Wednesday 10th October 2018 We camped inthe town of Tropic, and had more rain and then frezzing temperatures overnight. Looking at our options, we again decided on a short hike of 3 days to hedge our bets with the weather, thinking about the flood status of the rivers.
Driving east to our familiar town of Escalante the weather did seem to brighten and warm up a little. Our destination was Scorpion Gulch, a tributary of the main Escalante river and in an area we hadn’t visited before. It involves a 23 mile drive down the dirt track of ‘Hole in Rock’ road, which was mostly dry but with some quite muddy, sticky sections where the road dipped low. We turned off on ‘Early Weed’ dirt road for maybe 5 miles to stop short of a trailhead before a rougher section. This road was in much poorer condition and we were glad of our SUV with higher clearance and wide tyres! The road dropped into a few washes which had been eroded in recent rains. For many of these we got out the car and dug ramps with dirt and stones to ease the drop off for the car. This worked fine but we were both mighty glad to leave the car, gather the gear and start hiking!
Our route was across a wide open plateau called Scorpion bench following the excellent directions in Steve Allen’s Loop Hikes in Escalante guide book. The guide is getting old now (published in 1997) but it still is a fantastic resource.
The air was clear after the rains, and the panoramic views to the snowy Henry Mountains and back west to the escarpment of ‘Fifty Mile Mountain’ were grand. Our navigation points included a curious little arch sat on top of a broad ridge in the middle of nowhere. From there we wound our way over slabs and through sandy patches for a couple of hours before arriving at the head of Scorpion Gulch. This canyon has steep walled cliffs of the Navajo rock layer but there is a break formed by a huge sand dune that allowed easy access down to the canyon floor.
We headed down the dry sandy canyon marked by some cool alcoves and clambered over a 2nd sand dune that fills the Gulch from wall to wall. We were surprised to see another group here- they had come in by llama (!) from a more southerly trailhead (Red Well) and were exploring from a camp above Scorpion Gulch.
Soon after, we arrived at green cottonwood trees and the canyon changed character as we followed a faint sandy trail high up on the south bank (RDC). Further down we were able to hike along the wash on cool slickrock with pools and even some running water. The vegetation really thickens in the lower part of Scorpion and we donned some more clothes to scrape past some unavoidable patches of our old friend poison ivy.
The canyon blocked up at one point with a waterfall into a deep looking pool and we chose to scramble up the south bank again (RDC) and scrabble over and under some loose blocky rocks before being able to slither back into the canyon floor.
Finally we exited from the deep brush out to the bigger canyon and river of the Escalante River and we found a lovely little camp spot on the highest sand banks underneath the huge sandstone cliffs. The plan tomorrow is to wade down the Escalante River for an hour or so then to take a scenic route back on rocky ledges, high above the floor of Scorpion Gulch on the ‘Scorpion Horse trail’.
Thursday 11th October 2018 An eventful night- it started raining hard at about 11pm and continued all through the night! We stayed in the tent in the morning listening to the Escalante River roar louder and louder as the water volume swole up in the rain and the river spilled over its main banks onto a first sandbank thankfully beneath the level of our tent. We made a few forries out in the morning to look around and waterfalls had sprung up, pouring down the cliffs on all sides above us. It was a scary sight as we were now pretty much locked in by the river and the cliffs! Thankfully the rain started to subside around about midday and the waterfalls shrunk in size pretty quickly.
We looked at the Escalante though, and it had enlarged into a mighty brown torrent and there was no way we were heading downstream. We instead decided to have a go at retreating back out of Scorpion Gulch as the water flow had been pretty small yesterday and we only had to cross the river in a few places.
Packing the wet gear up quickly, we headed up for a good soaking through the now dripping deep brush of the lower section of Scorpion. But it wasn’t too hard and by the time we reached the slickrock and pools the sun had popped out, so we immediately spread all our damp gear out the rocks for a thorough drying session. Upper Scorpion Gulch was grand again and we stopped to watch a raven and its shadow gliding alongside the canyon walls. We hiked back up the sand dune exit and onto the plateau now dotted with pools in the slickrock. Time was getting on and we stopped to camp beside the low arch for another excellent scenic campsite view.
Friday 12th October 2018 Breakfast cooking and sitting on top of the arch was wonderful and we had an uneventful but fun short hike back to the car. What we feared now though was the drive back on the dirt road after the 12 hours of rain. It turned out to be heavy work stopping and digging ramps at about 7 or 8 washes to create a driving route through. However we made it and were glad to reach Escalante town for a shower to wipe all the mud off ourselves and our clothes. Another fine little adventure trip even though it wasn’t what we had planned!