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After doing a final tank-up of water (the route is dry from here to the jeep), we continue on. The next phase of our backpack will be very different.

A clear sandy footpath leads uphill. It switchbacks back and forth for a bit, and soon we start to get some great views of the canyon of the Escalante. Once past a section with trees, we can look up and see a broad sweep of slickrock cliff above us to the south. I report that we need to ascend through these cliffs to get up to Big Flat. A look of fear enters Gino's eyes.
courtesy JInnes
Getting ready for ascent
Herdpath to Big Flat
Starting our climb
The well-defined, sandy path led up to a small flat. Above the flat, the broad expanse of sloping slickrock stretched upwards to the canyon's rim. The slickrock was jointed and scalloped into round lobes, a pattern that I've seen frequently in navajo sandstone like this. I like to call it "brain rock".
Beautiful Escalante Canyon
Slickrock Climb Ahead
Nearing the ramp
Escalante Slickrock
Most of the cliff was too steep for us to reasonably climb, but straight ahead, I could see a ramp that to me looked quite reasonable. Tracing up further, I could see how choosing a bit of back and forth in a judicious manner could easily get us to the top. The others seems dubious - but I could see it.

We worked our way over to the base of the ramp area I'd spotted (and the path more or less led towards that area before petering out into the bare rock). It took a bit of poking around to find the best line. The first 30 feet were the toughest, perhaps class 3+ (or even 4-) on the Yosemite Decimal System scale of climbing. Basically, that class of scrambling requires your hands, but typically no rope.
courtesy JInnes
Leading the crux
There seemed to be enough in the way of ... shall we say... reservations... that made it clear that a rope would be best. I scrambled up the slope to the ledge above and Pu came up with me. We hauled the packs up to the ledge, one by one, so that people wouldn't have to climb the crux with them. Then, Pu and I belayed everyone up to the ledge, then ferried the packs to a higher ledge. As I said, the slope almost immediately becomes less steep after the crux bit and it can be mostly hiked from that point up.
courtesy JInnes
Raising packs
Pu joining Andrew
Pack Ledge
courtesy JInnes
Belaying Gino
Gathered at the ledge
The upper part of the scramble went quite quickly. We scouted around for the best lines through the brain-y slickrock and were soon at the top. The haul-and-belay had taken quite a long time, though, and it was now nearly 5pm. I guess we weren't going to finish early after all (and I was quite glad for having succeeded in getting the extra push to Mamie Creek yesterday, for that gave us the time buffer we needed to not once again feel pressured by oncoming sunset).
Topping out
Late day slickrock awesomeness
Escalante River to the east
The view from the rim of the Escalante Canyon here is fantastic. The sun is shining light in at a magical angle, and the expanses of sweeping slickrock and far-reaching views are amazing. We take one last look at the cleft of Death Hollow's mouth, still visible to the west. Then we turn and continue south. Big Flat and the parking area are only a kilometre away.
Towards Big Flat
Cool ledge
Natural Ledge
There's yet more pretty slickrock walking as we traverse high along the slopes of a minor tributary of the Escalante, working our way into its upper reaches before turning straight south and ascending a final band of slickrock and a minor cliff band to top out on the pine-studded level of Big Flat itself. I tell the others to wait for a moment as I run ahead to place the camera on the hood of the jeep, pointed back in our direction and with the video on. I want to capture the moment of our success.
courtesy JInnes
Descending into shallow tributary
Cross these flats
On Big Flat
courtesy JInnes
Mission Accomplished
Pack-up and move out
So, Death Hollow. Death Hollow... what are my thoughts? Well, they are many. I'd approached this outing with a clear knowledge that it had a reputation (and I'm talking about the full descent, not the BMT-and-down loops that are usually done). But based on a lot of careful research -- and planning -- I felt that our group would be able to manage it. And clearly we did, but I have a few take-aways to share:

One is that... yeah, it's tough. The terrain in the upper half, whether we're talking about the dry sections or the watery narrows - it's remote and tiring stuff. And if the weather is inclement or cold or the water levels are high, probably *really* tough. The length is probably the reason, as a few isolated obstacles amidst an otherwise straightforward route are easily dispatched. It's the over-and-over-and-over again that wears you down. And maybe gives you hypothermia, if you aren't careful.

The lower half (the half south of the BMT crossing) is much tamer. And overall the lower half is more beautiful, really - although taken all together, the upper and the lower all combine to give a remarkable range of great scenery and experiences. Especially so, if you combine the full descent with the type of exit we did, scrambling up to the rim of Escalante and out to Big Flat. We encountered pretty much every single type of desert outdoor experience: dry mountain slopes and creekbeds, pine forests, open windswept grasslands, canyoneering in dry and wet slots, big-wall canyon hiking, desert creek wading, slickrock scrambling, and a good dose of orienteering and route-finding. Pretty much the only things we didn't do were straight-up rappelling and river-rafting. This route puts you through everything!
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Death Hollow Full Descent and Big Flat Exit - click map to view
Death Hollow Day 1 - Hike Data
(Track color: )
Start Time: 9:50AM
End Time: 6:16PM
Duration: 8h26m
Distance: 15.06 km (9.35 mi)
Average Speed: 1.8 km/hr (1.1 mph)
Start Elevation: 9001ft (2743m) *
Max Elevation: 9001ft (2743m) *
Min Elevation: 6477ft (1974m) *
End Elevation: 6477ft (1974m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 90ft (27m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 2567ft (782m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Death Hollow Day 2 - Hike Data
(Track color: )
Start Time: 8:35AM
End Time: 7:10PM
Duration: 10h34m
Distance: 6.37 km (3.96 mi)
Average Speed: 0.6 km/hr (0.4 mph)
Start Elevation: 6354ft (1937m) *
Max Elevation: 6447ft (1965m) *
Min Elevation: 5944ft (1812m) *
End Elevation: 6068ft (1850m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 325ft (99m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 620ft (189m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Death Hollow Day 3 - Hike Data
(Track color: )
Start Time: 10:10AM
End Time: 6:43PM
Duration: 8h32m
Distance: 12.34 km (7.67 mi)
Average Speed: 1.4 km/hr (0.9 mph)
Start Elevation: 6027ft (1837m) *
Max Elevation: 6027ft (1837m) *
Min Elevation: 5551ft (1692m) *
End Elevation: 5615ft (1711m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 180ft (55m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 583ft (178m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Death Hollow Day 4 - Hike Data
(Track color: )
Start Time: 9:14AM
End Time: 5:33PM
Duration: 8h19m
Distance: 9.25 km (5.75 mi)
Average Speed: 1.1 km/hr (0.7 mph)
Start Elevation: 5579ft (1700m) *
Max Elevation: 5934ft (1809m) *
Min Elevation: 5299ft (1615m) *
End Elevation: 5923ft (1805m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 793ft (242m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 452ft (138m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
Death Hollow (All Days Combined) - Hike Data
Distance: 43.03 km (26.74 mi)
Average Speed: 0.5 km/hr (0.3 mph)
Time: 79h43m
Start Elevation: 9001ft (2743m) *
Max Elevation: 9001ft (2743m) *
Min Elevation: 5299ft (1615m) *
End Elevation: 5923ft (1805m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain: 1380ft (421m) *
Total Elevation Loss: 4444ft (1355m) *
* : +/- 75 feet
Elevation Graph
We've completed our challenging descent of Death Hollow; we're all at the Jeep at the endpoint and we're happy. But now we've got to all get out of this spot, this fairly remote trailhead at the end of a rather rough 4wd road. The Jeep is not nearly big enough to carry all 7 of us with full packs.
Reducing the shuttle
We divide up into two groups - Brian and Sophie and Gino take the Jeep (packed to the gills with all of our packs) out to the highway, and then on to the nearest gas station on the outskirts of Escalante. The rest of us walk up the Jeep road towards the highway. For those of us left behind, It's quite easy going without the encumbrance of a big pack.

We manage to walk all the way back to the highway before Brian returns with an empty Jeep and picks us up, shuttling us on to the gas station where everyone else is waiting. Gino is in the process of calling nearly every motel and hotel in a hundred-mile radius and finding no vacancies. Finally, we land on a couple of rooms in two different motels way out in Panguitch, about 70 miles west of Escalante. It's a bit far, but it is on the way to Salt Lake (which we have to drive to anyway), so it works.
Our shuttle
The Dino Station
GB Phone Home
We are super looking forward to a nice restaurant meal. In Escalante, choices are few, but the Circle-D motel has a restaurant that we know is pretty decent, so we do the shuttle shuffle once again, moving ourselves a bit farther along into town.
Retrieving the upper Jeep
Brian and I aren't quite done with the chores yet. The other rental jeep is still way up at the upper drop-in point to Death Hollow, and we need to get it. While everyone else gets a table and some drinks at the Circle D, Brian and I head back up the Hells Backbone Road for one final time. So much back-and-forth!
courtesy JInnes
There's also a birthday
The others are slow enough with their meal that Brian and I arrive back with a bit of time to spare to order and eat our own meals. A nice big burger and fries is sure welcome after four hard days out. And the shower and nice clean bed at the motel (after the post-meal drive to Panguitch) is pretty ok, too.
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