Bobway and Stevens Arch

Thursday 19th September 2019  The lower part of the Escalante River above Stevens Canyon is an area we haven’t visited before, so we put together this approx. 4 day loop hike taking in the river plus a few interesting other new places for us.

We drove for an hour down the dry and sandy Hole in the Rock road to make it to the Hurricane Wash trailhead- last seen when we hitch hiked out of here after a long, fantastic stretch of the Hayduke Trail in 2014. It was a hot, dusty and windy spot and we quickly set off from the car down Hurricane Wash at about 13:30.

Our route to the lower Escalante River

The sun and wind were at our backs keeping the temperatures down a bit and we could admire the vibrant, technicolour sandstone landscape. Soon the canyon began to close in and we were hiking on good trail down the lush lower part of Hurricane Wash with water, cottonwoods and some willow.

At the Coyote Gulch confluence we headed upstream into new territory and the steep red walls and vivid greens didn’t disappoint. We saw some pictographs high up on an alcove and soon after reached the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ canyon confluence. Not sure if we found the right route up Sleepy Hollow as we had some thrashing through vegetation before it opened out a bit. We were looking for an exit out onto the slickrock plateau above and soon found it- a steep step up assisted by standing on a pile of stones then some slabby moves before it eased off. Brian went up to have a look around for camping spots but it was windy out of the canyon and with little water around we decided to head back to the confluence with Upper Coyote Gulch. On the way back down we found an easier, less brushy route and soon settled into a fantastic camp under a huge alcove.

Friday 20th September 2019  Cool night sky with the milky way framed by the roof of the alcove. Camping is great out here! This morning we aimed to cross the plateau above the canyons before dropping into the Escalante River via a route called ‘The Bobway’. From the start the hiking was beautiful over undulating slickrock with the early morning light casting long shadows. We aimed northward for a small saddle at the top of the Sleepy Hollow drainage before trending south east for a landmark hill called ‘Rock’ on the map. We had a look for water on the way and found one pothole with water deep down- another sign that this season is a dry one as I had heard reports of more water than that in this area.

Eventually we arrived at the top of a huge sandy bay leading down to a small canyon which hopefully would take us to the Escalante River- the Bobway. The Bobway is a short but lovely canyon with a mostly slickrock floor and a little scrambling. Nothing too hard though and there are faint signs of a trail in places. Soon we were at the Escalante and, as it had got a bit hotter, we sheltered under a boulder for some lunch.

We started down the Escalante with deep wading and bushwacking but the going gradually eased as the afternoon progressed and it cooled down too. We did one shortcut over a col to cut out a huge hairpin bend. The scenery improved downriver to top notch Escalante red walls, reflected light and alcoves. We passed the confluence with Stevens Canyon and headed on to find a camp spot right under the huge Stevens Arch- another wonderful camp. We haven’t seen anyone since shortly after leaving the car.

Hiking the slickrock heading away from Upper Coyote Gulch
Descending towards The Bobway
The Escalante River
Approaching Stevens Arch on the Escalante River

Saturday 21st September 2019  In the morning we waded further down the Escalante then climbed up on a faint trail to visit Stevens Arch itself. The arch was amazing- quite hard to describe, but this is one of the most fantastic sights we have seen in canyon country. Some ravens drifted around checking us out as we spent a while scrambling around and exploring. Reluctantly we left and were soon down at the Coyote Gulch- Escalante confluence. We were heading into a more popular area here and soon met a hiker group. There are a cool succession of waterfalls in Coyote and one fairly easy scrambling section on rather sandy slabs.

We continued upstream enjoying the iconic sights including Coyote Natural Arch and Jacob Hamlin Arch and the easy hiking on trails. On reaching the Hurricane/Coyote confluence, we continued up Coyote again for a while to camp in a quiet spot under cottonwoods. Another great day!

Hiking towards Stevens Arch
Lower Coyote Gulch slabs
Coyote Gulch

Sunday 22nd September 2019  A chilled out hike back up Hurricane Wash to the car in the cool morning air. We had a huge lunch at Escalante Outfitters before deciding to start the drive back to California so that we could get another final hike in the mountains before returning to Scotland. It’s been a short trip to Utah for our ‘fix’ of canyon country hiking but its it’s been fun!

The Gulch and Boulder Creek

Saturday 14th September 2019 We had an incredible drive heading east from California to Utah across the middle of arid and barren Nevada. We had been driving into the night, and started looking for places we might camp by the side of the road, when we saw some lights on the horizon which turned out to be the tiny settlement of Rachel. At the edge of Area 51, and famed for its UFO conspiracy theories, the ‘LittleAleInn’ is an oasis and we happily spent the night here instead of camping. Delighted to see photos on the wall of the bar of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost taken here whilst they were looking at sets for the superb movie ‘Paul’ .

Rachel, Nevada

Sunday 15th September 2019 Anyway, we eventually arrived in Escalante, southern Utah in the late afternoon the next day. Our rough plan was to hike into The Gulch and Boulder Creek, two tributary canyons north of the Escalante River that we hadn’t visited before. For ideas we used our bible (but aging) guide book –  Steve Allen’s Loop Hikes in Escalante – plus our own knowledge of the area and many other references including Jamal Green’s superb website.

Our hike from US Highway 12 in the Escalante area of southern Utah

With a late start, we had a short evening hike from the point that Highway 12 crosses the Escalante River. We hiked trails along the river, then crossed into the dry Phipps canyon and walked up valley for a while to camp.

Monday 16th September 2019 Lovely moonlit night and we enjoyed nice cool temperatures for breakfast in the leafy but dry lower part of Phipps Canyon. Setting off back down the Escalante River, the river level was low with some faint trails, river crossings and a little bushwhacking to keep us alert! The Escalante is lined with vertical sandstone cliffs and escape points are mostly via confluence canyons. After passing Boulder Creek confluence at about 11am we arrived at a different type of exit point that makes use of a slabby break in the cliffs on the north side. A short steep hike up above the river took us to a ‘line shack’ wooden hut – this route has been used by cattlemen in the past.

From here we hiked on undulating slick rock slabs and sandy washes heading north then south east paralleling above the Escalante River. Our idea was that this would give us easier hiking to reach the canyon of The Gulch than following the meandering Escalante River itself. It was pretty hot though and involved a fair bit of up and down but with the plus of extensive views across the plateau.

Eventually we found a cool rock rib descending steeply down into the green canyon of The Gulch – another route used in the past by cattlemen. Unfortunately for us the ‘perennial stream’ at the bottom of the canyon was dry, so we decided to drop our backpacks and head down The Gulch for about 20 minutes to pick up the Escalante River again and fill up our water bags there. Heading back up canyon with heavier backpacks, The Gulch has a fair bit of vegetation so the hiking was slow but with some interesting overhanging alcove walls. It was hot and sweaty and we were glad to find a camp in the evening by scrambling out of the canyon floor onto a grand slick rock perch.

Hiking out of the Escalante to the ‘line shack’
North of the Escalante
The temps cooled a bit with some welcome cloud
The descent into The Gulch
Alcove in The Gulch

Tuesday 17th September 2019 Another lovely morning with the moon dappling the canyon walls and we set off up canyon to reach an exit scramble avoiding some dryfalls further on. Still no water in the canyon at all so were glad of diverting to the Escalante yesterday. After clambering up some rock ledges on the west side we picked up a faint trail paralleling the canyon with some great views back into The Gulch. We dropped again hoping to descend back into the canyon and reached a cairned point at the top of a slab/wall. We looked at this drop for a while and decided to give it a miss as it appeared too risky for us! Maybe would be easier in ascent…..

Instead of heading further up The Gulch as we had hoped, our new aim was to cross country over to Boulder Creek and head up that canyon. This again was nice viewful hiking in pleasant temperatures winding our way over to the ‘Bingham Tea Bench’ and actually crossing our tracks from a hike in October 2017. We reached a col and then descended very gradually in a superb slickrock valley south west towards Boulder Creek. This is gorgeous country out here and needless to say we hadn’t seen anyone else yet (nor would we til we hit the road- Highway 12- tomorrow afternoon).

We passed a few deep potholes and gratefully took some water. It appears that we are in a dry period as this year there doesn’t seem to have been the usual wet spell in late summer to replenish the water sources.

At the point where the pothole drainage drops into Boulder Creek it looks impossible to scramble into the creek. However about 300m to the north we found ‘The Crease’, a 30 foot slabby corner that provides a doable way down- maybe about Class 4 in descent? We were happy to lower the backpacks first to make the slightly slippy scrabble a bit easier.

We were now just above the Boulder Creek Narrows, a tremendous narrow canyon with the river running through a subway style rocky cleft. Leaving the backpacks behind we waded downstream for a bit. I guess it would be a lot harder if the water levels were higher, but as it was, we turned round at a pool which would have required a swim to cross.

Boulder Creek narrows

Back at the packs, we now headed up Boulder Creek. The canyon walls were not too high, but narrow, and the river itself was pretty chocked up with vegetation. At times we hiked up above on slabs, at times we hacked through the willowy brush, but often the easiest way was up the bouldery river (as per the name!). At one point Brian was suspended above the creek pinned to willow branches, with lots thrashing he managed to disentangle from the shrubbery with some scrapes and tears to show for it.

After we passed the confluence with Deer Creek the water volume went right down, but even then there were some waist deep pools to wade through. It felt tough going upstream and we were again thankful for the low water levels. An interesting sight was that the river was packed full of fish – rainbow and brown trout- plus the odd snake.

We found another great campsite above the creek bed on a superb wide slickrock bench. A great if slightly tough day.

Camp above Boulder Creek

Wednesday 18th September 2019 In the morning we had an explore of the slabs around camp before heading back into the creek again. Good to see some hummingbirds and we now came across a fair bit of beaver activity- with chopped trees and a few dams.

In late morning we made it to the middle exit point described in the Steve Allen guide and picked up a way out of the canyon and climbed fairly easily out on slabs all the way up to Highway 12. We had about 3 miles to hike south down the road to the car at the Escalante bridge and this was surprisingly pleasant with cool winds and little traffic.

All in all another great little backpack!

Boulder Creek

US South West

We have visited an area in the south west of the United States called the ‘Colorado Plateau‘ a number of times now. The plateau covers the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and southern Utah. It is characterised by high desert, deep canyons, steep rock cliffs, forests and vivid colours. For us the attraction is in the vast wild countryside that provides endless adventures for backpacking, exploring, hiking, scrambling as well as paddling and rock climbing. There are many signs of prehistoric cultures too: Ancestral Puebloan, including the ‘Anasazi,’ Sinagua, Fremont, and Cohonina. And thankfully much of the area is public lands such as National Parks, National Monuments and Wilderness Areas (although under some threat from the current Trump administration).

Listed below are our outdoor adventures- many with links to blog posts.

Autumn 2019

We visited California in Autumn 2019 and took a 10 day break to hike in southern Utah again from September 14th. We stayed in the Escalante catchment for another two excellent 4 day hikes covering some new territory for us.

Escalante – Bobsway and Stevens Arch

Escalante- The Gulch and Boulder Creek

Autumn 2018

We returned to southern Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona in October 2018 for more backpacking in this wonderful area.

Buckskin Gulch slickrock

Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks

Escalante – Bighorn Canyon, Harris Wash and the ‘Cosmic Navel’

Capital Reef NP – Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek

Zion – Canaan Mountain traverse

Escalante – Scorpion Gulch

Grand Canyon North Rim Loop (Indian Hollow-Colorado River-Kanab-Jumpup Canyons)

Video summary of our 2018 hikes ( 9 minutes)

Autumn 2017

Back again to the canyons and high desert of the US south west in October 2017! We flew from Scotland to Las Vegas and rented a car with 3 and a half weeks to get out and backpack further into some new areas.

Canaan Mountain and White Domes loop north of Hildale

Escalante – Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante-Brigham Tea Bench-Boulder

Capital Reef NP – Upper Muley Twist and the rim route

Grand Gulch area – East Slickhorn-San Juan-Slickhorn canyon loop

Dark and Youngs Canyons

Hackberry Canyon-Yellow Rock-Paria canyon

Video summary of our 2017 hikes (10 minutes)

Autumn 2016

Back to the desert and canyons of southern Utah and northern Arizona in September/ October 2016. Two years ago we hiked and kayaked our own version of the Hayduke Trail. Having enjoyed it so much we returned this year with a rental car to hike to some other canyons and interesting places. Whilst we wouldn’t get the full immersion of a multi month hike such as the Hayduke, we were aiming to target some of the most spectacular places in the region with some trips ranging from  1 to 5 days.

Paria river backpack I

Paria river backpack II

Escalante – Death Hollow, Bowington and Boulder Mail trails

Escalante – Silver Falls, Harris, Escalante, Neon and Choprock canyons I

Escalante – Silver Falls, Harris, Escalante, Neon and Choprock canyons II

Escalante – Peekaboo, Spooky and Brimstone slot canyons day trip

Canyonlands National Park- Horseshoe canyon

Canyonlands National Park- Salt Creek backpack

Escalante – Farewell- Wolverine and Little Death Hollow canyons

Video summary from our 2016 hikes (6 minutes)

Spring 2014

xUSA-google-map-390

The Hayduke Trail is a 800 mile hike and scramble through the canyons of the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah and northern Arizona USA. Read about our trip on this wonderful route here…Hayduke hike

2009

We had 6 months in the USA in 2009 to mainly hike the wonderful Continental Divide Trail. We also managed a few short trips to the desert south west before after the CDT though…

Grand Junction CO – Colorado National Monument

Montrose CO – Dominguez canyon

Mesa Verda National Park CO

Montrose CO – Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Montrose CO – Dolores Canyon

New Mexico – Chaco Canyon

Arizona – Monument Valley

Canyonlands NP – Needles hikes

Moab UT – Slickrock trails mountain bike

Canyonlands NP – Islands in the Sky

IMG_5061
Chaco Canyon

2004

Our first visit to southern Utah and it was a bit of a revelation to us contrasting with the green and wet Scottish scenery. We did a number of hikes, scrambles and rock climbs…

Grand junction CO – Colorado National Monument

Moab- Kane Valley rock climbs

Moab – Negro Bill canyon

Arches NP – Off Balance Rock rock climb

Arches NP – Owl Rock rock climb

San Rafeal Reef

Goblin SP – Wildhorse Canyon – Crack Canyon

Capital Reef NP – Fern’s Nipple

Capital Reef NP – Sulphur Creek, Cassiday Arch

Capital Reef NP -Burro canyon, Rim Overlook trail

Escalante – Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls

Escalante – Coyote Gulch and Stevens Canyon

Escalante – Spooky and Peekaboo Gulches

Grand Gulch loop hike

Canyonlands NP – South Six Shooter rock climb

Canyonlands NP -Needles

Moab – Slickrock mountain bike

Moab – Fisher Towers, Ancient Art rock climb

P5180017-fisher-towers-ancient-art-small
Ancient Art Fisher Towers

Moab – Castleton Tower rock climb

Grand Junction – Independance Monument rock climb

Telluride – Lizard Head peak

Scorpion Gulch

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!

1010 006 DSC04132 pano
Early Weed TH with the Henry Mountains in the distance

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!

Bighorn Canyon, Harris Wash and the ‘Cosmic Navel’

A splendid short scrambling backpack past some amazing sights in the Escalante catchment.

Wednesday 3rd October 2018 With wet weather over the last few days and more forecast, we decided to cut down our ambitious plans for a week long hike in the Escalante catchment and instead go for a 2 or 3 day loop down into the Upper Harris Wash area of Escalante.

We parked on the Sheffield Road a few miles off Highway 12 east of Escalante with an eery mist hanging over the canyons. The sun soon broke through though and we started off down into the slickrock of Bighorn Canyon. This is a tremendously colourful place with generally easy hiking broken up by some interesting scrambling down slots and bypasses round the trickier drops. We left the backpacks at the junction with the west fork of Bighorn and explored it’s narrow slot for a while past some surreal swirling rock layers.

1003 079 DSC03855 bighorn west fork beetle

All too soon we arrived at the junction with the larger more open canyon of Upper Harris Wash. The temperature was still cool and this was an enjoyable hike with wide views out to the canyon walls and puffy clouds studding the deep blue sky.

We stopped beside a shady wall for a late lunch before continuing down the dry streambed seeing some people heading for Zebra and Tunnel Canyons. Soon after that Harris narrowed and a trickling stream appeared running down a mellow green avenue of cottonwoods. We noticed lots of woodpeckers along with coyote and turkey footprints in the muddy wash.

Just as the canyon widened a little we scrambled up onto the southern slickrock slopes and set up camp on flat rock overlooking the canyon in a lovely spot. We have been prefering camping on rock out here in Utah where possible as we make very little impact compared with camping on soil or sand. Our freestanding tent and inflatable sleeping mats make it easy too and it opens up the option of more interesting and often viewful sites.

Thursday 4th October 2018 Massive pyrotechnics last night as thunderstorms gradually came closer accompanied by torrential rain. So glad we pitched the tent above the canyon floor!

In the morning Harris Wash had flooded from a trickle of clear water to a muddy torrent about 15 meters wide. Crossing the river now looked impossible but at least the rain had stopped and the sun was out again.

[Click here or the image below for a short video clip]

1004 098 DSC03891 harris crossing

 

 

 

 

 

After a pleasant breakfast in the sun we scrambled out of the canyon to the south and followed slabs pitted with fresh pools of water to then descend back to Harris at the 2WD trailhead. The river is wider here and levels appeared to have dropped allowing us to wade across to the north side fairly easily. Cattle trails gave quick progress along beside the line of cottonwoods but the cows have grazed heavily and the vegetation looked pretty damaged.

Soon enough past Red Breaks canyon we picked up a jeep track heading northwards under a lovely clear sky and cumulus clouds. Our target was a geological oddity and wonderful sight given various names such as the Cosmic Navel or Volcano.

A cold southerly wind at our backs assisted us up to the volcano sitting near the top of a slickrock hill. Wow! -a huge hole in the rock filled with red sand and a rock island sitting inside. Its not really a volcano but is believed to be an old river meander or abandoned meandor (rincon) raised up through time to the top of the hill.

1004 123 DSC03920 pano cosmic ashtray1004 157 DSC03941 pano cosmic ashtray

After exploring around the volcano we headed north over a beautiful undulating sea of slickrock before reluctantly descending to Big Spencer Flats and picking up a dirt road. This was a long walk back to the car but the clear air and panoramic views made up for it to round off a superb hike!

1004 196 DSC03949 north from cosmic1004 197 DSC03950 north from cosmic1004 200 DSC03953 north from cosmic on big spencer flat1004 204 IMG_20181005_094223 escalante outfitters

 

 

 

 

 

Upper Muley Twist and the rim route

Monday 9th October 2017 Back at the town of Escalante we camped at Escalante Outfitters on a cold and windy night. We have a couple of days before we need to return to Escalante as Martina has a Skype interview arranged for a job back in Scotland.

We decide to go for a loop hike in Steep and Hot canyons, north of the Burr Trail road and have a leisurely morning shopping, drinking coffee, writing cards and preparing our food for an overnighter.  Two dusty looking hikers arrived at the Outfitters who looked like Haydukers and sure enough it’s Bert Gils from Belgium and Monique Weir from New Zealand. We had a great chat and they sound like they are having an incredible hike and are looking fit and in good form. Making us feel more than a little jealous of their long hike and the stunning scenery of the Hayduke that awaits them as they head on westwards.

1009-20171009_111350-bert-geils-and-monique-weir-hayduke-hikers
Monique and Bert

Later on we drive along the Burr Trail and descend a shallow wash into Steep Creek. It’s choked with old spiney and scrapy willow but we hack our way through heading northwards upstream. After about an hour we decide that the potential scenic benefits of this hike possibly don’t merit the bushwacking! If this had been part of a longer thru hike we would have kept at it but since this was just an overnighter we turned back, with thoughts on heading into hopefully scenic Upper Muley Twist canyon instead.

Back to the car at 5pm we drive another 25 miles east to the Upper Muley 2WD Trailhead in beautiful crisp low light and start hiking north. Firstly along a 4WD track into the canyon then just following the dry bed of the canyon. Some great arches on the way too.`

1009-IMG_2589-upper-muley-twist1009-IMG_2596-upper-muley-twist

We dry camped around 7pm on sand just next to the dry wash and settled in for a cold starry night.

Tuesday 10th October 2017 Minus 5 in the bell end of the tent in the morning and we set off further up canyon with easy hiking wearing all our clothing layers! the canyon walls close in nicely as the wash twists it’s way along. More great arches and an owl flies by. We drop our backpacks at an arch on the west and explore the slot canyon heading up onto the plateau to the west (we think this is part of Jamal’s Hayduke alternate route to Escalante).

1010-20171010_094234-upper-muley-twist1010-20171010_102518-upper-muley-twist

1010-IMG_2603-upper-muley-twist
Martina forming an arch on the side canyon

1010-IMG_2599-upper-muley-twist
Good Moon Rising

Back in the main Upper Muley Twist canyon we head up further to a narrow slot and a climb up a 20 foot dryfall where we haul the rucksacks up using our cord that we carry. The canyon dead ends a short way after this though so we lower ourselves back down again and retrace our steps for about 300m to see a cairn marking an exit from the canyon that we missed in our excitement!

This cairn marks a fun contorted route along the east wall of the canyon scrambling around obstacles before heading more directly up east onto the rim of the ‘waterpocket fold’ itself.  We were now on a rocky ridge overlooking Strike Valley to the east with beautiful wavy rock layers and distant views out east to the Henry Mountains and Tarantula Mesa. A series of cairns followed the ridge line southwards with wonderful hiking and views before, too soon, we descended back down into Upper Muley Twist and back down to the car.

1010-IMG_2617-upper-muley-twist-rim-route

Escalante loop- Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante-Brigham Tea Bench-Boulder

Thursday 5th October 2017 We left Kanab campsite and drove on one of our favourite drives up through Orderville lined by beautiful autumnal cottonwoods and sparkling cold sun, then over the high plateau past Bryce canyon and onto Escalante town through stark but beautiful scenery. We asked at the ranger station about the state of Death Hollow river level as the river had defeated us last year with its deep, cold, fast flowing water. The ranger had one report of a team that had turned back recently at the crux narrows  but we decided to head in anyway as the autumn has been dry and we expected the water levels to be reasonably low.

We left the car at a windswept and dusty turn off about 2 miles west of the town of Boulder in mid afternoon at the eastern trailhead of the Boulder Mail Trail. Having hiked the west portion of this trail last year and finding it to be superb we were so glad to be back now on the eastern side.

1005-IMG_2398-Boulder-Mail-Trail---Boulder-trailhead-at-the-east-side

An easy hike to start on good trail winding its way through pinyon – juniper scrub before we dropped height onto slickrock and to cross Sand Creek with running water and lush cottonwoods, greenery and even some aspen. From there we continued west on slickrock before a bigger drop down rock into stunning Death Hollow. It was evening now and our thoughts were to finding a campsite before dark and we waded downstream in and out of the river of Death Hollow before finding the same site as last year on sparkling white sand on the canyon floor underneath ponderosas. Wonderful!

1005-IMG_2405-BMT
Into Sand Creek

1005-IMG_2417-down-into-death-hollow
Dropping down into Death Hollow itself

1005-Death-Hollow-camp-pano-2
Camp in Death Hollow

Friday 6th October 2017 Now for the descent down Death Hollow to the Escalante which had defeated us last year. The river bed here is filled with hard wearing volcanic boulders in many places making for tougher going than many of the canyon rivers here abouts. That plus the ubiquitous outcrops of poison ivy along the river banks slowed us down initially. The scenery was superb though with towering walls and the green canyon floor filled with tall ponderosas.

As we continued the going got easier and steady as we often followed faint trails on the banks between river crossings. The water warmed up into the day making the river crossings easier too. Often the bed of the stream was slickrock sandstone layer. It occasionally dropped off into potholes or deep clefts though such that we had to keep concentrating. We passed the junction of Mamie Creek which was a useful marker point and stopped for a bagel lunch on a beach with sparkling blue pools.

1006-20171006_110650-death-hollow
Lunch before the Death Hollow narrows

Next up was a section of narrows which were exciting! The water roared through a subway shaped slot with rock overhead forcing us down to a crawl and a sloping slippery ledge under the water for feet. A mistake would have made for a cold swim but we both made it and from then on Death Hollow was more mellow but continually beautiful. Saw some canyon wrens, dippers, blue jays, woodpeckers, 2 snakes and a buzzard!

We made it to the junction with the Escalante River at 3pm and noted that the Escalante had much less flow than Death Hollow.  We continued down the Escalante with some trails, river crossings and bushwacking to camp near the Natural Bridge. What a great day!

1006-IMG_2445-death-hollow
Death Hollow

1006-IMG_2449-death-hollow
Death Hollow

1006-IMG_2478-death-hollow

1006-IMG_2497-escalante-river

1006-IMG_2501-escalante-natural-bridge
Escalante Natural Bridge

Saturday 7th October 2017 A cold night. Our shoes and socks froze overnight and we had a slow start waiting for the sun to hit us and thaw us out. We walked downstream along and across the Escalante river which was broader and more open here with sagebrush flats but still fringed by red rocky cliffs.

We crossed Highway 12 and saw a few people here around the trailhead, soon leaving the road and people though on a good mellow trail. Stopped to watch a canyon wren dart about on the rock only a couple of meters away. It had a white breast and long curving beak- good for extracting insects from cracks in the rock? There are a few well marked river crossings but mostly this section of the Escalante down to Boulder Creek is easy and relaxing hiking. Golden cottonwoods lined the river.

At Boulder Creek we hit a huge pile up of wood and flood debris which had formed a large island with rapids through the wood. Just beyond was a fresh downed cottonwood tree, with distinctive beaver teeth marks. Impressive!

Half an hour later we found our exit point from the river on the ‘Brigham Tea Bench as described by the Steve Allen guide and stopped for lunch in the shade from the now hot sun at about 2.15pm.

A faint trail climbed up rock slabs to a dessicated wooden ‘line shack’- an old cabin complete with an old bed and table. From there we headed north on a mix of sandy flatlands and swirly slickrock following a wide bench between the high escarpment on our left and the canyon of the Gulch on our right/east. It was hot and sometimes tiring on the sand but the wild atmospheric open views were a great contrast to the canyon walking.1007-IMG_2508-escalante-river1007-IMG_2514-escalante-river1007-IMG_2516-escalante-river-beaver1007-IMG_2519-brigham-tea-bench-line-shack

We decided to keep going into the evening to reach a series of rocky pools on the other side of a saddle on our western escarpment. Made it there to a wonderful campsite on a small patch of sand amongst rippled rock with a string of pools below us descending down the rock slabs. Crystal clear starry night and totally quiet- another great day!

1007-notch-camp-2-20171007_181041

Sunday 8th October 2017 Warm still air in the morning (8C) and we left the tent to scramble up the creased slabs to the north. The slabs were too steep to be taken direct but zig zagging and following lines of weakness allowed us to reach the summit with multiple pinnacles. What a spot!- which didn’t look like it sees many visitors at all but with extensive views across this remote sandstone area with the higher slopes of Boulder Mountain to the north.

1008-IMG_2549-brigham-tea-bench-dome-climb

Back at the tent we decided to also have a look at the water line dropping westwards before packing up and leaving the campsite. Numerous potholes and vegetated pond oasis’s made it another lovely area to explore.

1008-IMG_2560-brigham-tea-bench-down-towards-deer-creek

After a superb start to the morning we continued hiking north along the slabby eastern side of the dome escarpment until it faded away and we turned west to follow shallow washes into Deer Creek. Just before Deer Creek we hit an obstacle of a 30 foot cliff but after a bit of hunting around we found a slender tree trunk lying against the cliff and were able to shimmy down to the bottom. A bit more scrambling through bush, across Deer Creek then up walls on the west side aided by some juniper trees and we emerged onto a trail heading northwards upstream.  Relaxed hiking past autumnal cottonwoods followed before we hit the Burr Trail tarmac road at a campsite and picnic tables.

1008-IMG_2579-deer-creek-PANO1008-IMG_2584-deer-creek

From here we hiked north west on the Burr Trail towards Boulder town on tarmac. Paved road is not our favourite hiking but at least the scenery out here made it very pleasant and there was very little traffic although a supported cycle group came past at one stage. Eventually we caved in and hitched back to the car beyond Boulder. But what an excellent 4 day loop, with lots of scenic interest, variety, scrambling and a few side trips. Recommended!

More photos here

Loop hikes in Utah’s Escalante by Steve Allen – the bible to the Escalante area, a brilliant guidebook and a must buy. But getting rather dated (published 1997).

Jamal’s Across Utah description including part of this loop in a Hayduke alternate looks superb.