Back on Track
Harris Wash Backpack
Wednesday, May 4
So, we had just finished our Coyote Gulch backpack. Our hike out hadn't taken that long, and the fortuitous lift we had received to retrieve the rental vehicle had further reduced the amount of time needed to finish with our outing. As a result, it was early: the clock had not yet struck 1pm.
We tossed around the idea of doing something else on this day. And the thought occurred to me that we had enough time to do a portion of our original Harris-wash-based itinerary. We had now seen the Escalante (albeit from a distance), and were fairly confident that we'd be able to ford it.
The others seemed amenable to this idea. We certainly had enough time and stamina to get started on it today. So, it was a go. We would drive back up Hole-in-the-Rock road (which was the direction we had to drive in in any case), and stop off at the Harris Wash trailhead. Three days worth of time would be more than enough to complete an abbreviated loop (the original loop was scheduled for five days).
Getting ready at Harris Wash TH
An hour's worth of dusty driving brought us back to the Harris Wash trailhead - a spot we had visitied just a few days before (when we did the Red Breaks hike). Since our backpacks were already fully packed with everything we needed except for an infusion of more camp and hiking food, it did not take us very long to be ready to set off.
By 2:45pm, we starting hiking down Harris Wash. Our objective was to make good distance down the wash -- not all the way to the Escalante, but a good ways down, and stop when we found a decent campsite.
Curve below Carmel
From just beyond the trailhead, Harris wash heads east towards the Escalante River. It is nothing more than a nondescript rock-and-gravel strewn streambed amid low hills at this point. There were a few wet spots of sand here and there, but otherwise the streambed was dry.
A forest appears
After thirty or so minutes of walking, a thin trickle of sluggishly moving water was present in the streambed. Then, we started to see thick stands of vegetation and trees ahead, signalling the start of more permanent water flow. Low sandstone slopes on either side marked the subtle beginning of Harris Wash's canyon.
Arriving at Cattle Gate
It was a bit tricky at times to stay on the correct herd path through the increasingly thick forest and vegetation. Not staying on the right path often brought one face-first with impenetrable thickets, sometimes including thorny russian olive. We came to a well-constructed fence and gate (meant to keep out cattle from the lower canyon). Beyond that, a good path led through some very nice shady forest.
Soon we arrived at a point where there was a decent flow of water in the streambed. The canyon walls had also risen higher and further narrowed, and ahead of us was a stretch where the watercourse flowed right up against a vertical wall. It wouldn't be possible for us to continue without getting our boots soaked, so we stopped for a break and changed into our water shoes.
The next couple of hours were spent pleasantly splashing down the now-fully developed canyon of Harris Wash. It was interesting to compare this canyon with the canyon of Coyote Gulch, which we had been hiking in earlier in the day. There were many similarities, of course, but there were also noticeable differences. For one, Harris Wash wasn't as big or as deep as Coyote Gulch. While it did have high walls in places, they didn't match the huge, soaring, overhanging structures in Coyote Gulch. The vegetation in Harris Wash seemed a lot 'thicker' than it had in Coyote Gulch. And finally, it seemed to be a quieter, more solitude-filled canyon (contrary to what several of the guidebooks seem to indicate). Overall, my impression of Harris Wash is that it seemed more unkempt - a bit wilder, if you will, than Coyote Gulch did.
We started to grow tired as the kilometres clicked by. The canyon seemed to stretch on and on, and we were not finding many suitable campsites in the thicker vegetation that was present. Time and again we would check out a potential campsite, only to find that it was marginal at best. We continued to splash on. The combination of the morning hike out of Coyote and now this fairly long hike in to Harris Wash on the same day was wearing us down.
By the time 7:30pm rolled around, we had hiked for almost five hours and thirteen kilometres. Sunset was approaching, and we had had enough. Everyone was getting a tad testy, and we decided that it was definitely time to find a place to camp, even if it wasn't ideal.
Thick and Brushy
Within fifteen more minutes we had selected a reasonable campsite well away from the path and the streambed. Nothing as pretty or spectacular as our previous campsites, but it would do for tonight. After a quick setup and dinner, we hit the hay. It had been a full day.
Interactive Trackmap with photo points - Harris Wash Backpack day 1 - click map to expand
Hike Data - Harris Wash Backpack, Day 1
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet