Wednesday, October 2
Back in Zion, we had noticed that each night, a cold, strong and gusty wind had kept tents flapping and the corners of our sleeping bags turned up. Out here at our open desert at-large campspot, it had been nearly completely calm. Whether it was due to a simple change in the weather or some effect of not being at the mouth of a big canyon, we did not know. However, it had made for nice sleeping conditions.
Also unlike the previous days, dawn came with a scattering of high clouds. This created some very pretty pink reflections against the sky, which were duly captured with a few pictures. Breakfast, pack-up, and by about 8:30 a.m. we were ready to head off. But, to where?
Sunrise near Little Spencer Flat
Once again, we had some constraints. Primarily, this was Roland and Stephanie's last day with us. Due to Roland's work schedule, he had to be back in Ottawa by the evening of the following day. That meant that he had booked flights back starting early the following morning, October 3. And, in turn, that meant that he would need to drive back to the Las Vegas area later this afternoon. Which meant whatever we did, we had to try and finish at a reasonable hour - say, 4 or 5pm. Las Vegas was a 4 to 5 hour drive from the Escalante area.
Again we decided that, with our constraints, it would be better to do something we had some experience with than to do something with many unknowns. Continuing with the theme of attempting to finish past outings where we did not fully achieve the objective, we turned our attention to Egypt 3 - a long and narrow slot canyon with a mild technical finish. Back in 2006
, we had gotten all the way to the finish, only to be stymied by a chest-deep (or more, we weren't sure) narrow pool of literally freezing-cold water: a pool of which we could not see the end. We had turned back at that point.
Today, however, was much warmer than that cold day in March of 2006. Fortified by a forecast that indicated no flash flood danger (Egypt 3 would be extremely hazardous to enter if there was flash flood danger), we decided to go for it. We hoped that our previous experience with the route would help speed us along a bit, allowing us perhaps to finish the route in roughly 6 hours.
Heading to Egypt
Everyone was fairly keen with idea of a technical slot canyon. We had been denied our attempt at both the Subway and Orderville canyon in Zion, and I suppose in a way, this was going to be the substitute (although to be fair, the nature of Egypt 3 versus the Subway is such that they are much different experiences). Therefore, we directed our vehicles down Hole-in-the-rock road, one of the arterial backways that gives access to much of the terrain of the Escalante drainage.
A few seconds after turning onto Hole-in-the-rock road, we saw a heavy-duty National Park Service pickup truck parked on the side of the road. As we approached, a park ranger got out and motioned for us to stop. Uh-oh.... was the dreaded shutdown about to rear its ridiculous head and prevent our fun?
After rolling down my window, the ranger began asking us questions about our itinerary. We informed him that we were planning to descend Egypt 3. "Is that all?" he asked. "No farther? Are you going to be crossing the boundary into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area?". "No", I truthfully replied. I didn't think that Egypt 3 was in the boundaries of the Glen Canyon NRA - the national park unit that abutted the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument south of here - or, at least I hoped so. I couldn't remember for sure.
"Alright then, go ahead. You understand, you can't cross into the Glen Canyon NRA, right?". There was a vaguely menacing tone to that last statement, rather unusual for a park ranger. I wonder how he liked giving this sort of edict to every car and truck that passed by. "Yes, sir. I understand". And with that, he let us go. Apparently the entirety of Egypt 3 avoids the boundaries of the Glen Canyon NRA. Or, he was giving us a break. Either way, fortunately the shutdown would not affect today's outing.
A bit o' spotting
We continued on, clocking many slightly boring miles down the Hole-in-the-rock road, before coming to the Egypt side road - the road that would take us to the start point of the Egypt 3 route. I had heard about recent flooding and road damage from three weeks prior, and I was slightly worried about the state of this side road. Had it been damaged? If so, had it been fixed? One of our vehicles - the Captiva - wasn't four-wheel drive. Hopefully, that wouldn't prove to be an obstacle.
Preparing for Egypt 3
For the most part, the Egypt road was in great shape. Clearly it had been recently re-graded. There was only one rough spot where we had to do a little bit of spotting, and even the 2WD captiva was coached over it. Soon we were at a little side clearing near the start of the Egypt 3 route, appropriate for parking our cars.
It was later than we would have liked: 10 am. I mentioned the time to Roland and Stephanie, about how we could abort this route if they felt it would be too risky timewise for them, but they were insistent on pushing on. They wanted to see Egypt 3 (in the case of Roland, to re-see) badly!
We prepared our packs as quickly as we could, removing any unnecessary items to keep the bulk of our packs as reduced as possible. Egypt 3 is a very tight slot canyon, you see, and bulky packs just makes it that much harder to get through.
Rather than carry the Egypt 3 guidebook, I took a shot of the relevant page (thereby eliminating the bulk of a book entirely), and we were off. I remembered the general direction of the start of the route, so there was no confusion or routefinding time wasted.
Capturing the description
After walking a few hundred yards back down the Egypt road, we veered off left, across a bush-dotted flat. Within minutes, we came to the lip of a big 100+ foot pouroff: the head of the Egypt 3 canyon. We were at the southern rim of the bush-dotted flat, and beyond was a downsloping region of slickrock that seemed to go on forever.
Although Roland was salivating at the rappelling possibilities of this big drop, it was not the described entrance into Egypt 3. That was slightly down along the canyon's rim, at a point where a short but broad tributary canyon entered. Here, the canyon wall was a steep but walkable slope of slickrock, dotted at the top with square blocks that had eroded off the rim. We charted a way down the steep slope here, which got a little steeper at its base before flattening out into a wide flat bottom.
Once at the flat bottom of the tributary, we turned right and head back towards the bottom of Egypt 3 itself. The broad side tributary ended in low but still-too-high-for-humans dropoff. We could see the bottom of Egypt 3 perhaps 40 feet below, but with no apparent easy way to get to it.
There was a way down, though - something we knew from our last visit. A very handy little ramp of sandstone gets you past the worst of the dropoff, leaving only a minor scramble to get down to the slot's floor. One by one, we carefully walked down this, ensuring that we did not step on any of the slippery-looking little marbles of loose rock that were scattered here (just minutes earlier, Stephanie had painfully twisted her ankle on these loose bits).
We were now down into Egypt 3's sandy bottom. Part one of the mission accomplished. The bottom was open here, with no indication yet of the tight slot that was to come. We stopped for a snack break and to prepare our gear for the challenges of the slot. Everybody made fun of me when I took out and installed my Outex waterproof DSLR camera enclosure.