Wednesday, March 12
Today was the 'short' day of our 3-day Scorpion Gulch backpack: a walk down the rest of Scorpion Gulch to the Escalante River, then a walk of about 3 or so miles down the river, and then a short but steep hike up a sand dune to what my guidebook described as a "beautiful Kayenta bench" for our campsite.
The day had dawned clear and beautiful, and we were keen to see the state of the Escalante River. How deep would it be? Would it be as cold as the frigid pools of Buckskin Gulch?
We were ready to go at 9am. One by one, we headed down Scorpion Gulch. There was no distinct trail for the most part, and we had to do a bit of bushwhacking through trees and underbrush at a few points. The biggest obstacle was a small pouroff into a pool. It wasn't that far down or that deep, but we weren't in the mood to hop down into standing water just yet, so we searched for a scramble route around. We were able to climb up a boulder slope, scramble / worm our way through a small opening near the top, and then down the other side, thereby bypassing the pool. With all of the pack-lifting and transferring, it took a lot of time, though!
Big walls in Lower Scorpion
Below this, a bit more bushwhacking down Scorpion Gulch brought us to a wonderful little grassy glade, surrounded by gambel oak and rushes. Flat and with enough space for several tents, it would make an excellent campsite. Mental note!
Not much of a trail, again
Beautiful little campsite
A few minutes later, Scorpion Gulch emptied into the Escalante. Scott thought it was pretty neat that we'd followed a stream from it's source all the way to where it emptied into a bigger stream.
We took a long break here, eyeballing the river and getting ready for the next phase our day's hike, which would at some point involve wading across the river. It didn't look too much wider than when we examined it at highway 12 two days before, but we still didn't have a good sense of how deep it was. Or how cold.
Arriving at the Escalante
The river curved downstreams towards the side we were currently on, so we were relieved of the necessity of crossing just yet. We therefore left our hiking boots on for the time being. We hiked down along a wide bench beside the river. It was for the most part relatively free of brush (unlike the condition of the banks further upstream that we encountered on last April's hike). After about 15 or 20 minutes of walking, the river curved hard over to our side, ultimately going up right against the main wall of the canyon. It was time to cross.
Another break for Shannon to do a foot maintenance section, and a change into wading clothes. Pu once again volunteered as a human dipstick, and soon proved that a less-than-thigh-deep crossing was indeed possible, provided you picked the right spot. We were relieved to know that the family jewels would remain dry.
The crossing turned out to be pretty easy compared to the pool crossings in Buckskin Gulch. For one, the bottom was typically nicely smooth and sandy, rather than rocky. Secondly, the water was definitely not as cold -- there was no aching "cold pain" as you exited from the water. And the crossing distance was well-known before you put a toe in the water. No indeterminate-length wading around blind corners.
After crossing, some of us switched back into boots, and some of us kept sandals on. It was the usual trade-off of the slowness of drying feet and switching to boots versus the awkwardness of hiking in sandals.
Crossing near George's Camp Canyon
We hiked down the Escalante like this for some time, crossing where necessary. In a few spots, we had awkward bits of rough terrain to scramble over, but for the most part the hiking was pretty straightforward. There was no distinct trail to follow, but the way was obvious. In one spot, Brian and Shannon elected to avoid a water-crossing, but ended up paying for it by hiking and scrambling a large extra distance through a field of huge sandstone boulders. After the water crossing they avoided, we hiked a ways downcanyon to where they would rejoin us and we waited for at least twenty minutes for them as they struggled to scramble through the gargantuan boulder-field on the other side of the river. They looked tiny against the huge orange monoliths as they wandered and scrambled to and fro, trying to find their way through.
Some Ominous Skies
With Brian and Shannon finally reunited with us, we continued downstream. This section of the Escalante was a large monolithic bend. The walls above were uniform, thick Wingate sediments, marching on and on to the right and out of sight. down below, right near the river, we had descended into a layer of purply-looking rock (which I think is a member of the Chinle formation. In any case, Phuong thought the color was cool). Overhead, our clear blue skies had given way to a thin, flat overcast. Hopefully the weather wasn't starting to deviate from the sunny forecast.
Soon we encountered a sharp, left-hand bend, and we had to make a couple more fairly straightforward crossings of the river. Then, we encountered the beautiful side canyon of George's Camp Canyon, complete with a regal-looking sandstone tower at its entrance. From our topo map and GPS, I knew we were now quite close to our "exit" point, where we would head up towards our campsite for the night.
We crossed one more time, and then stayed on the right-hand side of the river (the side we were going to exit on) for the remainder of our river-walk. It was a little rough on this side, and at one point, Phuong twisted her ankle. Fortunately, it didn't seem serious, and she was able to continue walking without any sort of visible limp. Just minutes below this point, we encountered a large, broad, orange-y sand dune on our left, and an excellent petrified tree stump sticking out of the purple Chinle formation. The sand dune was our exit route out of the Escalante drainage.
The exit dune
Our campsite for the night was on a bit of Kayenta benchland high above the river. It was also, therefore, dry (i.e. no water sources nearby). To try and manage our water situation, our plan was to make our dinner down here, next to the river, then completely fill up all of our water bottles and bladders, THEN ascend to and make our camp. This way, we would maximize our available water for the next day's hike out.
It was about 4:30pm -- a good time for us to be making dinner -- and we hunkered down, with some of us cooking up food with the stoves and the others at the river, filtering from the river. Several cleanings of the filters were required to rid our filters of the extremely silty water.
Our pre-camp dinnertime went pretty efficiently, and in just over an hour, we were all topped up with water, packed, and ready to start our ascent to camp. The sand dune looked tall and tiring from down here, but I knew that it was only about 500 to 600 feet of gain - not all that bad in the grand scheme of things.
Scott and Phuong had gone up first, and we followed their tracks, staying pretty much on the crest of this huge, huge dune. It reminded me of walking up the crest of a long snow ridge. It had a similar sort of shape and feel, turning left and right here and there, and periodically flattening out for a few feet, before continuing up steeply. The sand dune was nestled in one arm of a big, abandoned meander (aka a rincon), and as we climbed up, an increasingly impressive panorama of the rincon and the surrounding slickrock terrain unfolded. Above us, the dune tapered to a little tip that just barely cleared the top of the sheer Wingate slickrock and touched the ledgy Kayenta formation. To the left, a flattish area atop the Kayenta was surely our campspot.
At the very top of the dune, a couple of faint paths zig-zagged up through the Kayenta. This was the start of the Scorpion Horse Trail, and I scouted around, looking for the best of the faint paths. After choosing the most likely of them, I waved the others up, and in a few minutes we arrived at an area of fairly flat open rocks on a broad point above the Escalante. Our "Kayenta bench" campsite, no less!
Stupendous Scenery Unfolds
And what a campsite it was! A 270-degree panoramic view of the Escalante Drainage, backed by several striking Navajo slickrock towers above us. Across the river were several more multicolored domes and spires. And, to top it off, the afternoon's high overcast was now giving way to a clearing trend, and late-day sunlight streamed across the landscape, illumating everything beautifully. The receding clouds formed a dramatic and beautiful dark rich blue backdrop. Simply stunning.
We dropped our packs and ran around the broad point, snapping pictures, giving high-fives, and generally being ecstatic about having this wonderful, secluded spot to ourselves for the night.
As the sun set, a brisk downdraft or updraft wind started to blow, which made putting up our tents a bit of a chore, requiring us to do a lot of rock anchoring. There were plenty of flat stones around (and in fact, many good flat open rock campsites), and eventually we had everything well battened-down. And, as twilight deepened, the gustry drafts faded away. It looked like we were going to have a clear and calm night!
Scott was unclear about which way the route went in the morning, and so I pointed him towards the small strip of Kayenta ledges between the two slickrock cliffs of the Navajo and Wingate layers. He seemed doubtful, but I assured him that that was where the Scorpion Horse Trail went. And it was very likely going to be super-scenic! (and just to be absolutely sure, I went and scouted out the beginnings of the Horse Trail in the gathering dark. It was faint, but it was definitely there).
Pu in the Lower Escalante
Very, very content with our "top-ten" campspot, I retired for the night. The day had worked out extremely well - from the estimated distance to the manageable river crossings, to the "dry-camp" dinner method we used today, and with our great campsite. And, I was looking forward to the excellent ledgewalk tomorrow!
Interactive Trackmap & Photo Points - Scorpion Gulch Backpack Day 2 - Click map to expand
Elevation over Distance, Day 2
Elevation over Time, Day 2
Hike Data - Scorpion Gulch Backpack, Day 2
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet