Planning and preparation- this summarises my winter quite well. I spend a lot of my free time planning my summer trips, planning the locations, dates, distances, and meals for my explorations. This winter is certainly no different. I am currently trying to decide on a date for the Escalante trip, as well as conducting a thorough map reconnaissance of the trek. I have a limited number of two-week windows to choose from. And I need to choose a time when the water levels have gone down. At this point I will likely go in July, after the spring runoff is well past and before the late summer rains come. This will make for a nice hot walk in the desert, not the preferred time for many people, but just the way I like it. The current river flow information for the Escalante River can be found at the USGS website.
I have been working on my homemade gear designs- I have been designing and re-designing my mosquito shelter, trying to perfect it to be ready for the summer. The model I created for last summer served its purpose, especially in terms of weight, at about 4 ounces, but the design needed further attention. The setup was flawed and the net drooped and was not secure in the wind. My ultimate goal is to create a shelter that is lightweight- 10 to 12 ounces, small in size- about the size of my silcoth poncho, that provides good protection from mosquitoes, is easy to set up, and provides a “footprint” or groundcloth all in one. My latest design incorporates a silcloth floor measuring about 6 1/2 feet long and tapering from the top at 3 1/2 feet wide to 3 feet wide at the bottom. This allows me to leave my piece of Tyvek that I use as a groundcloth behind. The mosquito netting does not run the full length of the silcloth floor; the shelter is not a full tent. The lower end of the netting extends to just below my knees and includes a small diameter shock cord with a cord lock that wraps around my sleeping bag. The primary drawback to this design is in ventilation. If the bugs are bad I am forced to keep my feet and lower legs inside my bag for protection, not optimal if the temperature drops to only 80 degrees at night. I will see how this one does as soon as I have the chance. If the design proves itself, I will scan a sketch of it with dimensions and post it on the Desert Explorer website.
I added a description to the Desert Explorer website of the sunshade for our Aire inflatable kayaks I created last summer. This design worked very well. The only problem we encountered was when the wind came up. The shade is not strong enough for use in the wind. But it was the perfect shade for a flat, calm river such as the San Juan or the Green. The shade was also useful on land for shade, and very simple to set up. Read more about it at the Desert Explorer Homemade Gear page.
Guidebooks and How I Use Them
I have been reviewing information about the Escalante River and its side canyons online, from my files, and in the guidebooks I have for the area. As always, Kelsey’s Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau is indispensable. All of Kelsey’s guides are written in his unique style- the font size is small allowing each page to be packed with information, each hike description is limited to one page and laid out in the same format, and he includes a hand-drawn map and geologic column opposite the description page. His manner is straight to the point, clear, concise, and thorough. There is no searching, no wading through pages of text to find the name of a mapsheet or to see if water might be available in a certain canyon. I always start my research for any trek by consulting one of his guides. He has guides covering The Paria River, Lake Powell, the San Rafael Swell, and a river guide to Canyonlands National Park just to name a few.
For this trek I am also consulting Steve Allen’s Canyoneering 2. Allen’s style is very different from Kelsey. His guides give an hour by hour breakdown of hikes. Most of them are arranged in a longer, loop format of five to seven days or longer. They are easily amended however and you could add days to each hike, or use his guides simply for in-and-out dayhikes or overnights, or combine parts of his hikes to create loops of your own. His instructions for entrances and exits into canyons are very clear. His guides include instructions for technical climbs on all hikes, along with recommended equipment such as slings, rope lengths and belay points.
Besides these two guidebooks I am also consulting the Rivermaps Escalante River, Utah guide (scroll to the bottom of the page for the Escalante guide if you follow the link). Rivermaps guides are waterproof, spiral bound guides that have all the maps facing the proper direction- you start at the bottom of page one and float to the top. Turn the page, and float from the bottom to the top of page two, and so on. Opposite each map page are mile by mile notes on history, prehistory, geology, hikes, overlooks, and so on for the entire float. It is a great design for a river guide.
In the end, before I head into the bush, I will photocopy a page or two of Kelsey (decreasing the size, and making two-sided copies), and write down any necessary information from Allen. If I make copies, they are of hikes that I will do in their entirety, in this case overnights up side canyons. Otherwise I usually make a few notes here and there on some of the mapsheets regarding locations of springs, entrances and exits, and known ruins and rock art panels and that is all. In this way, there is no need to ever carry an entire guide book on the trail.
More information on ultralight backpacking in the desert is on the Desert Explorer Ultralight pages. You can find more of my recommended guide books as well as other titles on the Desert Explorer Book Store page.