank water, that Roland yelled for us to go back. "It's up near my neck!" he shrieked. "Go back!" .
"I peer over the edge, and spy a slime-ringed cesspool of rotten water. Sweet. The recent snow melt and proctective thighs of the canyon had kept this pool chilly. Floating on top were a collection of beetles, dead and alive. I slide into the pool and make my way around the corner. The water stinks. It reminds me fondly of the frothy girdle around Middle Island [@ Point Pelee NP -ed]. A narrow slot, not more than two feet wide, lies before me, filled with water. In the distance, another corner. Initial recognizance indicates passable water levels. The others follow, towing critical belongings in dry bags. And then very quickly the bottom drops down. Pu shrieks that I am disappearing. Once the water reaches my nipples, I have had enough. My breath cut by the icy embrace, I turn around and scramble out, shivering. So sweet. We vow to return, and swim if we have to..."
Back out of the water, Roland explained that the slot continued narrowly, and the water showed no signs of getting shallower. The corridor ahead of that point curved right, and there seemed to be light, but he couldn't tell anything about how long the water went on for. It should finish soon, but there's something psychologically uncomfortable about not seeing the end of the water.
In any case, we really weren't prepared for full body immersion in near-freezing water. If we'd had some sort of wet or dry suit, then maybe. We were SO close to the end - I knew it, but prudence waved her wand, and we decided to retreat. After getting muddy, cold and dirty, too.
Climbing back up
Back to the base of the Rappel, where our rope was still set up. We deployed our ascender cords and, one by one, climbed back up the rope.
Last bit of slot
Once back at the open area above the rappel, we had a brief warming session in the sun and had a snack break. I was still disappointed in not completely finishing the route. At the very least, I wanted to go up and around and see where the end of the slot was. Taking my GPS and the co-ordinates of the top of the rappel, we hiked up and around, towards where I knew the bottom of the slot to be. We came to a spot on the edge of a wide, steep walled wash. Below us we could see the two-foot wide line of the slot, bending left, then right, then... out into the open. Based on our GPS position and the position of the top of the rappel, I was 99 percent sure that we were at the second last turn! That last bend that Roland saw in the water slot was the very last one! So, so close.
Well, not much to be done about it on this trip. If I really wanted to tackle it, it would have to wait for an upcoming trip. It was now time to head back to the car. The weather was scheduled to take a major turn for the worse, anyway, and we already could see it starting to move in from the west.
Returning from Egypt3
The route back roughly followed the crest of the slickrock ridge parallelling the southeast side of Egypt3. It was a very pleasant, scenic and open walk back, with far-reaching views. Open navigation of this sort is quite fun. It took us about 2 hours to walk back to the car.
We certainly could not complain about the weather we had had during the week-days; it had turned out to be remarkably quite good, especially considering the iffy forecast we had the weekend before. The current forecast made pretty strong statements, however, about another storm headed into southern Utah for the upcoming weekend. In fact, and as I mentioned earlier, as we finished our Egypt3 slot canyon hike, we noticed a transition from bright clear skies to gloomy cloudy conditions. We had to decide how to handle our last 36 hours of vacation.
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We had to be back in Las Vegas by the next evening. This left us with most of the day to "do something". Roland wanted to head east, then south, in a big long driving loop that would take in monument valley and possibly the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I also thought that would be cool, but knew that a lot of extra driving was involved, and a lot of that would be on remote unpaved backcountry roads and at higher elevations - and it would turn out to be not scenic and in fact a little difficult if the weather turned stormy. Monument valley would have nothing to show us in the middle of a snowstorm.
Final desert panorama
So..., we decided to head back towards Las Vegas and towards lower terrain. Zion National Park was a logical stopping point - it was a two hour drive from the Escalante; it was on the way to Las Vegas; and we could do some sort of short hike there even if the weather wasn't ideal.
We left Escalante for the final time, noting with interest that the local law enforcement was again on patrol on the main drag (during our week in the area, we noticed strict and frequent police enforcement of the speed limit on the main street in Escalante - beware). Some pre-recorded CBC IDEAS episodes on "modern-day utopias" kept us (or at least me, at any rate) occupied for the two-hour drive in the dark to Zion National Park. We arrived in Springdale, the little hamlet just outside the park, sometime just after 9pm.
The forecast had rain in it for overnight - I wasn't interested in wet gear before packing it up for home, so I voiced my interest in a motel. There was no strong disagreement, so into town we went, stopping at a quaint unpretentious motel that I'd stayed at before several times over the years: The Zion Park Motel. I was dismayed to see that their open hours ended at 9pm on Friday nights, and there was no ringer. I called the phone number on the outside of the door of the motel and was immediately greeted by a friendly voice: "oh yes, sure, we have a room with two beds.... you see that door to your right - the one that says 'Private'?". Indeed, around the corner was a screen door marked private. "It's unlocked", she said, "just go ahead and open it, and pick one of the room keys. We are running on winter rates right now - the price will be forty-nine dollars for the night". I was a little taken aback by this. Unlocked? Keys? Only forty-nine dollars? But how was I going to pay for the room, I thought, If she don't come to the front desk? The lady on the phone seemed quite unconcerned: "Oh, just come by in the morning and pay. The front desk opens at 9am. Have a nice evening!". Well... wow. Amazed at the level of trust and accommodation, I pick a key and go to the corresponding room. It was quite large, and even had a few basic kitchen appliances. Nice!
Glad about having made the choice to come to this great little spot, we all gratefully took the much-needed showers we needed after six days in the desert.
The Zion Park Motel