Escalante river, Bowington and Boulder Mail trails

Sunday 2nd October 2016 After returning from our hike down the Paria river we thought we would sample the canyons and slickrock plateau in the Escalante area of southern Utah with a short 2.5 day backpack straight out of Escalante town itself.

We descended down to the Escalante river from the trailhead at around 4pm in hot sun but soon found cool shade at the river amidst beautiful autumnal cottonwood trees.

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The Escalante was lusher, greener and a little less severe than the Paria river and the contrast felt good. We hiked downriver easily with some good trail mixed with crossings of the calf deep water. After about an hour we came across a huge alcove with a striking set of white pictographs with real size figures. A park service ammo box beside the rock art contained information leaflets and warned against touching the art to prevent it being damaged.  It dated the rock art at 2000 years old and the location inside the massive cave was wonderful.

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We hiked on a bit, splashing down the river before finding a pleasant riverside campsite. Another clear starry night above between the canyon walls was broken by constant flashes of distant lightning somewhere and some gusty winds. We had a night of broken sleep imagining another flash flood like last week’s in the Paria!

Monday 3rd October 2016 No floods thankfully and we continued down the Escalante with a mix of trails, river and bushwhacking. The temp. dropped and we kept our fleeces and trousers on for a couple of hours as we arrived at the confluence with Death Hollow Canyon. A strong clear flow came out of Death Hollow and it was obvious that the river levels were high which was going to make our long hike up the canyon a little tougher than we had thought! 

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Wading across the Escalante river into Death Hollow with its green riparian corridor

We set off up the river of Death Hollow which was frigid cold and knee deep. The vegetated banks were stuffed with poison ivy, so the river seemed the best way to make progress. Two dippers dashed around on the river. But boy was it cold! We lasted about half an hour (we reckoned we had about 7-8 hours to our planned exit point at the Boulder Mail trail) and decided to turn back to regroup at the Escalante river again where we were able to sit in the sun to warm up and eat some bars.

After scanning our map and the pages of Steve Allen’s wonderful but now rather ageing guidebook ‘Canyoneering 3 – Loop hikes in Utah’s Escalante‘, we came up with another high level route northwards up onto the slickrock plateau above Death Hollow canyon on the ‘Bowington trail’ before meeting up again with our intended route.

After about 40 minutes further down the Escalante, we climbed up on rock slabs above the canyon amidst some beautiful ‘zen’ water slides and golden layered rock.

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We soon hit the ‘Bowington trail’ which we found to be a series of -just enough- cairns across undulating rock slabs and pinyon-juniper. The hiking on this route was relaxed, keeping our feet dry and with panoramic views- to Boulder Mountain to the north, the Henry’s mountains eastward and Navajo mountain south in Arizona. Tall ponderosa pine grew out of the cracks in the sandstone slabs.

Late in the afternoon we started dropping down on amazing rock formations into the canyon of Death Hollow again. Now following the more popular ‘Boulder Mail trail’ the cairns were more prominent but the scenery remained spectacular.

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We return to Death Hollow and it’s river was heavily vegetated again but the going was easier at this point upstream of where we started out this morning. We found a lovely white sand bank under towering canyon walls in Death Hollow to camp. A great day!

Tuesday 4th October 2016 A cold morning as we climbed westward steeply and directly from camp out of the canyon on the ‘Boulder Mail trail‘. Grand views all around in the early morning light…

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The hiking on this cairn marked trail continued through splendid scenery of pillow and brain shaped rock formations dotted with trees and some great little waterpockets in the rock hollows. We dropped down to cross Mamie Creek with a huge pool maybe 30m diameter at the bottom. The water here was rusty red colour  – from the iron rich rock we thought.

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Cricket watches us snack under a ponderosa

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The rest of the day we meandered over rock slabs and across some sagebrush flats westward to eventually arrive at a rock rim overlooking a distant Escalante town. The cairns headed steeply down improbably over more rock slabs before we hit the lush corridor of Pine creek at the bottom. All that remained was some now familiar splashing along the river and bushwhacking to pop out at the Escalante river again and back to the car.

What a magnificent short backpack with huge variety of hiking in a quiet area -we didn’t see any other people! Steve Allen describes the Boulder Mail trail as ‘one of canyon country’s premier routes’and we agree with that!

More photos of this trip and our other Escalante hikes here…..

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