This is an archive of the planne page used for the Utah 2011 trip, which occurred from April 29 to May 8, 2011. The actual write-up for the trip is now available, and starts here
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As it currently stands, the trip's centerpiece is a five-day backpack in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. On either side of this backpack are three days where we will likely fit in two or three different day-hikes. So, the general outline looks like this:
- April 29 - Arrive Las Vegas
- April 30 - drive to Bryce Canyon NP - possibly a short dayhike
- May 1 - drive to town of Escalante; drive to Harris Wash Trailhead - Red Breaks dayhike
- May 2 - drive to Harris Wash Trailhead - start of 5-day backpack
- May 7 - complete backpack;
- May 8 - floater day / drive back to Las Vegas
General overview map for this trip - click on map for detailed view
Las Vegas to Bryce
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Bryce to Escalante
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Escalante to HW Trailhead
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Note Note Note: The distances above are for the three tracks that are detailed in the map above. CLICK ON THE MAP ABOVE in order to see these three tracks defined by color: orange for the first leg, red for the second leg, and pink for the third leg. Also, be sure to click on the GREEN waypoint icons in the detailed view - they show some important locations, including the general locations of where the various dayhikes and the backpack are located, relative to one another..
Saturday, April 30 - Dayhike
Bryce Canyon National Park
We arrive the night of April 29 in Las Vegas. The next morning (April 30) will be spent doing a bit of camp supply shopping and driving northeastwards into Utah. I think we have time to get our hiking legs under us on this day, by going on a short and easy hike in Bryce Canyon National Park.
Bryce contains a wonderfully scenic multi-colored maze of crumbly limestone hoodoos. It is ideal for us because (a) there are many easy, short hikes on very well-maintained trails; (b) it is well-situated, being directly along the way between LV and the Grand Staircase-Escalante region; (c) our trip is occurring later in the spring, and so Bryce's normally cold temperatures should have warmed up nicely. The hike I have in mind at Bryce is approximately 11.5 km in length.
Depending on preference, we can either camp at Bryce Canyon's large campground, or we can stay in the nearby Ruby's Inn (a fairly standard-issue motel sort of place just outside the park).
Sunday, May 1 - Dayhike
Red Breaks, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
The next morning, it is a short 1-hour drive from Bryce Canyon to the Escalante area. If the outdoor stores are open in Escalante, we may choose to get our consumables (principally camp fuel) here. Following this, we will make our way into the Escalante backcountry, to the Harris Wash trailhead (about a 25 minute drive from Escalante). From here we'll start a moderate 17km dayhike up the Red Breaks drainage. This loop hike will offer us a nice combination of slot-canyon hiking and open slickrock hiking, and will serve as an excellent introduction to the Escalante area and the variety of its terrain and scenery.
Red Breaks Narrows
Upon completion of the hike, we have the option of either camping in-situ at the Harris Wash trailhead, or returning to the town of Escalante. Our backpack starts at this very same trailhead the next day, so there is some convenience in doing the former. However, it may be desirable to have a final wash and cleanup at a developed campground or a motel before the start of the long backpack.
Overview of proposed Red Breaks dayhike - click on map for detailed view
Note Note Note:
Red Breaks Loop - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
The distance above is for the proposed red breaks dayhike that is detailed in the map above. CLICK ON THE MAP ITSELF in order to see the track in more detail.
Monday, May 2 - Backpack day 1
Down Harris Wash, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Our backpack will start and end at the Harris Wash trailhead (as described for the previous day's hike, about a 25 minute drive from the town of Escalante. The backpack will be a five-day affair, and will cover an amazingly diverse array of scenery: sandy washes, impressive stately canyons lined with high, ochre-colored sandstone walls, lush riparian sections with bubbling streams and leafy green cottonwood trees, and open slickrock expanses with far-ranging views.
Harris Wash Trailhead
Monday -- the first day of the backpack -- will see us following the course of Harris Wash from the Harris Wash trailhead down to a point near where it joins the Escalante River. We'll get to see how a shallow and relatively nondescript desert wash gradually deepens and transforms itself into a impressive canyon with high, Navajo Sandstone walls. Harris Wash in its lower reaches is quite lush, with lots of shady trees and a perennial flow of shallow, clear water. If we keep our eyes open, we may also spot various archeaological sites in Harris Wash (granaries, cliff dwellings and the like). There may be a little bit of wading required from time to time, but nothing more than ankle-deep. We'll camp at a spot near the lower end, near where the wash meets the Escalante. Water will not be a problem at all during this day.
Tuesday, May 3 - Backpack day 2
Down The Escalante River
Day 2 of our backpack takes us out of Harris Wash and down the Escalante River itself. This is the watercourse that drains the vast majority of the surrounding area, and so it is more of a proper river, albeit one that we can easily manage. We'll be heading downstream, crossing the river as necessary when its meandering path butts up against the sheer sandstone walls that mark the edge of the river's floodplain. The water is typically no more than thigh deep and with a moderately gentle current.
Typical Escalante River Conditions
After a few kilometres of travel downstream, we'll make a sharp left and head up a side canyon on the northeast side of the river: Choprock Canyon. The situation will change dramatically: we'll leave the plentiful water behind and we will head up a much drier canyon. We will head up as far as possible before stopping to camp, choosing a spot that is next to the last easily-accessible water source. Again, water will be readily available during the entirety of this day.
Wednesday, May 4 - Backpack day 3
Up Choprock Canyon
Middle Fork Choprock
Day three of our backpack will see us fully transition into a fully-dry desert environment. We'll be heading up Choprock Canyon, observing how the geology and the microclimate change dramatically. We'll be entering the realm of the Circle Cliffs - tall, orange-colored walls with vertical, column-like joints that form high mesas and buttes, like the kind you might envision from a classic Malboro Man ad. The challenge of this day will be water: we'll be leaving the last bit of it behind in Choprock Canyon, and our planned campsite -- 10 kilometres further along at the apex between the Choprock Canyon drainage and the Silver Falls Creek drainage -- will be totally dry. We'll have to be careful to completely drink up and fill all of our stores up before continuing past that point. And, I will be taking extra water capacity along so that at this point, I'll be able to load up with an additional four or five litres of water, enough to allow us to dry camp for the night.
The plus side to this extra toil will be a beautiful campsite totally different from the previous ones on the backpack: positioned out in the open on a bench with a broad valley below and with towering cliffs behind, with far ranging views on either side of the leading edge of the circle cliffs. It should be a spectacular campsite.
Thursday, May 5 - Backpack day 4
Down Silver Falls Creek
After what is sure to be a beautiful scene at our open desert campsite, we'll pack up and have a light-on-water breakfast, then head briefly north, then back west into the next drainage through the Circle Cliffs : Silver Falls Creek. Like Choprock Canyon, the upper part of Silver Falls Creek is totally dry; however, at a large abandoned meander about 10 kilometers from camp is Emigrant Spring - a named feature that will allow us to refill our [likely quite drained] water supply.
Silver Falls Creek
Continuing on from Emigrant Spring, Silver Falls Creek Canyon will get narrower and its walls will rise in unbroken, desert-varnish streaked grandeur. We will come upon a notable historic spot: An early Utah settler, Brigham Hobbs, upon getting stuck in a very large freak snowstorm in 1879 and fearing the end was near, very prominently chopped his name into a sandstone wall.
Not far beyond this, Silver Falls Creek Canyon starts to flow very intermittently, gruadually increasing in flow until it finally meets the Escalante River. We will camp somewhere in lower Silver Falls Creek as the water supply dictates.
Friday, May 6 - Backpack day 5
Briefly along the Escalante, then up to the high country
A Sand Dune Climb
The final day of our backpack will see us briefly hike and ford up the Escalante River to an exit point, where we will climb a large sand slide to high, open benchland to the west of the river. From here, we'll walk cross-country, eventually parallelling high above Harris Wash, which we will follow above-rim back towards the Harris Wash Trailhead and the finish of our adventure. There are apparently many unqiue views from along the rim down into the wash. Water will not be a problem on this last day; we will have our water fillup either in lower Silver Falls Creek or from the Escalante itself.
It is very likely that once we are finished our backpack, we'll head into the town of Escalante for a nice hot shower, a well-earned meal, and a clean bed.
Some estimated distances for each day of the backpack:
Proposed Backpack, Day 1
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Proposed Backpack, Day 2
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Proposed Backpack, Day 3
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Proposed Backpack, Day 4
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Proposed Backpack, Day 5
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Now that you've read this backpack overview, I highly recommend that you use the interactive trackmap below. It fairly concisely outlines the five day backpacking loop. Make sure you click on the map to bring up the detailed view; the detailed view contains higher-resolution color coded track segments. Each colored segment corresponds to each day of the backpack: red for day 1, pink for day 2, orange for day 3, purple for day 4, and blue for day 5. Be sure to click on the little green waypoint diamonds; they mark a particular point of interest. I also recommend that you keep the map type set to 'terrain' -- it offers the best and most reliable depiction of the topography along the route.
Overview of 5-day backpack - click on map for detailed view
Saturday, May 7 - Floater day
We have the entire day to get back to Las Vegas. This means that we could choose to do a little sight-seeing or other outdoor activity if we so choose in the morning and early afternoon. However, it is entirely possible that we'll all be tired of walking around, and we'll simply take it easy.
There's a message board
built into this presentation. I suggest we use it as a place to exchange notes about the trip, including discussions about what gear to bring, input on the proposed itinerary, or any other sort of logistical information exchange about the trip. That way, it'll all be in one nice tidy place, readily available to all of us.