Finally, A Backpack: The Escalante River
Saturday, October 5
The uncertainty surrounding permits, the unexpected interruptions of federal politics and the comings and goings of trip participants had made it very difficult to line up a sequence of multiple days where we could do a true backpack - something that had been a stated goal of this trip. We were approaching the final few days of our trip, and if we were going to fit in a backpack, it would have to start today.
The night before, we had thought long and hard about exactly what backpack trip would fit best for us. It had to fit into two days, for one. For two, it had to be something that the kids could manage and that Gosia would like (Arn had damaged backpacking's allure for Gosia with some ill-conceived past outings). And as always, for three, it had to be something nice. Plus, of course, no violating the federal government shutdown, yada yada yada.
Originally I had thought that a two-day backpack combining part of the Boulder Mail Trail with the lower part of Death Hollow might be nice. But upon closer inspection and a more realistic, conservative analysis, we felt that might be touch too challenging. I suggested, therefore, something that would almost assuredly be straightforward: a two-day backpack along the Escalante, from the town of Escalante to the highway crossing at UT-12. Virtually flat, moderate in distance, and not in violation of the shutdown.
Old Escalante Home
The plan we worked out saw Kyle, Arn, Gosia, and the kids ferrying the big Yukon rental vehicle to the far end of the backpack, at the parking lot of the Escalante River trailhead, located along UT-12.
While they were performing this ferry operation (we couldn't come along, because there was not enough people capacity in the ferry operation's return vehicle), Jenn and I walked from the Prospector Inn to the Escalante trailhead. The trailhead - the start point of our backpack - was located about a mile east of town.
Start of Escalante Canyon
We dallied a bit too much on the walk to the trailhead, and as a result, Kyle and the others arrived about ten minutes before us. However, that allowed them to be fully ready by the time we arrived, and we set off nearly immediately.
Good weather had returned to the Escalante, and was forecast to remain so for the foreseeable future, with slowly rising temperatures over the next few days.
The initial part of our first day's walk was very short: a few tens of minutes walking downhill from the Escalante Trailhead to the Escalante River itself. Once there, we stopped to change into wading shoes, since from here on, we would be walking along the Escalante River, with likely many crossings to make.
The Escalante River passes along through non-descript flats and farmers' fields just to the north of the town of Escalante. Just east of town, however, the land rises along a very distinct northwest-southeast axis - a formation known as the Escalante Monocline. Formed almost completely of pure white to tan-colored Navajo Sandstone, the monocline slopes upward nearly a thousand feet above the flats around the town of Escalante. The Escalante river's famous scenery starts at this point, as it cuts a canyon deep into the sandstone. We would be following this canyon for the entire remainder of our backpack.
Placid Little Escalante
After changing into our water shoes, we began our journey down the Escalante. Unlike our experience the day before in Boulder Creek, the flow of water in the Escalante here was quite minimal - a relaxed discharge that was perhaps only ankle-deep. Also unlike our previous day in Boulder Creek, where there had been little to no evidence of foot traffic, there was a readily discernible set of tracks to follow. These tracks led up onto the flat-topped banks on either side of the river, where a very distinct trail existed.
Kai Forges Ahead
In a few minutes, we reached the confluence with Pine Creek, whose meagre flow did little to augment that of the Escalante. Immediately after that we came to a USGS river gaging station
. The white scales positioned to show water depth revealed the already obvious: water levels today were very low.
Although it was a completely clear and calm day, the temperatures had not yet started to rebound from the previous days' stretch of cool and blustery weather, and it was quite chilly in the shade. There was a lot of shade here, because the impressive towering cliffs of Navajo Sandstone above was casting a lot of it about.
The first few hours of the morning went very smoothly: easy river crossings, a very fine nearly flat path cutting across the vegetated benches formed on the inside bends of the river, impressive soaring walls, and, last but not least, privacy and quiet: we had the whole canyon to ourselves for the entire morning.
Heading towards the light
Beautiful Canyon Solitude
Our relaxed day continued through lunch. We had a plan to stop and find a campsite at the confluence of Death Hollow and the Escalante River, about 11 or so kilometres (7 miles) in from the trailhead. Despite a lack of any sort of urging, we were making pretty good time, and were already almost half-way, distance-wise.