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Canyon Country for Broken-Down Baby Boomers II


Author: Bill Priedhorsky

Photo Gallery: Jan Studebaker, click HERE

Trip Participants: Bill Priedhorsky, Marilyn Yeamans, Mark Jones, Lynn Jones, Dick Opsahl, Judy Opsahl, Bill Sweatt, Kathleen Gruetzmacher, John Meier, Ginger Buchendahl, Jan Studebaker, Cosima Leedom.

This was a horsepacked drop camp along the Escalante River. Our camp was about 3/4 mile downstream from the confluence with Death Hollow. The trip objective was spectacular slickrock country day hikes from our packed-in base camp. The weather was good, with a little afternoon rain, and nights were not cold. A good time was had by all.

We made our separate starts from Los Alamos on Wednesday, October 3rd, and stayed at Fry Canyon Lodge about 7 1/2 hours away. The official start of the trip was our 7:00 AM departure the next day from Fry Canyon. People made their own reservations at (435) 259-5334 or http://www.frycanyon.com. I recommend the deluxe rooms, of which there are about five in a new building. The earliest travellers, Marilyn Yeamans and I, left Los Alamos at 6:00 AM on Wednesday, and arrived at Fry Canyon in time for a three-hour hike down to the confluence of Fry Canyon and White Canyon, and back to the lodge for dinner (fettucini with cream sauce, and a double fudge brownie). Rooms with tax at Fry Canyon were in the $80 range.

We left the next day for Hanksville, had breakfast at the Red Rock Lodge, then drove on to the trailhead, at the crossing of highway 12 over the Escalante River, in time to rendevous with the packer at noon. Several folks bought maps at the Capitol visitor center along the way. We had six horses reserved, for a carrying capacity of 80 pounds per person. It seems that we used up most of it, as the packer wanted to avoid top loads on the horses because of the dense vegetation along the trail, including thorny Russian olives. We hiked past the Escalante natural bridge and arch, missed the opening of Sand Canyon, and reached the Death Hollow confluence about 4:30. However, the packer rode up alone to find us and tell us that they couldn't make it farther up river because of the thicket. He was bleeding and his shirt was torn off his back. We backtracked about 3/4 mile, and found our gear dumped in a "meadow" -- a rather thorny, sandy spot, but with great views, and comfortable enough once we settled in.

The aspens along Boulder Mountain were beautiful, but at their very end, while the cottonwoods along the river were just starting to turn.

The packers were Bob and Sioux Cochrane of Boulder Mountain Ranch, (435) 335-7480. He is somewhat of a personality, but reliable. Total cost for his services was $600 for horses ($50 x 6 horses x 2 days), $400 for wranglers ($100 x 2 [Bob and Sioux] x 2), $100 for transportation both days, $77 tax, and $127 trip, for a total of $1300. With forfeited deposits, the cost per trip member was exactly $100 a head.

We spent four nights at our Escalante River camp. The party split for day hikes in various directions, generally spending 6 to 8 hours each day on the trail. North of the river is miles and miles of slickrock to explore, and we saw a good piece of it.

One small party spent the trip exploring the canyon bottoms in detail, hiking up Death Hollow past the narrows, then Sand Canyon from the confluence to an exit point below the red monolith with a white top, then on a second day from there to Willow Patch creek confluence. There is a nice spring a couple hundred yards up Sand Creek from the river, which looks drinkable without filtering.

The most exciting part of the hiking was to cruise around the slickrock, and most of our hiking was done there. One group found a route up from a point 20 minutes downstream, up north onto the slickrock, and then found a trail that runs east across the top then descends to the river at a point slightly upstream from the Sand Canyon confluence. We found GPS navigation systems very handy in the wild country of the upper slickrock.

Another day, a party went up and out of the canyon to the south, reaching a dirt road that connects to highway 12 between the river and Escalante. This party left the river at a point opposite the north side climbout, that is, the one that was 20 minutes and three stream crossings east of camp.

Another party, including Dick and Judy, went up Death Hollow, but not as far as the narrows. So they missed a beautiful stretch of river with deep pools, and one section that was chest deep at its shallowest passage. The weather was never so warm as to really encourage swimming.

On the last full day, Kathleen, Lynn, Mark, Marilyn, John, and Bill Sweatt climbed up and out the north side immediately across from camp, and explored the slickrock trail to the northwest, far enough to overlook Death Hollow. They were on the same trail that runs down to the Escalante near Sand Canyon. There seemed to be no easy way down into Death Hollow, so we assumed that the trail stayed on top and connected with the mail trail. Their way out from the river involved some hard scrambling, and had not been obvious from the top on a previous day.

Our camp was quite comfortable, wiith highlights including a big dome shelter against the rain, a table for cooking and eating, and portable chairs enough for almost everyone. We had two gravity feed water filters, so clean water was abundant, even after one failed and needed its bag replaced with someone's Sun shower. The table and chairs were particularly handy, as cooking directly on the sandy ground would have been dirty and uncomfortable. In retrospect, we would also liked to have brought one or two more tables, a folding saw, a small shovel, and a hatchet. I was comfortable without a tent, although I sneaked under the dome shelter one night (thanks, Mark). Portable radios were also handy for keeping us in touch with each other.

We hiked out on Monday, October 8th, leaving the gear packed but not in panniers for a noon pickup. Most of us left camp by 10:30. The packer arrived about 1:00 PM, and dropped off the gear at Boulder Mountain Lodge (without extra charge) about 6:30. This proved far easier than waiting for him at the trailhead. Three persons hiked out early and headed directly home. Five of the rest hiked downcanyon to the original trailhead, stopping at Sand Canyon. Unfortunately it, like the Escalante itself, had turned muddy after the previous evening's rain. Four of us (Bill, Bill, Marilyn, and Kathleen), hiked upstream from the camp, taking 4 1/2 hours to cover the 8 1/2 miles to Escalante town. This is a spectacular canyon with huge walls and easy hiking most of the way, rather more scenic than the lower half that we hiked to reach camp. There is less canyon vegetation here than the lower half. An alcove about 2-3 miles from the upper end would make a spectacular campsite, one that never sees rain. Mark and Lynn Jones picked us up at the Escalante trailhead with clockwork precision.

The nine of us that did not head for home stayed overnight at the Boulder Mountain Lodge (800-556-3446), which is a luxurious accomodation overlooking a duck pond, with its own gardens. A typical queen room cost $87 with tax. We had a great dinner at Hell's Backbone Grill, on the same property, which is run by a lady named Blake who is a friend of Ginger's. Tuesday, October 9 was spent driving back, leaving Boulder at 6:30 am and with breakfast and lunch stops, back in Los Alamos between 7 and 8 PM.

We all agreed that this trip is a great tradition, and an excellent way into the backcountry for those young in heart but no longer as young in body. Our ages ranged from 44 to 70, and we were all gung-ho for the hikes, but did not miss the heavy schlepping of backpacks. The packer suggested the confluence of Silver Bell Canyon and the Escalante River (opposite Harris Wash) as a destination for next year, and I am planning the trip already. See you in October '02! 

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