This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Escalante in Southern Utah. The adventure team consisting of myself, Trina (wife), Gypsy (dog), Hannah (cousin’s girlfriend), and Riley (cousin) began our journey early Thursday morning. A 4-hour drive would take us to the start of the All-American Highway 12 in Torrey, Utah. This is one of the most scenic rides I have ever taken in my life. The scenic highway quickly gains elevation twisting and turning through Pondorosa forests leading to commanding views of Southern Utah. Perched high up on Boulder Mountain surrounded by high alpine forest in full autumn bloom, your scenses begin to fire on all cylinders. You’re able to see down into Capital Reef National Park, the Henry Mountains are east, and the beautiful La Sal Mountains of Moab are a far island range to the northeast. Highway 12 then descends down the mountain into the town of Boulder, Utah and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Luckily for us, the area in which we were to explore was not affected by government shutdown.
Our plan was to hike the Upper Escalante River Gorge, which is a 15-mile point-to-point hike. The team set out to the trailhead on Friday morning with sun, wind, and clouds. It was one of those days you were never wearing the right things because the weather kept on changing. Nonetheless, a group of 4 humans and a dog set out on a 3-day adventure.
Escalante River was flooding as recently as mid September. During normal flow rate the river usually flows somewhere between 10-20 ccf (cubic feet, think 1 basketball size). However, the mid September floods brought the river to over 500 ccfs! The river never went above our knee, but during the foods the river measured in some places at over 10 feet deep! Needless to say, the landscape was dramatically altered a few weeks prior to our arrival. Most plants were blown over from strong currents. They also acted as a net for any floating debris. A few tires would dot the river here and there and I suggested that we come back with rope and make a tire swing at every location we find one.
The team set up camp at the confluence of Death Hollow and the Escalante River. We secured a prime location on a small sandy peninsula with the Death Hollow creek to our left and the river to our right surrounded by tall towers of red rock. This location would be home for two nights. The idea of not having to break down and set up camp again sounded appealing to the weary adventurers. That night, we ate our fill on chicken and dumplings dehydrated meals, which was surprisingly tasty. The again, most things are after a 7 mile hike through river and sand with heavy packs. During clean up, I ran into a resident of our prime peninsula set-up. This furry little resident, a mouse, had made into our package of foiled-wrapped chocolates. He quickly scampered away with a chocolate token wrapped in blue foil, which must have been half as big as him. I reminded the team to pack everything into their tents. Later that night, I was awoken by the beautiful sounds from some of the peninsula’s other residents, owls. I wondered how our chocolate thief was fairing.
By staying in one spot for two days enabled us to take advantage of prime hiking time. Saturday, we planned to hike up Death Hollow and explore its narrow canyon. We left our camp shortly before the sun was directly overhead which would fill the chilly canyon floors with warmth. A mile upstream from our camp, a particularly scenic stretch of creek leads to a desert oasis. The creek settled down in this area creating a deep pool for swimming in. By arriving shortly after noon, the sun was directly overhead with more to come. Our cold wet socks and shoes quickly came off and we happily stretched our toes out in the sand. After we “warmed up all the cold out of us” we set up the canyon a little bit further. Shortly upstream we decided that the rest of Death Hollow would be left for another trip. We enjoyed some more sun before we headed back down stream for camp. We needed to get back and prep for dinner, we were scheduled for early departure for Sunday morning.
Sunday morning’s alarm went off at 7:02. Still dark on our peninsula, shrouded by the cold Escalante cliffs. Gypsy, who totally overachieved on her first backpacking trip, acted as my second alarm as she kind of plopped herself on me forcing me up. The team shortly followed suit, camp was broken done, and our first chilly steps were taken shortly after 8. The sun was far from making its presence known on the canyon floor, evident by a few patches of frost. We worshipped any bit of sun we could get that early in the day. As we pushed on, closer to our terminus, other campers who had just made their way to the river for morning duties greeted us. Tired, cold and thirsty we pushed on as the sun began to rise over the canyon edges. Sights of natural bridges, arches, and the possibility of cold beer at our finish line rejuvenated our energy. We began to encounter people with smaller packs, indicating that we were hiking along the trail with day hikers. After 4 hours of hiking we successfully finished our last 7 miles of our backpacking trip. In total, I believe we hiked close to 20 miles.
I highly recommend this hike. It was not terribly difficult, however, it is long. Death Hollow is a gem in the middle of the desert. I look forward to visiting the area during the summer to take advantage of the refreshing swimming pools. Escalante is quickly rising to the top of my favorite places. There is so much exploring to do down there. If you have any suggestions for things to do in the area, please leave me a comment.
Thanks for reading!