Coyote Gulch, Day 3
[Good] Friday, April 19
Riding a nice big ridge of cool high pressure, we awoke to a third consecutive crystal-clear day. Today was our hike-out day - the last day in Coyote Gulch, and the only day of the three involving any sort of sustained uphill effort.
The uphill effort was required because we had spent basically all of the last two days going downhill: downhill into Hurricane Wash, downhill in Hurricane Wash to the confluence with Coyote, and then downhill -- mostly gradually, but in places in steps -- almost all the way to the Escalante River, which was at 3700 feet of elevation - a full thousand feet below the fortymile ridge parking lot and trailhead. We would of course need to hike back up most of those thousand feet to reach the car.
Everyone was well-adjusted to the backpacking lifestyle at this point. The kids were happily running around camp as we got everything packed up and ready to go. Although we didn't really have all that far to hike to complete our backpack, we felt it would be useful to get out early in order to position ourselves well for the next day - and also so that we could increase our likelihood of getting a campsite at a campground, especially so since this was an Easter weekend day.
By 8 a.m. we were off, hiking in the cool shade deep in the bottom of Coyote Gulch. The watercourse here was in a narrower gorge inside of the Kayenta Layer, and it was deep and twisty enough that we'd be in shade probably until near the end of Coyote (i.e until nearly its mouth).
Since we were still in the confines of the Gulch, we were hiking once again in our water shoes (or just in neoprene socks, if you were Katie or Evie)
It took us about 45 minutes of easy down-creek walking and splashing. There are no major obstacles along the way, and it went smoothly and uneventfully. Then we rounded a final corner towards the east and - bam - full, bright morning sun. To our right, a large, steep shrubby slope led up, up, up, and a huge fin of clean Navajo sandstone reared up into the sky above that. We were at the mouth of Coyote Gulch.
After the appearance of the sun, it wasn't more than a few minutes before we came to two paths - one leading straight ahead on the level, and another going straight up the steep slope to the right. The steep path going straight up was the way out; the way to the trailhead and the end of our backpack (the way straight ahead led down to the Escalante River).
Prepping for Climb
We stopped at the base of the climb for a breather, and also to slather on the sunscreen, switch out of our water shoes and into our regular hiking footwear. It is a roughly 700-foot climb from the base of the path to the rim, which is at an altitude of roughly 4400 feet.
Most of the climb is on a path that is loose, dry sand. This makes it rather tedious and slow, especially the first part (which is the steepest). In compensation, you get ever-increasing views of the terrain of the lower Escalante River and of the mouth of Coyote Gulch. There are several spectacular erosional remnants of the ancient, winding course of Coyote Gulch. In fact, the entire climb traverses an ancient abandoned meander of Coyote Gulch that has long since filled in with sand.
Alana and Lower Escalante
It took us just under an hour to trudge up the loose sand towards the rim. The sandy terrain doesn't quite reach the rim, but instead tops out in one spot at a point about fifty feet below the rim. It would normally be very difficult to climb 50 feet of sheer, smooth Navajo Sandstone, but fortunately, there is a huge fracture in the sandstone right at this highest point. The fracture has caused a large, thick slab of the sandstone to peel away from the main bedrock, leaving a crack between it and the bedrock that is just wide enough to let people through. This feature is known as (unimaginatively) Crack-in-the-wall, and it is the weakness that allows regular hikers to exit (and enter) lower Coyote Gulch.
View from Crack-in-the-wall
While Crack-in-the-wall will let a relatively svelte person through with no issues, it is pretty much impossible to get through if you are wearing a big backpack. There is an open balcony of sorts part way up the crack, beyond the narrowest spot. I hiked a bit ahead of the others and climbed up to this spot with a bit of hoisting rope, and was ready when everyone arrived at the crack's base. As everyone rested and cooled down from the tiring climb in the bright morning sun, I had Brian tie packs to the end of my rope and I hoisted them up, one by one.
Prepping for pack hoisting
One by one, we all squeezed up the narrow lower part of the crack, up to a point that I'll loosely call a "balcony". From here up to the rim, the crack is wider, making it a bit easier to maneuver packs, but still requiring one to proceed with the pack off. Again, I went up to the top and reached down and grabbed packs from the others below. At about the time we neared the top end of the crack, a large group (maybe multiple groups) of hikers appeared above us, ready to descend. Unfortunately for them, they had to wait until we were all sequenced up to the top. Crack-in-the-wall doesn't have the space to support two-way traffic.
Katie negotiates the Crack
The whole operation (to climb up through Crack-in-the-wall) took us about twenty minutes. Once all gathered together on top, we took our final snack and rest break, enjoying the now super-panoramic views down into Coyote Gulch's mouth and to a broad stretch of the Escalante River Canyon system, which we could see stretching away far to the north. The skyline itself, way off in the distance, was relatively flat. This is how the Escalante area generally is - looks flat from afar, contains many interesting, intricate canyons and pockets and holes up close.
With our final snack over, it was time to tackle the final leg of our 3-day journey: the walk back across the desert flats to the trailhead. It was less than two miles away, but after the tiring climb and now in the warm sun, it wasn't most appealing part of our trip.
As you may recall from the description of our backpack departure two days before, Chris and I had ferried one of our rental vehicles to the terminus trailhead. The reverse would have to occur on completion. In order to speed up this process and minimize wait times for most of us, Chris and I decided to hike on ahead at a faster pace. By doing this, we could hopefully fetch the other rental car and bring it back to the terminus trailhead before everyone else completed the hike. It also meant that there was no need for anyone (other than me and Chris) to hike quickly on this final leg. Before splitting into two groups, we had a careful discussion about the route back to the trailead (which can be indistinct here). We didn't want any sort of getting-lost scenario to unfold.
Chris and I managed to get to the trailhead a full 30 minutes ahead of the rest of the group. We immediately hopped into Chris' Jeep and bounced our way back to "The Tank" trailhead, where the Tahoe was parked. Being mindful and cautious about the "Four Wheel Drive Recommended / Caution Deep Sand" warning for the final stretch back to the farther trailhead, we drove back in tandem, arriving just as the first of the rest of our group were arriving.
The kids had started to falter a bit after what was, for them, a fairly impressive 3-day physical achievement, and they had had to periodically stop and were a bit recalcitrant on the way back. Figuring an enthusiastic dad charging back down the trail with cool refreshments would be a great mood-upper, Chris ran off down the trail, and a few minutes later, Katie and then Evie came up the final rise to the parking area. Success: the Coyote Gulch challenge was done!
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Coyote Gulch Day 3 - click map to view
Coyote Gulch Backpack Day 3 - Hike Data
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet
It was now time for the long, long ride out to the paved highway and the town of Escalante. For some reason it always seems like a big chore to drive back out from deep Escalante trailheads. It always seems longer and more tedious than comparably-sized drives elsewhere. Maybe it's the washboarding? (there was a lot of it) Maybe the dust? (again, lots). One thing is for sure - as we drove back, we encountered a really high amount of traffic. More than I have ever seen before. Was that just because it was the Easter long weekend? or was it because the lower Escalante, like many backcountry places, is seeing a big elevation in usage....