Dams and Silt, Trash Bags, and Human Waste

8 October 2011

As the nation’s biggest dam removal project gets underway in Washington I have finally finished cleaning the silt from my boats and gear after my recent San Juan River trip. It took a while to do, but the boats are cleaned out for the winter.The remnants of Chinle Creek and Oljato Wash are now staining my driveway and nourishing the plants in my front yard. It is amazing how much silt can get trapped in the floor of a self-bailing inflatable boat. And now, with the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams coming down, the 100 plus years of silt behind them will make its way to where it should have gone long ago. I can’t help but wonder about the impact of 100 years of silt moving down river in a couple of years.

But more importantly to me, I’d like to start wondering about our own silt trap on the Colorado and when Glen Canyon might return. It only takes a second of thought on the subject and the answer always comes: probably not in my lifetime. Even if the dam was completely silted up and stopped producing power, the revenue generated would still be a huge argument for keeping the “lake” (a lake is a naturally occurring body of water, a reservoir is a man-made pool of standing water, just to clarify) in place, no matter how much water or the condition of power generation at the dam. And think about how many writers have benefited from the dam, or at least filled newspaper editorial columns and pages of free magazines ranting over the subject through the years. I’ll leave it at that and move on to …trash.

Sea To Summit Trash Dry Sack
On our recent San Juan trip I took along a few new pieces of gear, including a dry bag specifically designed to carry trash. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years. REI used to carry it, and I went there with it on my list last summer I think. But as is so often the case with items I try to get at REI, they no longer had it. Lucky for me that Sea To Summit is here in Boulder; it took a couple of days to order it in at the Boulder Army Store. I paid about 35 dollars for the 20 liter bag. The 10 liter is about 30 dollars. Both sizes are available, although many outfitters seem to carry only the 10 liter size.

The Sea To Summit Trash Dry Bag. It made packing out our trash easier than ever on our recent San Juan float.

I only plan to use this on the river- I wouldn’t want the extra weight on my back while packing. And after a 9 day trial on the San Juan I am completely satisfied with it. The bag is pretty simple- it is a silcoth drybag with a roll-top closure, no different from other Sea To Summit bag designs. But this one also has daisy chain loops up both sides and added strips at the top edges to hold a trash bag liner in place. In the first few days we had it about a third full of trash (remember, this is the San Juan and we took along a cooler). We dumped that bag at Mexican Hat and had another about half full by reaching clay hills. There were no problems at all with it. The high points of the item are the trash bag liner inside making it easy to empty, and the loops down both sides. The loops allow for easy attachment anywhere on the boat you may have room for it.

Speaking of Waste…
A topic I have been meaning to write about all summer is that of human waste and its disposal. I know that many people think that when they go into the bush, their bathroom can be just about anywhere they choose. They feel that they are out there in the wilderness and it is just natural to squat behind a bush and do their business. Unfortunately some people think this way when they are on the river, walking down a busy trail, or in a well-used camp outside of Moab. Obviously there are a few problems with this notion.

First, “wilderness” is a subjective term. When we visit Moab for example, we camp about 20 minutes from town. To those who make one or two weekend camping trips a year, this may qualify as camping in the wilds. To me this is the suburbs of Moab, used by hundreds of campers a month. It is not a few days walk from nowhere- it is a place where someone else will camp in a day or two. Unfortunately camps like this are being trashed with human waste, diapers, beer cans, and every other type of trash you can imagine scattered through the desert (especially around Moab). Granted, this is not the case with most people who visit the area. But there are enough who consider these parts of the desert, or wherever it is they are found, a place to tear up, burn up, and leave trash. And this summer while in the Escalante I began finding the same situation along the river. As I made my way down the river from Moody Canyon I found countless places where people had defecated directly on the ground, possibly the same person/group of people, based on various tracks and sign. I found locations where groups of people had gone to the bathroom,waste on the ground, toilet paper blowing in the breeze. This is a river, with the usual river rules- pack out trash, human waste, no fires (on the Escalante), and common river runner courtesy. I wondered, in the parlance of our times, WTF?

Used Wag Bag outside of Moab. I found it as you see it, lying on the ground surface. Someone got the first part of it right- they used the bag. But then they left it here in the desert.

 And then it gets even  stranger. River runners all know about Wag Bags. Visitors to Moab are introduced to them at the visitor’s center in the middle of town. I am wondering if a little more education is in order regarding their use? Maybe something about the disposal part- the concept being to use the bag, take it back to town with you, and place it in a trash can. The bags are not meant to be left on the ground where they are used. Granted, I would expect to find something like this around Moab, based on the number of people who visit there, language barriers, and so on. But I found the same thing in the Escalante.

On my last day of walking on my recent trip there I found a slight trail down a steep wash, then some recently carved moki steps, and a cairn on the other side of the main wash while crossing Middle Moody canyon. There aren’t a lot of places to get across it and I was happy when I found this crossing after about an hour of searching, just as night was falling. As I climbed out the other side, right there in front of me, eye level next to the cairn, were a couple of used wag bags with a rock on top of them. Again, I felt a little disgusted at the site for various, obvious reasons. And the logic of those who left them is lost on me- first,why are people using Wag Bags in the middle of nowhere in the Escalante when a hole in the ground is all that is needed? And why are they leaving the bags at a cairn along a “trail”? 

So what do you do in a situation like this? I could collect them and pack them out (which I did not), I could call the Escalante visitor’s center and let them know that there are stupid people in the world (not much use in that), and then I could write about it here. Of course writing about it here is just “preaching to the choir” as they say. I am fairly certain that most of the people reading this blog don’t need a lesson on the use and disposal of a Wag Bag, or when it’s okay to dig a hole. In the end I guess it is up to us to convey our knowledge to others less enlightened than ourselves. Be sure to tell them to wash their hands when they are done.

For more about the Utah desert and our adventures there visit the Desert Explorer website.


Spiders and Beetles, Dalton Wells, Great Horned Owls, and Escalante Photos

8 August 2011

The summer is a busy time for us- busy and fun- and this summer has been one of the busiest in recent years. We have been travelling since March, barely home at all. We’ve seen and done so much that it is hard to keep up with it. This will be a quick post- a follow-up on a couple of earlier posts, and few words about our most recent trip. And as soon as I finish this one, we are off again- we have a permit for the San Juan River next week. Look for a post from that trip in a few weeks time.

Spiders and Tamarisk Beetles
As luck would have it, Nicolai and I found ourselves with some free time a couple of weeks back, and we weren’t too far from Green River Town. We stopped in town for a cup of coffee and some ice for the cooler. Then we made a visit to Crystal Geyser where we had a swim in the still-swift Green River and spent a couple of hours waiting for the geyser to blow. The geyser wasn’t too active, but we did get to talk to a researcher from Grand County who was checking the condition of tamarisk trees and the resident beetle populations. He happened to be checking a group of trees that were covered with those big spiders that we have encountered on our floats down the Green, so we asked for more information about them. He couldn’t tell us specifically about the spiders, but he did say that they seem to be following the beetle populations. It seems that they are feeding on the beetle larvae. He said that in that area in particular he had noted a couple of groves that were covered with the spiders. It seems that the beetles do have a natural, local enemy, a question I am sure that researchers asked when they were deciding whether to allow the beetles to be released.

Unidentified species of spider at our camp at Crystal Geyser. This photo was taken on our float of the Green River in 2009.

Moab and Dalton Wells
On that same trip we made a visit to Moab, as we usually do. This time we did some driving around on roads and trails in the Sovereign area  north of town. One of the entrances to the Sovereign trail is through Dalton Wells, a historic site located just off the highway. It is on the National Register and there is an interpretive plaque explaining the history of the site. Dalton Wells began as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp and was in use for that purpose from 1935 to 1942. It was one of four camps located in the Moab area. The CCC members were responsible for countless projects in the Moab Valley and surrounding area during the years the camp was in operation. These projects were initiated by the Soil Conservation Service, the National Park Service, and what would become the Bureau of Land Management and included building stock trails, water development projects, range improvements, and fencing and pasture work.

From January through April of 1943 the Dalton Wells CCC camp became the “Moab Isolation Center”, one of many relocation camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. The camp was used for this purpose only briefly, and housed “troublemakers” from such camps as Manzanar in California and Gila River, Arizona. At most it housed about 4 dozen men, who were eventually transferred to the indian school at Leupp, Arizona on 27 April, 1943.

There are a couple of websites with more information on the camp- one is the Utah State History website, the other is the National Park Service page on Citizen Relocation Centers. The latter page has a couple of photos of the camp.

Great Horned Owls
In April we made a visit to Phoenix and Tucson where we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum among other locations. There is  a blog post about that trip for those interested in reading more. In Tucson we stayed in a hotel in the foothills that was also home to a Great Horned Owl and her two young ones. The owlets lived in a large planter box surrounding the deck of a second floor room of the hotel. It appeared that the hotel was respecting the owls by keeping the associated corner room vacant. Our room was right next door to the vacant room and so we had a great view of the owls, day and night. During the day the mother would sleep in a nearby pine tree, up high near the very top. The owlets would huddle together in the corner of the box, as far from onlookers as they could get. At one point the mother brought in a cottontail for the owlets to eat. They moved the rabbit around a bit, and we got to watch one of the owlets have its morning meal. At nights the mother and young ones would perch on the edge of the planter box, keeping a close eye on everything through the night. The mother would fly off and return all through the night, and would leave early in the morning for her daytime rest in the pine tree.

Mother and owlet Great Horned owls at their hotel room in Tucson. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Mother and owlet Great Horned owls at their hotel room in Tucson. The owlet to the right that is bent over was only concerned with its rabbit breakfast. Most of the rabbit is in the foreground near the cactus.

Owlets in the planter box, Tucson. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Owlets in the planter box.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Owlets huddling together for their daily rest in the early morning. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Owlets getting ready for their daily rest in the early morning.

Final Words on Escalante Trip

I have covered nearly everything I wanted to regarding my Escalante Trek in recent blog posts. The only loose end was posting photos of the trip. I have finally done that. A series of photos from the trek is up on the Desert Explorer Picasa page. For more on our desert adventures, desert backpacking, floating and general information, visit the Desert Explorer website.

Escalante Trek, May 2011- Geology, Rock Art, Tracking, and Poison Ivy

8 July 2011

This is the third part of my May 2011 Escalante Trek blog posts. There was so much to see along the way that it was impossible to cover everything in a single post. Part one covered the trek itself, part two was gear reviews. In this post I will touch upon rock art, geology, flora, and tracking practice while hiking. It is a lot to cover I know, and this post will just scratch the surface of these topics. I am still planning a post on Leave No Trace Principles, and probably a separate post on access issues on public lands. I have seen a lot in the news lately- in the Moab, Blanding, and Monticello areas- regarding problems accessing roads and campsites that folks have been visiting for 10 or 20 years. I have had emails regarding the same. It is a topic that demands careful attention, and I will start soon with visits to a couple of BLM offices in southeast Utah to ask some questions. But for now, it is back to the Escalante.

Geology
Whenever I find myself in a canyon I am always captivated by the countless millions of years of geologic history in front of me. And I always wish I knew a bit more about what I was seeing. The Escalante area is no excepotion- it is a geologic wonder. With so many different formations and so much geologic time represented there, volumes could be written on the geology of the area. Oddly, a thorough search of the internet yielded very little information about exactly which formations you are walking through as you make your way down the river, at least if you are a novice geologist. If you can read a geologic surface map, or follow a technical paper written specifically for geologists, then you will find some detailed data available. I had expected to find a geologic map of the canyon bottom for the hiker walking down the river, but found very little other than references to the formations themselves. And those were not specific. So the task remains for a geologically minded canyon bottom hiker to give us such a map. I’d really like to see one.

thin sheet of quartzite material on navajo sandstone slab, escalante river, utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Thin sheet of quartzite, about 1/8 inch thick at most, on a slab of Navajo sandstone along the river. This was a rather common occurrence on the lower section of the river.

From the Moody Canyon trailhead I began my walk in the Wingate and Chinle formations, which apparently dip down and disappear at the river. Most of what I walked through was Navajo sandstone, in the lower part of the river canyon, and up Coyote Gulch.

While I wish I knew more about the specifics of what I was viewing- the depositional environment, the minerals that caused the specific colors, and the events that caused the folding, bending, and dipping- enjoying the imposing beauty of the vertical Navajo sandstone walls, the fluted columns of the Wingate sandstone, or the colorful Chinle shales is usually enough. Not much needs to be said about the Navajo walls- for me they represent the desert canyons with their dark, patinated, vertical walls reaching hundreds of feet high, and the occasional arch such as Stevens arch near the mouth of Coyote Gulch.  

The Chinle formation is one that I have not had much experience with, but on this trip I got to see and feel it up close. On my last day of walking I had to cross through it on my way up and out of East Moody canyon. It was a wet day and the clayey material, revealing ancient swamps and waterways, stuck to my boots, more with every step, until each foot weighed 10 pounds more. But the moisture only added to the beauty- the purples were deeper, the greens brighter, and the extra weight on my feet just added to the adventure.

Another unique geologic feature that I have wondered about for years are “Moqui marbles”. These are round or near-round sandstone spheres varying in size from BB-size up to an inch or more in diameter. I have found them on the mesa top in the Escalante in a few different locations. Don’t confuse Moqui marbles with tumbled sandstone “marbles” found in stream beds. The formation processes for each are completely different. Moqui marbles are formed during the deposition of sand as iron froth-coated air bubbles in very wet sand. Eventually they weather out of the parent material and are found, in the Escalante at least, in large concentrations making their way down gentle slopes.

"Moqui marbles"- ironstone concretions found weathering out of sandstone. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

"Moqui marbles"- ironstone concretions found weathering out of sandstone.

Rock Art
I encountered only a few rock art panels along the river, and a few in Coyote Gulch. As it usually goes, I likely walked by at least as many as I saw. They will be there for the next trip. All of the panels that I saw were small in size and number of elements compared to most panels I have seen both in and out of the area. Perhaps it has something to do with the rough nature of the lower part of the river canyon. The early inhabitants likely chose more hospitable locations for hunting and living and making art, if in fact it was art. Excluding one panel in Coyote Gulch, all were petroglyphs. Coyote Gulch has a few impressive panels, one of which is a pictograph of at least 5 near life-size anthropomorphs. For me, there is nothing quite like finding rock art. And finding life-size human figures staring down at me from a canyon wall, knowing that they have been there for hundreds of years, is really a humbling experience.

A small rock art panel along the lower Escalante River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A small rock art panel along the lower Escalante River.

Tracking
Whenever I walk in the canyons I am always on the lookout for tracks. I search them out not only to identify them, but also to follow them. This is how you learn to track- by finding and following them, by reading them, and by building a profile of the quarry you are tracking. On a previous trip in the Escalante, on the upper part of the river, Robert and I made it a point to follow the turkey tracks that we found all along the river. Not only did we practice finding and following the freshest tracks, but after a while we found that the turkeys led us to the easiest paths and around obstacles.

On this trip I found the usual turkey, beaver, coyote, fox, and of course human tracks. Walking along the river margin, in many places there was only a narrow strip of dry land. I followed the tracks of a previous hiker through much of that. It was interesting to see where this person chose to cross the river, when to climb through or over or under obstacles. By following any set of tracks, after a time you begin to build a picture of who or what made the tracks, and you can begin to anticipate their next move. In this case it was a male traveling alone, on the river for days, and with plenty of experience in route finding and canyon bottom travel. Even when I stopped looking for the tracks, I found that I was still following them, that this person and I shared our choices for a route down river.

A Quick Note About Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy is found all along the Escalante River and in many of the side canyons. The river corridor, and the side canyons draining into it, tend to be very wet. They are perfect locations for Poison Ivy to thrive. Keep your eyes open for the stuff- you will find it everywhere there is a constant source of water. If you come down Scorpion Gulch, be especially watchful. The narrows down near the river require either careful wading through the potholes, or more careful squeezing and scrambling along the stream edge. Either way you will be negotiating a Poison Ivy jungle. I have taken to wearing long pants most of the time and also carry a small bottle of Tecnu, a soap made specifically to combat the oils deposited on the skin when you brush against the plant. 

Poison Ivy in a relatively dry location just up Fool's Canyon form the river. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Poison Ivy in a relatively dry location just up Fool's Canyon from the river. It gets much thicker further up canyon where spring-fed pools of water are common.

For more on the Escalante Region, Poison Ivy and other desert flora, tracking and geology, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Escalante Trek, May 2011- Gear Reviews

29 May 2011

This post is a continuation of my post from 27 May, which outlined a recent trek down the Escalante River. In this post I will discuss some of the new gear that I tried out on this recent backpack trip. I should state that I am not paid nor sponsored by any of the companies whose products I am writing about. With the exception of Rokit Fuel, I purchased all products reviewed here and was not contacted by any of the companies. Rokit Fuel is a semi- solicited review- I received the products from the company for free for my own trial use.

Golite Malpais Trinity Rain Jacket
My most important piece of new gear on this trip, based on the cool and sometimes wet conditions that I encountered, was the Golite Malpais Trinity Jacket. In packing I hoped for warm weather, but was prepared for anything- and that is where this jacket comes in. Normally I carry only a silcloth poncho which serves as my rain gear, pack cover, and shelter. I also carry a Golite Wisp wind shirt to add a little more protection if it’s windy. On this trip, based on the potential for cool and wet weather, the amount of time I would be out, and the distance involved, I switched the Wisp out for the Malpais. I pulled the jacket out on about day 3 and I barely took it off until I got back to the trailhead. I even slept in it on one particularly cool night.

Golite Malpais jacket

The Golite Malpais Liteshell jacket.

I make every attempt to travel as light as possible and in doing so I haven’t carried rain gear in many years. But this jacket has changed my way of thinking, and I’ll keep it in my pack. The Malpais jacket weighs only 7 ounces, about 3 ounces more than the Wisp shirt. The jacket is made of Golite’s ultralight 3-layer Trinity material, a waterproof, breathable fabric and is the lightest that Golite makes. Besides the Trinity fabric, to get to such a light weight they did away with pit zips, most of the cordlocks, hood stowage, and made the interior pockets out of a super thin mesh material. After days in the jacket, and hour upon hour of rain on one occasion, I was comfortable and dry underneath. Without question, if you are looking for a lightweight rain jacket that will really protect from the elements, this is it.

OTB DesertLite Boots
Next on my list of impressive new gear is the OTB (Over The Beach) DesertLite boot. I needed strong, comfortable footgear for this trek that would perform well on land and not fall apart being wet for 4 or 5 days straight. These boots were designed by U.S. Navy SEALS and are engineered and manufactured by New Balance. Those two facts made me take a closer look at the boots.

The OTB line has in it two 8 inch boots that I looked at- the DesertLite boot and the JungleLite boot. The boots are exactly the same in every respect, except in color and leather finish. The DesertLite boot is available in a tan upper with suede tan leather finish, the JungleLite boot comes in olive drab or black upper with polished black leather. I chose the DesertLite simply because the color fits in better in my area of operation.

OTB DesertLite boots. Photo by Gerrald Trainor.

OTB DesertLite boots.

The boots feature mesh ventilation holes on the instep and the outside of the boot, 3 on a side. These holes function as drain holes when working in a wet environment. The uppers are mesh and drain extremely well and quickly when stepping out of water. I was concerned that the drain holes might let sand in, either in the water or when walking on dry land. I did find that a small amount of fine silt did make its way into the boot, but the amount was negligible. I was also concerned about drying. But each morning when I put the boots back on they were comfortably dry, enough so that if I were on dry land for the day, my feet wouldn’t feel wet. I did set the boots out in the sun on a slab of sandstone one afternoon to see how long they took to dry completely. In about two hours they were dry to the touch, inside and out.

I wore these boots for 8 straight days, they were wet for 6 of those days, and I traveled just over 100 miles in them. The only visible wear in that time is on the “reinforced climbing rubber” on the inside of the toes. A small piece tore off on the upper corner of both boots- I did do a large amount of scrambling up and down and over sandstone boulders and rocks. Other than that, it is hard to tell that I just put a very tough 100 miles on the boots.

As far as I know there are no other boots or shoes out there that are anywhere near comparable to the OTB DesertLite boot. I have tried other “water shoes” (see the reviews from the first part of the Escalante Trek) and found them woefully inadequate- fine for frisbee in the park, but nothing beyond that. The OTB DesertLite boot gets the job done.

Rokit Fuel Endurance Foods
I am constantly refining, amending, and otherwise changing my packing lists, the gear that I carry, and the foods that I carry and eat while in the bush. I make most of my own meals by the way- see our Backpack Foods pages for more on that. I was recently emailed by a representative of Rokit Fuel, a local, Utah company, and asked if I would try their products. As I am always happy to try any new outdoor product on the market, I heartily agreed.

Crystal from Rokit Fuel supplied me with three of their products in various flavors- Stud Muffin and Cherry Almond Cereal Cups, two prototype Energy Bars (not yet on the market- but coming soon as Booster Bars according to the Rokit Fuel website), and four flavors of their Cereal Pouches. I can summarise my experience with all of them in one word- delicious!

Okay, so good taste is obviously important, but what about the energy part of the foods? I have to admit that it is really hard for me to tell sometimes how an energy bar, or endurance food in this case, actually affects me. I can say that I specifically tried the products at a time when I needed a boost, on longer parts of the walk, and in between meals. Based on this I can say without a doubt that I got the boost that I needed. The highlight of all the products is the fact that they are made with whole foods- grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits- and that these foods in minimally processed form are better for you and are digested and absorbed faster by your body then processed foods. The products range in calorie content from about 250 calories for the Cereal Pouches to about 350 calories for the Cereal Cups. There are plenty of carbs, protein, fiber, and other good things you need when out there pushing yourself. See the Rokit Fuel website for a complete nutritional breakdown of all their products.

On to the products- the Cereal Pouch comes in a small bag and requires water. This could be an obvious problem if you are in a race or on your bike for example, but for backpacking it becomes a non-issue. In fact it only took seconds for me to tear the pouch open, squeeze water into it from my Camelbak tube, mix it up and enjoy it. I was concerned about how it might mix up, how long it might take. But again, it wasn’t an issue. Once the water was in it took a few seconds of massaging the pouch until all the ingredients were saturated. And the outcome- imagine a quick few bites of tasty granola cereal in milk right on the trail. Or maybe a liquid granola bar. Either way, it tasted great and I was on my way in a couple of minutes. My favorites were the pumpkin chocolate and the stud muffin.

The Cereal Cups come in some of the same flavors as the Cereal Pouches. If you are using those oatmeal breakfast packets from the grocery store shelf, the ones that require 3 or 4 to fill you up, and end up being a gooey mess, you should look into the Cereal Cups. I dumped mine into pint Ziplock bags. In the morning I poured enough hot water into the bag to moisten the contents, closed it up for a few minutes, and my breakfast was ready. Each cup makes a decent sized, filling, and not-too-sweet trail breakfast. Give the cherry almond a try.

Rokit Fuel Cereal Cup dumped into Ziplock bag for backpack breakfasts. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Rokit Fuel Cereal Cup dumped into Ziplock bag for backpack breakfasts.

Finally, the Booster Bars were a welcome change of pace to my usual peanut butter Clif Bars, not that I will shun them forever. But change is good. The Booster Bars will come in four configurations- two chocolate covered and two without. I try to stick with bars that are not chocolate covered; the desert heat and chocolate in foil always ends up as a mess. But excluding this fact, the chocolate covered bars will please your taste buds and give you the energy to keep moving.

Unfortunately at this time these products are only available at a few outlets and online. But once you give them a try you probably won’t have an issue ordering a big box of them online. And I’ll bet we will see them in stores in the near future.

Part Three
Check back in a few days for part three of  my Escalante Trek post. I’m still planning to touch on the geology and rock art that you might see while walking down the river, discuss a bit of the flora, and relate my methods of getting in some tracking practice while hiking. I’ll also go over LNT, or Leave No Trace principles while backpacking. For more on ultralight desert backpacking and associated gear, backpack foods and making your own meals, water, and desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Escalante Trek, May 2011- Moody Canyon to Coyote Gulch and Back

27 May 2011

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.

View of the Escalante River below Scorpion Gulch looking up river, photo by Gerald Trainor.

View of the Escalante River below Scorpion Gulch, looking up river. Note the boulders and tight margins along the water that must be negotiated. It gets tougher the further down river you get.

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.

The Loop
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.

A pool of fresh, clean water about mid-way down Scorpion Gulch. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A pool of fresh, clean water about mid-way down Scorpion Gulch.

Trip Summary
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.

Part Two
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.


A Quick Post From Moab

23 May 2011

I am in Moab today, heading in the direction of home. I’ve spent nearly the last two weeks in the Escalante, down Moody Canyon to the Escalante River and points south and west of there. The backpack, although windy, cold, and rainy at times, was a complete success. I ended up walking a comfortable 100 miles in 8 days time. I will outline the details in a series of posts once I get back home in a few days. There is a lot to cover and it will take two or three posts to do it. Besides discussing the walk itself, I plan to review a few new pieces of equipment including the Golite Trinity Malpais jacket, OTB Desert Boots, and Rokit Fuel endurance foods that I tried out, and discuss some issues I had in the area once again (involving Leave No Trace policies).

A few quick points of note from Moab this afternoon:

  • On the way through Hanksville yesterday the Dirty Devil River from the bridge looked about as high as I have seen it. Lots of water flowing in Southern Utah right now. I am thinking about getting home as fast as I can and arranging a float trip right away.
  • While driving through Green River this morning I saw that the Green is very high as well, extremely high in fact. There are sand bags piled at the river’s edge at the hotel across from the J.W. Powell River History Museum. I drove down to Crystal Geyser and the water there is up to the geyser’s lower ledges of mineral deposits. Time to float the Green if you can get away to do it!
  • Here in Moab the new recreation center is open. I stopped in this morning and had a look. If it weren’t overcast, rainy, and breezy I would consider going for a swim. The place is truly a gem. Stop in and take a look next time you are in town.
  • Finally, Horsethief Road down to Mineral Bottom is open. Apparently it has been open since late March. Talk is that the drive down is much nicer than it used to be. Now the bad news- the river is currently so high that you might not be able to drive over to Mineral Bottom. I am told the water is up to and covering the road in places. Be sure to check in with the Park Service before finalising any upcoming trips.

That is it from Moab this afternoon. I am off to look at some rock art now. Check back in the next week or so for the first of my post-Escalante Trek posts.

Until then visit the Desert Explorer website for more information on the region.


Summer Plans- The Escalante and the Dirty Devil

20 February 2011

It has been quite some time since I have posted, and again I apologise for this. It has been a busy winter, which is a good thing- a busy winter means a good, long summer in the desert.

My last post, and updates, dealt with the shooting of the ranger in Moab. He has been at home for some time now and is recovering from his ordeal. The suspect in the shooting has still not been located. He is undoubtedly in a crack or under a rock somewhere along the Colorado River south of Moab. His bones will be found some day, and the mystery of his disappearance will be solved.

The Dirty Devil River
I have recently been in communication with various river runners who are preparing to float the Dirty Devil River. Jason and crew look like they will be the first to float of the bunch of us, and they may be setting a new standard for the river by floating in a cataraft, although the final decision is still up in the air. As Frank puts it, “Whats the worst that could happen? Abandoning the boat and barely making it out alive?”  It’s going to be an adventure no matter what. They will be putting in at the very end of February, taking advantage of high water, so they should be fine. Next will be Seymour and crew, putting in at the end of March. Next would be Frank and the Kokopelli crew who may run it again, and Nicolai and I plan to float it in June.

View down river just below put in- low water, sand bars, and mud.

The river can be a tough one, with the channel tight and deep at one corner, then playing out into a wide mudflat a few inches deep 100 meters later. The mudflat scenario requires getting out and dragging your craft through. This sums up my experience during my first few days on the river when I did it in 2008- jump in and float a bit, get out and drag a bit. Repeat for six hours or so. But the rewards far outweigh the… great workout you’ll get along the way. The river is quiet, isolated, full of wildlife and incredible scenery.

Nicolai and I will float it later in the summer, during the dragging season. Robert may join us on, but his plans are not finalised. We are choosing to do it then simply because we prefer the hot, long days over the shorter, potentially much colder late winter days. I know I’ll be dragging, and Nicolai will be walking, but it will be an adventure he will never forget- the most important part. For more on the Dirty Devil visit our website pages and see the main blog post about it for all the comments by those who’ve floated it.

The Escalante Trek- Part Two
Two summers back Robert and I did a long walk down the Escalante River-literally down the river- from the bridge on Highway 12 to 25 Mile Wash and out. It amounted to about 50 miles of walking. This summer I will revisit the area to “finish up” the river walk. I plan to use the Moody Canyon trailhead as an entrance, walk to the river, up river to connect with the previous end point at 25 Mile Wash, then down river to Coyote Gulch. From there I’ll head up Coyote, back across the mesa and into Scorpion Gulch, ultimately heading back out East Moody. That is the plan. I still have a bit of research to do regarding access at the head of Scorpion Gulch, and using East Moody as an exit. I will be traveling as light as possible and won’t be carrying any canyoneering equipment, so finding a way in off the mesa is a necessity. I will have about two full weeks to accomplish the trek, which should be no problem. It looks as though it will be a solo this time. I’ll post more on the planning as it comes together, and of course a trip report afterward.

Tracking
I haven’t written much about tracking lately, but it is always on my mind. Every fresh snowfall affords easy tracking lessons, and every time we get fresh snow we make it a point to seek out some track or other- across the front yard, down the alley, or out in a field- and try to sort it out. Reading fresh tracks in fresh snow and really figuring them out helps create a solid base of knowledge for the future when tracks are not so clear and not so easy to read.

House cat tracks in fresh snow.

Speaking of reading, I am revisiting a tracking book that I have had on my shelf for a while now. Tactical Tracking Operations by David Scott-Donelan presents the author’s experience as a military tracker with most of the examples coming from the Rhodesian bush wars. This is a book about tracking human quarry, but is a worthwhile and interesting read for anyone  who tracks. While the book is probably not something you would read word for word to a six year old, there are plenty of tracking stories in it that my six year old enjoys hearing. It is a good compliment to the best tracking book out there, Bob Carrs’ The SAS Guide to Tracking, and Tom Brown’s field guides, the books I started with. All these books are available at Amazon.com


Gear Reviews- Sea to Summit, Sealline, and Dry Pak Bags and Cases, Merrell Water Shoes

7 September 2009

In a recent post I mentioned a few new pieces of gear that Robert and I used on our recent trek along the Escalante River. All the new gear had to do with water- waterproofing and walking in water. This included a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Liner and Dry Sack, a Dry Pak cell phone case, a Sealline HP map case, and the Merrell Waterpro Maipo water shoes. In this post I will give a quick review of each piece of gear.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil bags- Sea to Summit makes a full line of Ultra-Sil Dry Sacks and Pack Liners, and medium-weight and heavier-weight dry bags with various features including air evacuation material.  The bags are available from REI (Pack Liners are available online only), and at Amazon through the links below where they can currently be found a bit cheaper.

STS_packlinerIn a word the bags we used performed perfectly.  Knowing that my gear was safe and dry was worth the extra 4 1/2  ounces that both bags added to my overall pack weight. I used a 50 liter Ultra-Sil Pack Liner, which stayed in the bottom of my Golite Pinnacle pack and had gear packed into it. The 50 liter, their small size, weighs 2.6 ounces and costs about 35 dollars at Amazon or REI. The small is available in orange only. The medium, at 70 liters,  weighs 3.4 ounces, comes in green and costs about 28 dollars at Amazon (lowest price).

STS_drybagOver top of that I packed a 20 liter Ultra-Sil Dry Sack, their extra-large size, which I used for all of my small gear, maps, daily snacks, and essentials.  The Dry Sack came out of the pack for easy access to gear.  The two bags together were perfect for organising and packed easily.  I was in deep water a number of times with the pack submerged and there was no indication that water got into either one.  Of course this has to do with how you pack them- packing gear snugly inside, removing all the air, and rolling the tops tightly is essential to their function.

The 20 liter bag weighs just 1.8 ounces. It costs about 23 dollars at Amazon or REI, although is cheaper at Amazon if you order the orange color.  These bags are available in sizes from 1 liter up to 35 liters, and range in price from about 11 dollars to 25 dollars at Amazon.

The bags are very thin silcloth material and are light in weight. They were perfect for this type of trek. If you plan to be in water beyond an occasional quick swim across a deep pool, such as while canyoneering, you may want to choose something a little more substantial.

Sealline HP Map Case– If you are looking for a map case, look no further. This map case tops my list as my favorite over the years- and I have carried many.  Most recently I have been using freezer weight, one-gallon Ziplock bags as map cases.  These are a great choice for general hiking, but the Escalante with its possibility of swimming at any moment demanded something more secure.

The Sealline HP Map Case is made of very thin urethane material that is strong enough to survive hanging out of your pocket while bushwhacking along the Escalante. The material is crystal clear, the map inside is easy to read. I hope it stays this way- the previous version of the HP map case yellowed and hardened with exposure to the sun. The new version is a completely different material and I think this is one of the reasons for the re-design.

sealline_caseThe new version, just out this fall, has a roll top with a velcro strip that holds the roll tightly together.  I had the case completely under water many times and only once, after a long wade across deep, fast water, was there the slightest bit of moisture in the outer-most roll when I opened the case later.

The case has two buckles and a strip of web to hang around the neck. I removed the web and ran a piece of 550 cord through one of the loops to secure the case to my belt loop.  The case also has 4 tabs, one in each corner for tying onto the deck of your kayak perhaps, or the pack of the man in front of you. As I would never use them, I cut off the tabs straight away (extra weight).

The case is available at Amazon in two sizes, small and medium, at 25 and 30 dollars respectively.  There is also a large size that I have only seen at Moosejaw.com.  They are not sold at REI yet, but should be in the future. (REI sold the older version of the cases.) The small case weighs 2 ounces, the medium 2.5 ounces, and the large weighs 5 ounces. Inner dimensions are 9.5 inches by 12.25 inches for the small, 13 inches by 15 inches for the medium, and 14 inches by 21 inches for the large.

The small size accepts a USGS 1:24,000 mapsheet with the margins cut off. The mapsheet can be folded in half on both axes and slid right into the case. See the 11 January 2009 blog post for more on how and why I trim maps.

Dry Pak Cell Phone Case– This was my first experience with Dry Pak cases.  I needed something for my point-and-shoot digital camera. The Dry Pak Cell Phone Case was the perfect size.  The case performed as I had hoped, keeping the camera clean and dry, and providing a little bit of padding (designed for flotation). The only drawback is the closure-  it is a bit bulky with hard plastic strips at the top and two button closures. Once twisted to open, the button closures could, if pushed the right way, come out of the plastic strip and be lost. They are secure when new, but may be something to keep an eye on once the case is well used. I was worried that the bulk of the closure strips might be awkward in my pocket. But I did carry it in my shirt pocket and it was fine, being no thicker than the camera that I put inside it.

drypak_caseDry Pak cases come in many shapes and sizes to fit nearly any piece of electronic equipment.  All appear to use the same closure device. The Cell Phone Case comes with a lanyard and small snaplink, both of which I removed immediately (extra weight).

The small case which I used weighs 2.4 ounces and is 4 by 6 inches in size.  The material and the seam welds seem strong and durable.  I am guessing I will be using it on many other trips.

Merrell Waterpro Maipo Water Shoes– The final piece of new equipment on the trip was the Merrell Maipo water shoe. Both Robert and I used these shoes, and both of us returned them after the trip because of broken straps. We only put about 70 miles or so on the shoes and expected much more out of them. Since returning them, I noticed that they are no longer available at REI.

In my search for water shoes I read a bunch of reviews and concluded that none were very well designed, at least for our purposes. I ended up choosing the Merrells, based on the fact that they were one of the fullest shoes available, they were light weight, and because of my own positive experiences with Merrell products. I own two other pairs of their shoes at present and have never had an issue with these or any of the many other pairs of Merrell shoes I have owned.

merrell_maipo

Merrell Maipo water shoe

After using the Maipo shoe I can say with certainty that they need more design work.  The small straps wrapping all around the shoe, while they may add some support and a little bling to the shoe, are a very poor idea for many reasons. The straps are only about 1/4 inch in width. These straps wore through, broke in half, in two locations on my shoes, and the cord that the straps wrap around (near the bottom of the shoes) broke on Robert’s shoes.  On both of our shoes the straps and cord were wearing through in other locations.  I ended up tying the broken straps together to restore the support they offered, and to allow the laces to function (the laces run through these small straps at the top of the shoe).

Beyond the strap issue, the shoes were comfortable, as all Merrells are. They drained well; the mesh is large enough that it drains quickly, but also large enough to allow sand into the shoe.  I think this may be the case with any water shoe that has good drainage.

Merrell Ottowa water shoe

Merrell Ottowa water shoe

Merrell makes another water shoe similar to this one, the Ottowa, seen at left.  I have not used this shoe, but it seems to be a better design than the Maipo. On this shoes they only have the problematic strap at the top of the shoe. There is no cord through it to cause friction and wear through- the laces run through a plastic eyelet.

The mesh seems to be the same however, and there is more of it exposed.  You may end up with more sand in these shoes than the Maipos. But I am sure they would hold up better in the end. You can read more about them at Merrell.com. And if anyone from Merrell happens to read this review, I would be happy to try out a pair of the Ottowas and write about them. I am heading back to Utah in early October for a canyoneering trip in North Wash and will need a good pair of shoes.

For more information about our walk along the Escalante River, see our 22 August blog post or the Escalante Trip Pages at the Desert Explorer website. For more on the gear we use and ultralight backpacking, visit our Ultralight Pages.


More Details From the Escalante Trek- Trash, Fish, Food, and Lizards

27 August 2009

It is often hard to cover the many details of a trip in the short amount of time I have to write blog posts.  Usually, as soon as I publish a post, I remember three other items I wanted to cover.  And then I do follow-up research after the fact and want to post that information. With that said, this post is a follow-up to last week’s post on our recent Escalante Trek.

Update- Trash on the Escalante
Since the last post I have spoken with a ranger responsible for the Glen Canyon section of the Escalante River.  I informed him of the trash and fire pits we had found along the river.  I gave him the details on all the trash at the mouth of Fence Canyon and included my interpretation of the scene from the perspective of an anthropologist and a tracker: Upon arriving at the campsite, finding the trash and other debris, Robert and I did a thorough search of the area while cleaning up what we could (there was too much trash for us to carry out).  Based on the amount of debris- mainly trash and toilet paper- and other factors such as fire pits and a lean-to, we concluded that we were seeing a sort of squatters camp, occupied for perhaps as long as two weeks.  One of the first things that Robert and I discussed was the possibility that it might be related to an illegal marijuana growing operation. Two such operations have been found in recent months in southern Utah, along with many others around the western states.  When I spoke with the ranger this was his first comment as well.

The Escalante River on our second day out, still shallow and clean.

The Escalante River on our second day out, still shallow and clean.

Whatever the reason for such a mess in such a pristine location, the ranger is on it.  He plans to take another ranger, a full size backpack, and some trash bags and do a cleanup of the area.  Regarding the fires, it sounded like they are nothing out of the ordinary.  My impression is that he spends lots of time cleaning them up.  This is all very foreign to me- but I guess some people may not see the value in respecting Leave No Trace principles. In other places in southern Utah, Grand Gulch for example, in 10  summers of hiking there I have never seen a fire pit and never found more than a stray Clif Shot wrapper or a zipper pull that broke off.  The difference in the two locations is astounding. I am not sure why such a disparity exists, but it does.

Fish and Their Identification
I did not mention in the last post the number of fish that Robert and I encountered as we waded through the Escalante River.  It started out with a few here and there, and those were small, perhaps 6 inches in length. As we made our way down river, the number and size quickly increased.  We were seeing schools of fish, 20 or more at a time, some of which were reaching 12 and maybe 14 inches in length. We did our best to identify them using  field guides- we know they are suckers, but we haven’t been able to positively identify the species.  Our best guesses include the bluehead or flannelmouth sucker, both native fish, and the mountain sucker which is apparently not native to the drainage.  According to the Glen Canyon fish checklist the first two are found in the area, the third is not.  I am not sure of the exact geographical coverage of the checklist. It is from the Glen Canyon website, and should therefore include at least the lower Escalante drainage. The ranger mentioned above said he would try to pass my number on to the fish expert in his office, and I hope for a call back from him to confirm the identification of the fish. We also saw many, many small minnow-like fish, both in the main drainage and up side canyons.  I will ask him about those as well.

Robert crossing a beaver dam up 25 Mile Wash.  Note how thick the brush is- it's like this through most of the 7 miles till you climb out on the slickrock.

Robert crossing a beaver dam up 25 Mile Wash. Note how thick the brush is- it's like this through most of the 7 miles from the river till you climb out on the slickrock just below the Early Weed Bench trailhead.

Backpack Meals and Food Ideas
In the last post I mentioned that Robert and I carried our usual Desert Explorer homemade backpack meals.  Many of them are based on my own creations, some are from Teresa Marrone’s book The Back-Country Kitchen. The meals are filling, taste great, and offer enough variety that you look forward to eating them.  One lesson we did learn is that the meals are definitely too large for lunches.  Typically we do not stop and eat hot lunches, we just snack along the way and keep moving.  On this trip we decided to do it differently.  We planned enough time to allow long lunch stops where we ate well and had a mid-day cup of tea. Robert began by splitting his large dinner meals in half and adding a small side dish if he was really hungry, concluding that they were just too big for lunch. It was easy enough to separate the big meals into two bags; it is not necessary to cut the recipes in half when you are making the meals up.

As for side dishes, we usually include things like instant mashed potatoes, one of the Fantastic Foods soups, or maybe a bag of couscous.  Robert added to these sides by bringing a box of Stove Top Stuffing to the trailhead and pouring it into small Ziplock bags.  Disregarding its questionable nutritional value, it was a welcome addition, adding more variety to the menu.  I will be including it on my trips from now on. This is just one example of the possibilities right off the grocery store shelf. Take a walk down the isles- there are plenty of instant products, requiring only water, that will keep you fed on the trail.

Another deviation from our normal routine was to cook a Ziplock bag lunch meal at breakfast.  After re-hydrating in the bag, wee placed the meal inside of our titanium cups where it was safely stored away until lunch.  This helped us avoid breaking out stoves and unpacking too much gear on our lunch breaks. This is another procedure we will likely continue to use, especially on days when we are planning a long movement. For more on our techniques, and some of our recipes, visit our Backpacking Foods pages.

Lizards

Another desert spiny liard posing for the camera. They were everywhere along the way, and many were very curious about us.

Another desert spiny lizard posing for the camera. They were everywhere along the way, and many were very curious about us.

I have finally had time to add a few more photos and some more text to our page describing lizards of the region.  I added the northern plateau lizard, Sceloporus undulatus elongatus, also known as the eastern fence lizard.  There are a couple of photos of it, as well as a new one of a side-blotched.  Some species, including the northern plateau lizard, can be tough to identify when they are on the move. I have done my best on the web page with their identification from my photos.  If any herpetologists visiting the blog or website have any comments or pointers on identification, they would be appreciated. Visit our Desert Reptiles page and see what you think.

Other Updates

I have added more information to the Desert Links page– updates from Moab, and information on the towns of Escalante and Caineville, Utah, as well as Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado. Now that the summer is (nearly) over, I will be adding more to the web page regularly. Be sure to check back for new updates.


Trekking Down the Escalante River- a Bushwhacking Paradise

22 August 2009

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument provides some of the roughest, most remote wilderness opportunities in southern Utah.  It is a place where you can definitely lose yourself- and get lost if you are not careful- in the rugged terrain of the Escalante River corridor with its Navajo and Wingate sandstone walls, slot canyons, Fremont rock art, and windows into the unique history of the region.

Trailheads and Water
Robert and I spent a fairly leisurely 8 days walking along, and in, the Escalante River and some of its side canyons starting at the trailhead at the Highway 12 bridge and ending at the Early Weed Bench trailhead.  The trek from trailhead to trailhead is just about 50 miles, not including any side trips, which are unlimited in number. We began by dropping the Land Cruiser at the Early Weed Bench trailhead. The road to the trailhead demands a solid high clearance vehicle, as do many of the trailhead roads.  From there it is about a two hour drive to the Escalante River Highway 12 bridge trailhead, not including a stop at the Kiva Koffeehouse.

View downriver from the mouth of Choprock Canyon before storm. River flow is about .2 CFS.

View downriver from the mouth of Choprock Canyon before storm. River flow is about .2 CFS.

Same view as above the next morning, at about 130 CFS.  River had risen nearly 2 feet.

Same view as above the next morning, at about 130 CFS. River had risen nearly 2 feet.

The river at the bridge was calm and the water was clear and clean when we began.  For the most part, until a storm clouded the water with silt on day 5, we just scooped water out of the river and treated it with the MIOX.  After day 5, when the river rose from .2 CFS to 130 CFS and became a silty and potentially dangerous mess, we had to take other steps to get water. Fresh water is available in many of the side canyons, and is more abundant on river right, in the canyons to the southwest.

Bushwhacking
To say that there is bushwhacking along the river corridor is an understatement. There is some relatively easy walking on cattle trails higher up river. Many trails were fresh, and we were grateful for our bushwhacking, route-finding bovine friends. Game trails can be followed along most of the river. But be prepared to squeeze,  break, chop, push, and crawl through tangled masses of willow, tamarisk, Russian olive, sagebrush, and cottonwoods.  Also, be on the lookout for poison ivy- it is here and there along the way. There will be many river crossings, some in deep water- your pack should be waterproofed.  Be prepared for deep, sucking mud and quicksand further down river.  In the end you will be scratched, scraped, muddy, and your gear, clothes, body, and mind will have been tested.  All in all, it’s a great walk!

Prehistory and History
There were at least 10 rock art panels along our walk.  Much of the rock art was Fremont era, but some of the elements appeared to be older.  I am in the process of looking over photos and identifying some of the elements and will write another blog post specifically on the rock art soon.

Five figures from a very large panel. Center figure is about 20 cm overall.

Five figures from a very large panel. Center figure is about 20 cm overall.

Some of the rock art panels are identified on the maps that you can review at the Escalante Interagency Visitor’s Center in the town of Escalante, where you can get the latest road and weather conditions and a permit.  In many of the canyons you will also see historical inscriptions dating from the late 1800’s through the 1950’s and 1960’s.  There are a number of cowboy camps with a foundation or two, corrals, fences, and historic trash piles. If you look carefully you might find evidence of occupation, or even a ruin or two, under an alcove.

Camps, Trash, and Animals
Dry, sandbar campsites are abundant along the route, making for comfortable sleeping and helping with Leave No Trace policies.  Regarding Leave No Trace policies, the middle section of this trek, around Fence Canyon to Neon Canyon, was some of the filthiest wilderness I have ever seen.

Pile of trash at the mouth of Fence Canyon. I always pick up bits of trash here and there to carry out, but this was too much.

Pile of trash at the mouth of Fence Canyon. I always pick up bits of trash here and there to carry out, but this was too much.

We encountered literal piles of trash there- shoes, shorts, pants, socks, endless ramen bowls and bags, wrappers of all types, toilet paper and even human waste on the ground surface! Additionally we counted  at least 20 fire pits along the way, most of them along this same section. Many of these fires had partially burned trash in them, especially those around Fence Canyon.  Most were made right on the ground surface with just a bit of sand or a few rocks thrown over them.  Many were probably made by the same person, someone using fire as a means to heat water, as they were not large, warming fires.  Fires are not permitted in the canyons by the way. I have since contacted the Glen Canyon subagency, which administers the lower part of the Escalante, and reported the mess.  The ranger’s first remark was about a possible illegal growing operation in the area.

A curious desert spiny lizard checking out my gear.

A curious desert spiny lizard checking out my gear and my camera.

We slept in bug shelters most nights, and right on the ground a few nights. A few mosquitoes did come out for an hour or so around dusk, but for the most part mosquitoes and other bugs really weren’t a problem. Animal tracks were everywhere along the trek- turkey, coyote, deer, raccoon, and beaver were most common.  Turkey were everywhere- we saw them 5 of the 8 days and in the end found that they had a pretty good idea of the paths, and so followed them along the easiest routes.  We also found ringtail, fox, and elk track and scat. River otter have been reintroduced in the river, but we did not see them nor any sign that they were around.  Apparently they are nomadic, and could have been anywhere along the river. We had visits every day from whiptail, desert spiny, side blotched, and eastern fence lizards.  We also saw a number of toads- Woodhouse’s most definitely and red-spotted as far as I could tell. We saw one Utah black-headed snake and no rattlesnakes at all.

Fresh, perfect turkey track along the river.

Fresh, perfect turkey track in the fresh, silty-sand along the river.

Gear and Food
We carried the usual ultralight backpacking gear- see the Desert Explorer Ultralight pages for more information on what we pack. We tested some new gear on this trek including the new, improved Sealline HP map case, a small Drypak cell phone case, Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Packliners and Ultra-Sil Dry Sacks, and Merrell Waterpro Maipo water shoes.  The Sealline, Drypak, and Sea to Summit waterproofing equipment all performed flawlessly- they were all tested with submersion numerous times and maps, cameras, and all gear were perfectly dry.  The Merrells on the other hand fell apart after just a few days of walking.  If you buy them, they should not travel much further than your local park unless you bring backups.  Full reviews of this gear will be in an upcoming post.

Delicious dinner in a bag.

Delicious dinner in a bag.

For food we both carried our homemade, dehydrated backpack meals, many of which can be rehydrated in Ziplock bags.  Although they get a little heavy when you get 10 days or more of them in your pack, they are hearty, tasty meals and will definitely keep you moving.  For more on making you own meals see our Backpacking Foods pages at the Desert Explorer website.

Detail from the trailhead sign.

Detail from the trailhead sign.

This trek is definitely not for everyone.  From the looks of things not many people do it.  We encountered tracks close to the highway bridge, from Fence Canyon to Neon Canyon and Ringtail Canyon- popular technical canyoneering locations, and no where else.  If you go, you may find yourself alone for miles and miles, and you will have an experience you won’t soon forget. But be prepared- you could die out there.

For more information about desert backpacking see the Desert Explorer website.  For more information on the town of Escalante, see our Desert Links page. See our Escalante Pages for information on more treks in the area.