Backpacking in the Escalante and a Grand Gulch Dayhike

A Few Days in the Escalante

Robert and I spent five days in the Escalante from 17 through 21 August, 2008. Four days were on the trail, the fifth day was at the trailhead camp that turned out to be much nicer than we expected. Our hike took us from the Horse Canyon trailhead down Horse Canyon to the Escalante River. I hiked up the river one day to The Gulch and took a look at The Gulch, about two kilometers up, and a few of its short side canyons before returning the same way. The Gulch was quite choked up, even with the recent rainstorm, and there were no tracks from other hikers visible at all. Our way out was up Horse Canyon to Little Death Hollow for a muddy walk through the slot.

An old cowboy line shack in Horse Canyon, once a train caboose.

Recent rains in the area had washed out roads throughout southeast Utah, including in the Escalante. Luck was with us though, and we were among the first to drive on recently graded roads. We had no trouble at all navigating the roads to the Horse Canyon trailhead. On the way out I drove the Wolverine Loop road back out to the Burr Trail and down the switchbacks to the east. I drove all the way to Bullfrog for (expensive) gas on the backroads. A ranger in the town of Escalante advised Robert that it wasn’t the right time of the year to go down these canyons, that they might be impassable, or choked with underbrush. He even said that the Horse Canyon trailhead afforded no good camping. Our experience was nearly the opposite.

Four days was more than enough for this hike, three would have been adequate. We chose to spend two nights at our camp right on the Escalante River. The river had calmed down by then and the water was running clean. There was no settling of the river water necessary, we just filled our bottles and Dromedary bags and used the Miox to purify the water. We took advantage of the cool water for swimming many times during our two days there.

The narrows of Little Death Hollow.

The hike up the river to The Gulch was interesting. Half of the walk was in the river, the other half following cow trails through shortcuts in the brush as the river meandered beside me.

The walk in the river wasn’t bad, kept me cool and it made me wonder about doing the entire river that way- starting out at the highway bridge north of the town of Escalante and walking down to Coyote Gulch, about 75 miles away.

It would be an interesting way to see the river. If you do any navigating of the river on foot, be sure to bring a solid pair of shoes or boots for wading.

Little death Hollow is a great slot canyon with kilometers of narrows to enjoy. Because of the recent rains it got quite muddy at times. At one point we even climbed out to skirt what appeared to be as much as 100 meters or more of water and choke stones on the canyon bottom. We were prepared for backpacking, not canyoneering, and this seemed to be the safest and most comfortable way around. I will surely return to this canyon for more exploration at another time.

Upper Grand Gulch

After leaving the Escalante I managed to spend one day hiking on Cedar Mesa in the upper end of Grand Gulch. It was a hike I had been meaning to do for years, and with it I have hiked all but about 3 kilometers of Grand Gulch. I parked right at the intersection of Highways 95 and 261 and walked right into the drainage. It took me about 3 1/2 hours to reach the junction with Kane Gulch, about 10 kilometers down canyon. I took a quick look at Junction Ruin, and returned the same way, although I veered west about 4 kilometers from my starting point where a drainage comes in from the west.

Ruin in upper Grand Gulch.

The hike was easy, except for two pouroffs about one kilometer up from the junction with Kane Gulch. One of them required a jump down, and a climb back up. The other I just skirted by climbing through a boulder field. There are at least a few ruins in this part of the canyon that are well worth seeing. The one pictured above, along with another about 500 meters away from it, were built with bright red sand from the wash in Grand Gulch immediately adjacent.  The red sand mortar had stained the stones and both ruins stood out among the deep green of the Pinyon, Junipers, Cottonwoods, desert Aspens, and Mormon tea.  They were easily visible from the canyon bottom below.

For more info on both of these hikes, and others in both areas, visit the Desert Explorer website.


One Response to Backpacking in the Escalante and a Grand Gulch Dayhike

  1. […] along the river for a day, I decided on the compromise of a backpack trip down the river.  My blog post from August 2008 tells a little about that […]

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