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.

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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!

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Into Sand Creek
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Dropping down into Death Hollow itself
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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.

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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!

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Death Hollow
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Death Hollow

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Canaan Mountain and White Domes

Tuesday 3rd October 2017 We drove east from Las Vegas stopping off overnight at Snow Canyon State Park and then onto the towns of Hildale/Colorado City on the Utah-Arizona border. Our aim was to do a two day loop hike up Water canyon onto the slickrock plateau of Canaan Mountain,camp and explore a bit before returning down Squirrel creek back to the car- map here.


We hiked up the steep trail in Water Canyon with good flowing water (as you might expect) before the trail zig-zagged upwards steeply west of the canyon floor to ‘top rock’ – a small platform overlooking the canyons. This is a superb section of hiking taking an improbable line out of the canyon and onto the rim. From there we followed slick rock drainages holding good pothole water to the summit ridge of Canaan Mountain in a beautiful area called the White Domes.

We camped near here under a full moon and the next day meandered amongst the domes enjoying the slow creep of the morning sun glancing over the slick rock. Leaving our gear at the camp, we hiked west on an old stock trail with a mix of slickrock and deep sand amidst ponderosas with views north to Zion National Park.

On return to White Domes we collected up the camping gear and followed the stock trail east through some deep sand patches. A drop down into a scooped basin on the purest of slick rock was amazing though and we crossed the head of Water canyon, over a col, then gradually on more slick rock towards Squirrel creek. This was a wonderful, traverse. At the head of Squirrel creek we crossed a heavier used trail and turned down into the canyon with its lush greenery created from a flowing spring source. A jeep trail at the bottom made for easy walking via Short creek back down to the trailhead where our vehicle was now frying in the afternoon sun!

More photos here

Squirrel and Short creek are part of an alternate of the Hayduke trail and Water canyon could be used as a further alternate to the Hayduke providing some extra stunning scenery at the cost of maybe 2-3 additional hours if you had spare energy!

You could also hike from the Water canyon trailhead north all the way over Canaan mountain to near Rockville on Highway 9 (which goes into Zion national park) as described in the guidebook ‘Favorite hikes in & around Zion National Park’.

 

 

Autumn 2017 in the US south west

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.

You can see an overview in the interactive map below and read our blogs listed below too (work in progress)…

  1. Canaan Mountain and White Domes north of Hildale
  2. Escalante loop: Boulder Mail Trail-Death Hollow-Escalante-Brigham Tea Bench-Boulder
  3. Upper Muley Twist and the rim route
  4. East Slickhorn-San Juan-Slickhorn canyon loop
  5. Dark and Youngs Canyons
  6. Hackberry Canyon-Yellow Rock-Paria canyon

 

Mallorca hike-GR221 February 2017

We hiked a short backpacking route on the Spanish island of Mallorca in February 2017. Roughly following the route GR221, we started in the north in the town of Pollenca and headed south west from there along the coastal mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana.

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Summary Overall it was a great little hike that took us 6 days, fitting well into a 1 week holiday. There was lots of variety – combining steep, high mountains, woodland, history and nice villages. We carried a tent and wild camped except for one night in the small town of Valldemossa. We hiked in late February/ March but the busiest time we think is April/May in Spring and in Autumn (September/October). It’s probably too hot in Mallorca in the summer but the climate allows for spring hiking and possibly January to early February if you can put up with short days and colder weather.

We have a photo gallery here.

Resources We used the Cicerone GR221 guidebook (2009 version, I believe a new edition is coming out in April this year), Discovery map and I also had the Cicerone Walking in Mallorca guide on my Kindle. The combination worked out well, the printed map was useful in addition to the Cicerone guide as it provided a wider picture to the sides of the trail with alternate trails and towns and roads. The Walking in Mallorca guide provided info on other trails and we followed these on a few occasions with some bad weather but also to take a higher level route than the GR221. The website Alpenquerung.info by Markus was also very useful with maps and a gpx.

Day 1 Pollenca to near Lluc We took the bus from Palma to Pollenca (the buses are excellent on Mallorca) and filled our MSR stove up with unleaded at the petrol station in Pollenca before we started walking at about midday. We immediately took off on an alternate high level route over Puig Tomir to the east of the GR221 piecing together route descriptions from the Walking in Mallorca guide and the Alpenquerung website. This was an excellent choice for us in good weather with about 1000m of ascent but following trails the whole way, taking us about 7 hours. We had good views over the north of the island to Cap de Formentor. There was a short step down rock with via ferrata cables on the descent. The water source at Coll des Pedregaret was dry. However the source at Ermita was good– we camped near here.

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Day 2 Lluc to Cuber We descended to Lluc monastery and hung about here for a while as the cloud was down, with drizzle and the winds looked strong higher up. Eventually we took a lower level route round the peak of Massanella to the south- again piecing together routes in the Walking in Mallorca guide. This turned out to be fun as it included the extraordinary Canaleta de Massanella- a mountain canal built in the 1740’s to take water down to the towns on the eastern plains. The hiking along the canal was narrow and exposed in places with the sound of gurgling water under our feet.

We crossed back onto the GR221 near the Col des Colums (plenty of water in a river on the south side of the col) and then descended down beside the concrete viaduct (more water) to Cuber reservoir to camp.

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Day 3 Cuber to south of Deia Today was a bit longer but superb and with lots of variety. An easy walk led to the Col de L’Ofre then we descended down the cobbled steep gorge of Barranc de Biniaraix to the town of Biniaraix. Water was available down the gorge in a few spots. Then we hiked through attractive town streets to Soller (the biggest town on route including an excellent small gear shop) and onto Port de Soller. Onto Deia on lower level trails past olive orchards and oak woods. The ‘Finca’ of Can Prohom provided a great excuse to stop for drinks and cake!

We took water in Deia before hiking steeply up south out of town. The trail is not marked here but heads from the main road up a minor zig-zagging road just prior to the Hotel Es Moli. We found a campsite on a terrace just before dark next to an old shepherd’s hut and water tank- maybe 45 minutes above Deia.

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Day 4 Deia to Valldemossa A short hike today up to about 920m then on the ‘Archduke’s trail’ – a cobbled wide path right along a ridge with a vertical drop off to the west and views down to the coast- superb! From there we dropped steeply through oak forest on a good trail into Valldemossa. There was a water trough on the lower slopes.

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Day 5 Valldemossa to south of Estellencs Today was a long one but over less steep terrain. We stayed high on jeep tracks avoiding the town of Balyalbufar on a newly signposted trail. There is a good water source in town in Estellencs as the road crosses the river. Heading south from the town the trail mostly stays on the coast side of the main road through forest and we found a campsite on terraces beneath the jeep track trail after about an hour.

Day 6 Estellencs to Peguera This was our final day on an alternate described in the Cicerone guidebook but now the signposted Gr221 trail on the ground (well at least to the town of Es Capdella). Hiking on below the road was easy on jeep tracks before the trail zig zags back up to the road and back north along it for a few hundred meters. There is a water tank at the trailhead on the south side of the road. The signposted trail then climbs a jeep track steeply up the hill to the new refuge ( Sa Coma d’en Vidal) under construction. It looks like it will be ready soon….

We were hit by high winds and cloud here as we climbed further on a jeep track to a high point and nicer trail down into the Galatzo valley. Just above where the trail flattens out onto jeep track again there was a good water tank with a pipe flow into the tank.

Easy hiking on jeep trails then tarmac all the way into Es Capdella town with a store. We followed the Cicerone guide description from here past S’Estrat but it looks like there is a new trail that runs beside the road all the way to Peguera.

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Wolverine and Little Death Hollow canyons

Monday 17th October 2016 With only three days left before we were due to fly out of Las Vegas back to Scotland and quite a lot of driving to do to get to Vegas, we deliberated on how to best use our remaining time. Eventually we opted for a two-day backpack in the Escalante area again – this time down Wolverine Canyon to Horse Canyon then back out via Little Death Hollow canyon – famed for it’s long narrow slot section.

Our approach to this loop was from the small town of Boulder and a drive along the tarmac Burr Trail road before turning off down the Wolverine dirt road. This was fine for a while but after a few miles it dropped into a dry sandy river wash and we were afraid of scraping the undercarriage of our nice shiny rental car. So we chose to abandon the car and start walking a bit earlier than intended!

This stop gave us 5 miles of hiking down a dirt track before reaching the canyons but the open pinyon juniper scenery was pleasant and we enjoyed the walk. Leaving the dirt track, we headed cross-country into Wolverine Canyon on gravelly, colourful Chinle rock layers and hit upon a fantastic area of petrified logs. Some of the biggest trees were about 20 meters long and one meter in diameter. The detail of bark and growth rings were amazing. Seemingly, these were conifers buried by volcanic ash and sediment around 250 million years ago and silica from the ash penetrated inside or ‘petrified’ the wood.

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Continuing down Wolverine was easy following a dry sandy wash with red Wingate sandstone cliffs towering above. The canyon gradually narrowed and meandered with a number of massive alcoves and cool scooped holes in the walls.

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The wind was gusting and kicking up sand as we exited Wolverine and hit Horse Canyon. Rather disappointingly there were 4WD vehicle tracks in the wide wash which spoiled our wilderness feeling a little. Hiking down canyon we were pleased to see some water surfacing in the bed and pretty soon there was enough of a trickle for us to stop and load up with water for the night and all of the next day.

We passed the vehicles that had made the tracks, parked at a point where the canyon narrowed and it was trail only from there on. It appeared as if this was a trail maintenance crew with horses. After about 10 minutes more we came to the junction with Little Death Hollow Canyon and hiked up, on the look out for a campsite. Martina found a great spot on a raised slab about 3 meters above the dry canyon floor. With a full moon it was a brilliant last wild camp of the holiday for us…

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Tuesday 18th October 2016 A grand moonlit, quiet night with the moon doing a traverse along the length of the canyon, so we saw it all night. Today we were to ascend Little Death Hollow Canyon which has a long, narrow slot section which we were looking forward to.

We started up a slot with deep muddy pools and slippy, slabby walls. This got us both wet and dirty. We began to think that recent flash floods meant that we were going to find more mud and water on the way ahead. For two hours the canyon stayed tight and narrow and….muddy. On a few occasions we had to crawl under boulders jammed in the canyon walls and unfortunately that meant getting stuck into some slime and dirt. It was all  fun despite both of us picking up some scrapes and bruises and the eventual opening  of the canyon came too soon!

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The remaining hike was more mellow as a trail began to form in the now wide canyon floor. But it was still scenic and we stopped at a petroglyph panel on a large boulder before arriving at the canyon trailhead on a dirt road.

All that remained now was about 3 hours of hiking north on the dirt road back to our car. Another excellent backpack which could probably be done in a long day (especially with a high clearance vehicle) but the overnight camp was definitely worthwhile for us.

More photos here….