Death Hollow, Day 1 - Rim to First Water
Tuesday, October 1
Alright, so the morning of the first day of our big adventure in Death Hollow has arrived. As predicted by the forecast, it is clear and calm - but it's also cold up here at 9,000 feet. Gino soon has a nice warming fire going again (note to Arn: impressive... you've got some competition).
I try to hurry everyone along through breakfast and final pack-up, since we've still got to get ourselves from the campground to the upper Death Hollow drop-in point, which is another 3-ish miles along the Hells Backbone road from the campsite. And as we all know by now, ferrying always takes more time than you think. With all of that done and out of the way, we're finally all together at the drop-in point with all of our trip gear. Time: already 9:45 a.m. Where does the time go?
Death Hollow upper drop-in
Ok - so, let's go through the general idea and overview with respect to a full descent of Death Hollow. One starts along the Hells Backbone Road, at a point high up on the slopes of Boulder Mountain (Boulder Mountain is actually just a particular section along the edge of the larger Aquarius Plateau, but for some reason they still call it a mountain). Anyway... you start at a point along the edge of Death Hollow's uppermost tributary, then start descending, following the drainage downhill, until it finally turns into a proper canyon. This is then followed all the way down to its end, where it meets with the Escalante River. And then you take one of several possible exit routes to get back to civilization. Sounds simple, right? Ah, but no doubt there's more to that, right? Right, and the pat answer is.... the devil is in the details.
After reading the sober warnings on the Death Hollow information sign, we head over to the road's edge. It actually wasn't all that obvious where the herdpath was, or even if there was a discernable herdpath/footpath. Careful examination of the forest floor on the other side of the road from the parking area and sign eventually reveal a very faint sort-of path, leading straight downhill. I mean, we didn't really *need* a path -- it just was nicer to be on one than not. Down we went!
We more or less stayed on the faint footpath down the steep pine forest slopes. It was hard to know in places, but with enough careful looking, we were usually able to spot a snippet here or there. The fact that we managed to encounter both the old and new trail registers - and the Box-Death hollow wilderness boundary sign - were indications that we were more or less on the accepted route.
The grade abruptly lessened as soon as we reached the tributary bottom. From here, we simply turned down-drainage and continued walking. We alternated between straight bushwhacking and then finding (and then losing again) the snippets of footpath. When it seemed most convenient, we walked in the dry creekbed - although it was often quite rough - full of boulders and old flood debris. At times, little bits of footpath would cut up and across a bend in the creek. I guess basically what we did is chose the path of least resistance, whatever it happened to be.
I'll call the stretch of Upper Death Hollow from the 8500-foot to 7500-foot elevation level the "Manzanita Zone". There were super huge stretches of this dry-tolerant bush in this zone. While pretty to look and and not thorny (unlike a lot of other stuff in Death hollow), it is somewhat wiry and stiff and tiring to walk through. We looked for and followed the faint footpaths through these fields whenever possible.
Reaching the Manzanita Zone
Much older trail register
Between the rough creekbed and the generally pathless and bushy banks, progress was slow. By the time we stopped for a much-need lunch break shortly after noon, we had only covered about 3 to 4 kilometers (2-3 miles), which was not a lot for two and a half hours of time. We needed to cover roughly 16-17 kilometres (10-11 miles) of distance to the first available water. Generally speaking 12-13 more kilometres doesn't require too much hiking time, but today that was very much dependant on the difficulty of the terrain. Hopefully it would get better.
Continuing through the MZ
Fortunately, it did get better: the creekbed became less rough and bouldery, and more sandy. The upper tributary widened out into a broad, flat bottomed valley with large stretches of open grassland. We cut straight down and across one of these large open stretches of grassland, which was very useful timewise. The major downside is that the grassland was dotted with many types of thorny things (especially prickly pear cactus), and it was very hard not to get some spikey thing stuck in your leg. More or less everyone had to pick cactus spines out of some part of their body at some point along this stretch.