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Across the Grain
The Boulder Mail Trail, Day 2
Monday, April 6
It was indeed a very cool morning April in Southern Utah (at 5,500 feet, that is). In fact, it was several degrees below freezing, causing a fair bit of condensation to freeze as frost on our tent flys. On the plus side, it looked like it was going to be another calm, clear day, and this time with the promise of a warmer daytime high.

We quickly set about with our morning camp chores, and in a very reasonable amount of time everyone was ready to go. We had a shorter walk ahead of us today -- there was less than 5 miles (8km) to go before reaching the Boulder trailhead of the Boulder Mail Trail.
Early morning pack-up
Shady Hollow
Early morning in Death Hollow
We made a final hop across Death Hollow's creek and started up up the steep trail to the northeast. We followed a narrow path through the brush up steep terrain, almost immediately emerging from the streambed vegetation into the open (and the huge alcove is just above this spot, too). Above this, the cairned route led up steeply, and we again noted faint signs of trailwork cut into the solid sandstone.

The trail climbed a steep ramp, then traversed diagonally up, higher and higher, angling for the rim far above. I had read several reports about how the exposure was great along this section of trail, but I (and our group) did not find it all that bad. Granted, there is a steeply sloping dropoff that one would not want to start rolling down (and the account of one John King and his icy decent in my Steve Allen guidebook was indeed harrowing!), but the trail is wide enough and the footing good enough that it is, in my opinion, very manageable to anyone reasonably surefooted. Of course, everything is relative, and I simply took it as another data point in calibrating our sensitivities with the assessments given in my guidebooks and in trip reports.
courtesy PChen
More constructed trail
Somewhat airy
Just about out
The views coming out of Death Hollow were as great as those going in, and we stopped to take many pictures of the plunging buttresses and jointed curves of the white slickrock all around us. In short order we neared the northeastern rim of the canyon, and we stopped we came out of the canyon's morning shade into brilliant sun. Time for sunscreen!
courtesy BConnell
Out into the light
Time for sunscreen
Eastern rim break
Now out of Death Hollow, we were treated once again to a flat-but-sometimes-sandy walk. We were now on an area known as Slickrock Saddle Bench, and we would be crossing this on our way to the next major drainage - Sand Creek. As we walked along on another beautiful sunny day, past green Manzanita bushes, tall pine trees, and clumps of Mormon Tea, I recalled reading about another historic route - the Bowington Road. I'd read that it briefly intersected with the Mail Trail somewhere up here above Death Hollow, and it would behoove me to pay attention, because the junctions were not obvious. So I did, and presently enough, there was a spot where a slightly fainter footpath continued straight ahead, and another slightly more travelled footpath gently curved away to the east. The spot roughly coincided with my map and the description in the guidebook, so we concluded that the right-hand path was the way to go. I could easily envision someone not paying attention continuing on straight ahead, and there are no prominent cairns or signs to alert you.
Brian - a funny guy?
Back on the flats
Crossing Slickrock Saddle Bench
It wasn't long before we emerged from the sandy vegetated area into another large area of clean white slickrock. We wandered over it's undulations, following cairns, until we began to descend more steeply into a drainage. Sand Creek, I presumed.

The sounds of a burbling creek greeted us before we reached very bottom of Sand Creek. It was only mid-morning, and we had made excellent progress. In fact, we estimated that we only had an hour or two to go before reaching the end of the backpack. It was time to celebrate with a well-deserved morning snack.

Bob, Jenn, Pu and I settled in on a sunny slab of rock next to the rushing creek, and we had an excellent snack consisting of ham and cheese bagels, along with a few of Bob's 'La Vache Qui Rit' cream cheeses. We had verification that last night was well below zero, too: we could see funky-looking inverted shapes of clear ice that had grown on branches that were drooping into the water. Undeterred, Bob gave himself a polar-bear style foot dunking. It's likely his whoops and hollers could be heard half a mile away. Brr!
Chatting along the bench
Sand Creek break
BMT along Sand Creek
Refreshed after our relaxing stop, we continued on, hiking pleasantly for a short while along the banks of Sand Creek before making a sharp turn and crossing the creek (no issues with crossing here, either). On the other side, we continued upstream for a very short while before cairns guided us out of the bushes near the creek and into a broad slickrock side-drainage. The last ascent before reaching the end!
courtesy BConnell
Mini slot
Heading away from Sand Creek
Nearing the end of slickrock
Following the many well-placed cairns, we angled up over gently-angled slickrock, climbing higher and higher, until we hit the wooded flats on top of McGath Bench. It was here that we met the first [other] hikers on our trip - a group of four guys headed down into Sand Creek.

With almost all of our elevation gain completed, we hiked along a very well-defined path through the open woodland on top of the bench, and it was not long before I could see the strange mangled blue plane fuselage that marked the location of the Boulder airstrip. We had arrived at the Boulder trailhead of the Boulder Mail Trail. It was exactly noon, and we had taken only four and a half hours to complete the backpack today.
Hiking on McGath Bench
Hiking on McGath Bench
Airstrip marker
We leisurely walked over to the parking area and unpacked our gear, went over and explored the strange old plane at the Boulder airstrip (which itself is nothing more than a wide, rutted area of dirt), and returned to re-pack the Jeep. There were six of us, and we all had to squeeze into one vehicle to shuttle back to the other vehicle at the Escalante trailhead.
Boulder end of the trail
Crossing the airstrip
Old wreck as runway marker
As we drove back and forth to retrieve the other vehicle, I asked our group what they preferred for our next outing. In my tentative itinerary, distributed out to everyone before the trip, I had penciled-in a two-day backpack that crossed the Escalante River drainage by hiking along another old travelling route - the Harris Wash-Silver Falls Creek route, which in the old days was used by pioneers as a wagon route. Setting up this backpack would require a more extensive shuttling operation, one that would involve longer distances, gravel and potentially rough roads, and definitely more time.

Seeing as we were spending time right at that moment on vehicle shuttling, enthusiasm for another shuttle-based traversing backpack was waning. I had been turning over another route in my mind, this one a long dayhike loop (actually, it was an almost-a-loop) that would hit a couple more objectives that our group wanted to hit: some scenic narrows and a petrified wood forest. In addition to avoiding a long shuttle operation, this outing had another logistical advantage: it was located in the direction of our subsequent outings for the next few days.

Everyone seemed to like this idea, so it was settled. Tomorrow, we would do a semi-loop involving Little Death Hollow (the scenic narrows part) and Wolverine Canyon (the petrified wood part).

After finishing our shuttle operation, we returned to Boulder, where we headed east on a regional road called the Burr Trail. Not far along this road we set up our tents at the Deer Creek campground, positioning us well for a relatively short (less than one hour) drive to the next day's trailheads. After setting up the tents, we drove back into Boulder to sample what I had heard was a delicious gourmet restaurant (we weren't feeling like dehydrated food that night) -- a spot called the Hell's Backbone Grill. As it turned out, in my opinion, anyway, it exceeded it's reputation.
Deer Creek campground.
Kiva Coffeehouse View
The Kiva Coffeehouse
The Hell's Backbone Grill is an upscale, posh-looking-yet-rustic sort of place. Set amidst the stark wild-west beauty of Boulder's environs, the Grill is a place that prides itself on an elegant, high-quality dining experience, combined with a stated goal of trying to achieve an operating model uses organic food and is environmentally sustainable. They state that everything they serve is grown and harvested locally, in the Boulder area (although I suspect that some items may come from slightly farther afield - do they grow cocoa trees in Boulder??). Anyway, assuming this is all true, or even mostly true, they've achieved a masterpiece. The food was rich, non-conventional, and very delicious (and I'm a picky eater...) The prices were in line with an elegant upscale dining experience, but I enjoyed every minute of it, and will return again in the future! Have a look at their website: The Hell's Backbone Grill.

After that excellent meal, we drove back to our humble little campground spot to settle in for the night.
Interactive Trackmap & Photo Points - BMT Backpack - click link to expand
BMT Day 1 - Elevation over Distance
BMT Day 1 - Elevation over Time
BMT Day 2 - Elevation over Distance
BMT Day 2 - Elevation over Time

Hike Data Summary
Start Time:
8:01AM
Start Elevation:
5847ft (1782m) *
End Time:
4:29PM
Max Elevation:
6752ft (2058m) *
Duration:
8h28m
Min Elevation:
5673ft (1729m) *
Distance:
15.5 km (9.63 mi)
End Elevation:
5847ft (1782m) *
Average Speed:
1.8 km/hr (1.1 mph)
* : +/ 75 feet

Hike Data Summary
Start Time:
4:41PM
Start Elevation:
5869ft (1789m) *
End Time:
4:58PM
Max Elevation:
5967ft (1819m) *
Duration:
0h16m
Min Elevation:
5837ft (1779m) *
Distance:
0.48 km (0.3 mi)
End Elevation:
5850ft (1783m) *
Average Speed:
1.8 km/hr (1.1 mph)
* : +/ 75 feet

Hike Data Summary
Start Time:
8:32AM
Start Elevation:
5850ft (1783m) *
End Time:
12:58PM
Max Elevation:
6796ft (2071m) *
Duration:
4h26m
Min Elevation:
5835ft (1779m) *
Distance:
9.4 km (5.84 mi)
End Elevation:
6769ft (2063m) *
Average Speed:
2.1 km/hr (1.3 mph)
* : +/ 75 feet
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