Backpack, Day 2: Death Hollow to UT-12
Sunday, October 6
Another clear and calm morning dawned at our picture-perfect Death Hollow confluence campsite - the second day in our two-day backpack from the town of Escalante to the Escalante River at highway UT-12.
Today would effectively be the last day of "outings" for myself, Jenn and Kyle. The next day - Monday, October 7 - was the day that we needed to start driving back to Las Vegas, in preparation for our red-eye return home flight, which left that evening.
To lessen the morning's chill, Arn started another campfire, around which we had breakfast. As the sun rose far enough to start shining directly onto our campsite, we wet out the fire, cooled it down, then completely dismantled the fire ring and disbursed and buried the remaining bits of burned wood. No trace left at all!
Our camp teardown was leisurely and we only started off hiking at 10am - a strong indication of the confidence we now felt in our ability to make good time and arrive at the terminus of our backpack at the bridge crossing of UT-12 at a reasonable hour.
Morning View, Escalante River
The trail and river conditions were as good as they had been yesterday - a fine path across benches, and easy crossings of a placid and still-shallow (even with Death Hollow's flow now included) Escalante River.
As we hiked down-canyon, we began to periodically hear - very faintly - a distant sound. Initially we weren't quite sure what it was; perhaps the sound of baying animals, or someone blowing a big, heraldic sort of horn. Like Helm Hammerhand's horn at the battle of Helm's Deep in Lord of the Rings.
As we walked farther along, the sound got louder. Clearly, we were heading toward whatever it was. Then, as we rounded a bend in the canyon, it became more discernible. Chainsaws!
At first, I couldn't understand how someone could be allowed to use a chainsaw in the backcountry of a national park unit. But then it came to me - invasive species control. This must be the sound of a crew cutting down invasive species, a problem I had read about several times over the years.
Sure enough, we soon came upon a group of hard-hatted folks, busy thrashing through bushes, lopping off branches, cutting through trunks, and organizing loose slash and trunks into piles.
We stopped to talk with a bearded fellow who was knee-down in the sand performing maintenance on a chainsaw. He was quite cheery and readily chatted with us. They were indeed cutting out invasive species - primarily Russian Olive. They and another crew were simultaneously working on the section of the Escalante between Death Hollow and Sand Creek - one working their way downstream, the other upstream.
This was hard, strenuous work, and I thanked them for the time they were taking to restore the Escalante canyons to their natural state and for making travel along the watercourses so much easier. We had noticed cuttings and clearings during our hiking, and had imagined how much more difficult it would have been before the work had been done.
The canyon of the Escalante continued to get wider and lower as we progressed downstream. We were now in territory that had not been worked on by the clearing crews, and it was noticeably brushier. The Russian Olive tree grows at the riverbanks and overhangs the river, making entry and exit difficult and annoying. Its branches often have big, sharp thorns.
Without invasive species clearing
Despite the Russian Olives and the now less-easy river crossings, we still made very decent progress. We still had the nice, well-defined sections of trail that crossed the benches on the inner bends of the river. It was a nice contrast: essentially a stretch of open, warm desert hiking, then a cool splash of water in the shade as we crossed the river, and then another stretch of open, warm desert hiking.
Good Path, Thick Vegetation
By about noon, we were more than halfway to the confluence with Sand Creek - the next major side drainage to empty into the Escalante. We started to see the signs of work crews again: tree stumps, cleared out riverbanks, and neat little piles of chopped up Russian Olive. The next clearing crew were obviously not too far ahead.
As we neared Sand Creek, the floodplain of the Escalante got much wider, and there were large stretches of open, sandy, scrub-filled overflow plains. We soon saw the next clearing crew's camp, then came upon the crew themselves, who were sitting around on their lunch break. We stopped and asked them how things were going, thanked them for their efforts, and continued on.
The trail now often led down the center of the now-wide canyon bottom, often through extensive stands of trees. At times, it felt more like walking through a forest than along a desert canyon. Despite being a non-official trail, the path down through this section of canyon seemed very well-maintained. When it went through any sort of brushy section, it was well-cut and easy to follow.
Open glades of Cottonwood