Thursday, April 12
A slit of clear blue pre-dawn sky above our narrow canyon campspot greets us the next morning.
Clear blue morning
Since this is only a two-day backpack, we're heading back to the trailhead today. We have two options available to us: we can hike several hours up Twenty-five Mile wash, which is reportedly quite scenic and has some interesting side canyons further up, then walk across benchlands to the Egypt trailhead. Or, we can exit much sooner, just a short ways upcanyon, and walk across more direct route across open benchlands to the Egypt trailhead. The second option is shorter by several hours.
The feeling is that we should try and get back earlier so that we can ensure that we can honour our 4pm rendezvous time with Catherine back in the town of Escalante. So, we decide on the shorter route.
The Second 'Arc'
After packing up camp, we start our hike up Twentyfive-Mile Wash to the exit route. The canyon is much narrower than the Escalante's Canyon, but it has walls that are nearly as high. Beautiful, high, arcs of sandstone tower over our heads, and many of the bends have distinctly overhanding walls.
The exit route out of the canyon is described in my Canyoneering 3 guidebook. It says that we will notice two huge arcs (i.e. almost but not quite arches) on the right hand walls of the canyon, and underneath the second big arc is an 'unapproachable cliff dwelling'. Even with this good description, I select the exit point a little too hastily, and we waste a little bit of time. Rounding the next bend, though, we see the second arc and the cliff dwelling right away.
A break at the ruins
We stop for a snack at this scenic spot, and admire the small round structure of the cliff dwelling, and muse about how one would have gotten to it (probably some sort of ladder, we surmise). We also filter some extra water here, as this is the last spot we'll be able to get water for the remainder of today's hiking.
We locate a short crack not far upstream from the dwelling (as described in the book). It leads up onto sandstone slabs and benches, and from there, it is a fairly straightword fun bit of scrambling up to the rim of the canyon. Pretty views up Twentyfive-Mile wash appear as we ascend. Once at the rim, the character of the terrain changes: we are now back in the open Benchlands, and the deep canyon we were just in is soon hidden from view.
Another good dwelling shot
Scrambling the Exit Route
It's now time for the long, mostly flat trudge back to the trailhead. Although still absolutely a scenic place, the benchlands aren't quite as spectacular as, say, narrow sinuous canyon bottoms, or the vistas, buttes, and multi-colored spires of Canyonlands National Park. The huge array of spectacular sights has dulled our scenery-meter!
There's no trail, so we do our best to walk carefully and avoid undue impact. We trudge and trudge, and trudge and trudge. We pass over a slickrock ridge, and then its back to more trudge, trudge, trudge, over mostly flat benchlands, staying on a heading that leads pretty much straight for the edge of the still-distant edge of the Egypt Bench's escarpment, where the Egypt Trailhead is located. As the day wears on, the clear blue sky slowly gives way to a high, wispy overcast.
Finally, after several hours of this, we tiringly climb the short but steep bit of slickrock up to the edge of the Egypt Bench, and reach the trailhead. The high clouds overhead have thickened and noticeably darkened to the west, and we're glad we are done when we are. It is about 1pm.
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With what looks like an angry rainshower approaching, we quickly pile stuff in the Jeep and start on the road back to town. It is frequently stated on maps that 'roads may be impassible when wet', and so we want to get off the dirt stuff before that might happen. We make it all the way back along the Egypt side road to the Hole in the Rock road. Now on a wide and well-graded dirt road, we bump it up and speed along at a good clip.
We don't quite make it all the way out when the rain (well, actually hail) hits. I can confirm that the road is surprisingly greasy when it gets wet and muddy. It's only for a short stretch, though, and we're almost back to the pavement, so with a bit of cautious driving we make it back to Utah 12 in one piece. We arrive back at the outfitter's store in Escalante around 2pm, and settle in for a bit of lunch at the little cafe in the store, while we wait for Catherine to arrive back.
Catherine arrives back at 4:30pm, and we have a little pow-wow to decide what it is we're going to do next. We need to get to Zion National Park tonight so that we can be well positioned to undertake activities there tomorrow (which is our last real day of vacationing). There was some thought of some sightseeing along the way, but this bit of inclement weather makes that prospect unappealing. The decision is made, then - we'll drive straight to Zion from Escalante, which is about a two and a half hour drive.
Snowy Red Canyon
The drive is through dreary, rainy weather. Over the high ground near Bryce canyon, the precipitation falls as snow, and it accumulates to a couple of inches. On the other side, as we descend towards Zion on US 89, it gradually becomes rain again. Luke, Sophie and Catherine are all voicing in favour of motel'ing it in Zion, and I'm inclined to agree if the wet weather exists down in Springdale.
We drive through a wet upper Zion National Park, through the mile-long tunnel, and down the fantastic switchbacks into Zion Canyon. Down below, we can see that it hasn't rained here, and that nearby Springdale is dry. We split up, then, with Luke, Sophie and Catherine getting a room in town, while Jenn, Ewart and I camp at the Watchman Campground in the park. We agree to meet up for a tasty dinner at a popular local eatery: Zion Pasta and Noodle.
After a good dinner, we discuss our plans for tomorrow. Luke, Sophie and Catherine absolutely want to do mountain biking, and I recommend Gooseberry Mesa to them. Ewart and Jenn are more interesting in hiking, and Ewart would like to see some of Zion National Park. So, I side with them and think about what sort of outing would combine (a) something new for me and Jenn, and (b) show Ewart some of the famous spots in Zion.
After some thinking, and realizing that we have two vehicles, I decide that it would be cool to do a traverse of the West Rim trail, from north to south. The West Rim Trail is a long 25+ km route that leads from the high country north of Zion Canyon down into the best part of Zion Canyon. And, as a bonus, we'll easily be able to tack an ascent of Angel's landing on the way down, as the trail goes right past it. Any new visitor to Zion has to have a go at Angel's Landing! I've never hiked the entire length of this trail, so this will be a bit of new exploration for me, too.