We start to notice foot-paths through streamside vegetation and across benches, and they increase in quality and frequency the further down-canyon we go. These are a great aid to travel, and our overall walking speed increases yet again.
We reach Squirter Spring shortly before 4pm. This is a fascinating bit of hydrogeology: an artesian spring where -- under pressure from the source aquifer -- groundwater shoots out into the air (in this case, about six inches). It takes a rare combination of underground geology and water to form such a thing.
There's a small but nice little campsite immediately adjacent to the spring, and we stop for a short break. We also fill up on drinking water here: a spring such as this is a very convenient source of water that doesn't require filtering - and the fact that it's an artesian spring, shooting water right into your water bottle - well, that makes filling up a snap.
Squirter Spring is just a couple of hundred yards upstream from a major landmark on our journey - the crossing of the Boulder Mail Trail - and we're soon there (for those of you who may not know, the Boulder Mail Trail is a historic route that was used to transport goods -- and mail -- between the isolated towns of Boulder and Escalante before any of the local highways were built. We hiked the Boulder Mail Trail back in 2009, and you can read about that in this trip report
Anyhow, the Boulder Mail Trail (or BMT, as it is known for short) unofficially marks the transition from the upper part of Death Hollow and the lower part. The Boulder Mail Trail and the lower part of Death Hollow are also far more trafficked than the upper, and immediately we notice this. In a few moments we come across a large camped party. They express surprise at the sight of such a large group (us) coming down from Upper Death Hollow. They claim that only 30 people do the descent per year (claim unverified, of course).
The area around the BMT does indeed have many nice camp spots, and we had talked about camping here (well, more accurately, we decided that at a minimum we would keep going and camp no earlier than here). It is 4:10 pm, and we've got three hours of pre-sunset time left. As nice as the camping is here, and as attractive as lounging around camp and relaxing in the sun sounds, I am more inclined to move on - perhaps all the way to Mamie Creek. But that's another six kilometres down canyon, and at the mention of six kilometres (remember, it took us over then hours to go six kilometres back on our second day), I got some pushback from the group.
I make my case: firstly, that every step we complete today is a step less to complete tomorrow, when we are hoping to complete the canyon and do the climb out back to the jeep. And when possible, we should always lean towards making best distance in order to increase our time buffer for the following day. Secondly, we should be less concerned about the perceived long distance, since we were now in the lower canyon zone where travel was much, much easier - without significant obstacles and likely with a very nice footpath in most places. And thirdly, we could always decide to stop and camp at an intermediate site if we weren't making enough progress.
There was some grumbling, but in the end we agreed to move on. So we wasted no time in doing just that. Doing the six kilometres in three hours meant we needed to average 2km/hr (1.2 mph), which is not crazy fast, but does require a reasonable pace without too much stopping.
Death Hollow's Classic Look
I'm happy (both for the sake of my reputation and so that our objective could be achieved) to report that indeed, the footpaths were much better as soon as we resumed walking downcanyon. With the increased visitation from the BMT and from visitors to lower Death Hollow in general, very well-defined and smooth footpaths had developed. They often led across wide, grassy benches and saved considerable distance and time versus staying in the creek itself.
Fall Colors and Afternoon Light
Trail reports all indicate that there is thick poison ivy in much of middle and some of lower Death Hollow. We see the poison ivy (it turns a very brilliant red color in the fall) and we make efforts to walk past and through without brushing any exposed skin against it, but so far, no one in our group has experienced any indication of itchiness or redness from it. I have heard that the oil from the plant is much less potent in the fall, and the plants were clearly in fall mode. Or maybe we're all just immune. Who knows?
We continue downcanyon at a now-rapid pace towards the confluence with Mamie Creek. The footpath through the canyon continues to be well-defined and easy to walk on. Time in the water has mostly been reduced to quick crossings - most of our time is now spent on-trail.
We come across one potential campsite halfway through the walk between the BMT and Mamie Creek, where we have another debate about whether or not we should stop. It is clear now that we are indeed making much better distance for a given amount of time, so the arguments for stopping are weaker than they were before. We continue our march.
The wind has picked up this afternoon, blowing fields of head-high grasses back and forth as we cross. Then a short section of narrows (easy wading) and then we are there. The small flow of Mamie Creek comes in from the right. We have arrived. Two hours and a half to cover the six kilometres. Well-done!
Final Narrows before Mamie
I quickly scout about for good campsite and find one on a rounded vegetated ridge above the confluence. In fact, there doesn't seem to be much else here (although to be honest, I didn't look too thoroughly) so I'm grateful that it is not occupied. There's enough space here for all of our tents.
Our progress has been so good that we're actually fully set up by the time the sun sets, and we have a good 45 minutes of usable twilight to have our dinner and get settled in for the night. We can tell that we're again further into a lower desert climate, as the air is another increment milder than the night before. And just like the last few evenings, it was perfectly still and calm, with excellent sky clarity. We enjoy the coming of the night and the resultant blanket of stars overhead. Pu and I both elect to camp in the open (rather than in our tents).
Grand Parade of Buttresses