Willow Gulch and Death Hollow: Utah Fall 2019
Back in the spring (this spring, 2019) we visited southern Utah. This is in itself not an usual occurrance, but that time the trip was more family-oriented, as we had Chris Hatko and his entire family in tow (two young daughters included). That meant a very moderate, kid-capable set of adventures (you can read all about that trip -- a trip christened UtaHatkoTastica
The non-Hatko members of the trip: Jenn, myself, Brian, Alana, and several others who did not attend... well, we wanted something a little more adventurous. And so that's what this trip - a fall visit - was meant to address.
In the lead-up to the trip, there was back-and-forth as to what we could do, what we should do, what we wanted to do. I was in the mood for trips that were less desert, less canyon, more mountain, but that wasn't generally shared by the larger group. In the end we decided as a group to center the trip around one big outing that combined some elements of both: a canyoneering descent route down a drainage in the upper part of the Escalante - a drainage somewhat ominously called Death Hollow
. Death Hollow starts off high up on the slopes of Boulder Mountain, and descends down into classic Escalante canyon-and-slickrock territory. A bit of both worlds.
We got some decent tickets into Salt Lake City (as close of an arrival point as Las Vegas is, if your destination is the Escalante), and rented a couple of jeeps from a place we'd never used before, called Rugged Rental
. Their prices were extremely reasonable and they basically guaranteed a 4wd vehicle (which you don't really get as a guarantee with mainline car rental places).
We arrive on a Saturday afternoon at the end of September and quickly get through all of our pre-outing logistics: fuel, groceries, and a motel to stay at for our first night - in a Rodeway motel in a small highwayside community called Salina, roughly halfway on the journey from SLC to the Escalante area.
The drive down to the Escalante early the next morning was beautiful - a clear early fall day, crisp sunshine slanting in from the east onto the high country of central Utah. Several of the higher peaks sported splashes of fall colors, and caught our attention. If things went well, I hoped that perhaps we'd be able to see those colors up close, by doing a mountain day hike on the last day of our trip, while en-route back north to Salt Lake City. For now, that was only a distant possibility.
We chose to take a more obscure but shorter way to the Escalante, crossing over the southern spur of the Aquarius Plateau on forest road 17, also known as the "Old Escalante Road". It's gravel but well-graded, and offers a nice alternative to the standard ways of getting to the Escalante.
We rolled in to Escalante at around 10:45 a.m. Early, but not nearly early enough to get organized and started on our main objective of Death Hollow. Instead I proposed a starter backpack of sorts: an easy single overnight outing in the lower Escalante that explored a couple of canyons that were new to everyone [on this trip]; a tidy little loop that promised to be beautiful and not too difficult, and which we could get to and start with the remaining time we had today.