Wind, clouds, rain showers, and cool weather- this summarises the eight days I took to “finish” my trek of the Escalante River. I know it is still spring, but I had hoped for more summer-like weather. I began on the 12th of May at the Moody Canyon trailhead, about 20 miles down the Wolverine Loop road from the Burr Trail. The road to the trailhead is well maintained, and if dry it is not really a problem for almost any vehicle, although a high clearance, 4WD is recommended in case bad weather does move in. From the trailhead I walked for 8 days to complete a loop back to my start point. Along the way I saw a few rock art panels, endless geologic marvels, was serenaded by flycatches and towhees, and had an overall terrific experience alone in the bush.
Swimming the Escalante
My first day took me down to the river. On day two I walked up river to 25 Mile Wash and back to “connect” this walk to my 2009 walk from the Highway 12 bridge down to and out 25 Mile Wash. After that the walk really got interesting. The weather grew cooler, wind blew, rain fell, and the river got rougher with every kilometer I walked down it. River crossings- there were at least 25 each day- were deeper, swifter, and colder as I got further down river. I had to swim on a number of occasions, floating my pack alongside me. A note on crossing rivers- as a safety measure when crossing swifter water always unclip your breast strap and waist belt and at least loosen your pack straps, or remove one arm entirely. If you should happen to lose your balance and fall in the current it is far better to swim out of it without a backpack strapped to you, which can become quite dangerous in some circumstances. By the last day of walking down the river the flow had peaked, and as I got closer to the mouth of Coyote Gulch, within a few kilometers, it began to calm and become shallow. This was mainly due to the height of the water in the reservoir below.
Floating the Escalante
Coyote Gulch is about where the Escalante starts backing up and the flat water below begins, although this year water was still flowing on past Coyote Gulch. I met a few groups of boaters along the way. All were in inflatables and two of the groups were taking the smart way out, floating all the way down and meeting a boat to shuttle them back to Bullfrog. I am told this will cost about 350 dollars or so per shuttle boat. Even if you go solo, you can try to link up with another group and split the cost of the shuttle boat out. The other option is to haul all your gear up and out Coyote Gulch, something not very fun with just a backpack, let alone a boat and river gear. Currently there is only one portage on the lower part of the river, a large boulder jam that has been there for years. Depending on the flows, there may be more than this one. The river was flowing around 100 CFS during my trip according to the USGS website, but apparently that number doubles once you reach Boulder Creek. Current river flows can be found at the USGS website.
To finish out the trip I walked up Coyote Gulch to Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch, across the mesa to the head of Scorpion Gulch, back down to the river, up river to East Moody Canyon, and out from there. It all sounds fairly easy, but don’t be fooled. It was a long one, just over 100 miles, and although the bushwhacking wasn’t too bad as compared to conditions on the upper part of the river, the river crossings and negotiating the river banks more than made up for that. Navigation was not much of an issue- follow the water down to Coyote Gulch, walk up, cross the mesa, and so on. Of course there is more to the walk than this, but for the sake of rambling and spoiling the adventure for anyone else who might choose to do it, I will stop the narrative here.
It goes without saying- but I am going to say it- that you should be prepared for this hike. Carry the gear that you will need, don’t overpack, and be in shape. There was really nothing too technical anywhere along the 100 miles of the loop other than a bit of bouldering and crawling though a few cracks here and there along the river. There was no climbing or rappelling, no need for technical gear unless you explore further up some of the side canyons such as Fools Canyon. You can walk up Fools a couple of kilometers before you reach a pouroff that requires rope and harness to get around it. From there it’s anyone’s guess.
In my experience, May is a good time to do this walk, with the chance for cool weather and lower river flows. Average river flows are around 10 CFS for May- but they could be at 200, 300, 400 CFS or higher. Temperatures should be around 75 or 80 with a sunny sky- they could be 35 or 40 with clouds and rain. Bugs were not an issue, but they certainly could be, especially if you visit later in the summer. A point of note- do keep your eyes open for poison ivy. It is all along the river, and up and down many of the side canyons, especially the lower sections of Fools Canyon and Scorpion Gulch.
Water was not an issue anywhere and excluding the river entirely, there was plenty of water in every canyon, just around every corner at this time of year. I didn’t have to filter any of it, I just filled my bottles and treated the water with the MSR MIOX purifier pen. You can read more about the MIOX at the Desert Explorer website. This fact helped to keep my pack weight down. For the most part I didn’t carry any more than a few liters of water on my back at any given time. Again, the water situation could change dramatically from year to year, and as it gets later in the summer. For more on ultralight desert backpacking, backpack foods and meals, water, and desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.
Check back in a few days for part two of this post, where I will review the new gear that I tried out on this trek including the Golite Trinity Malpais jacket, OTB DesertLite Boots, and Rokit Fuel endurance foods. You can also read our gear reviews from the first part of the trek– we tried out Sea To Summit pack liners, the Sealine HP map case, and a Drypack case for the digital camera. I’ll also touch on the geology and rock art that you might see while walking down the river, as well as a little about the flora and fauna.