Turkey Camp, Escalante River, Utah
(Llama Pack Trip)
May 26-June 4, 2006
Leader and Author: Bill
Report Photos: Bill and
Photo Galleries: Jan
Studebaker, Click to view
Trip Participants: Petey
and Reid Priedhorsky, Melissa Bartlett, Elizabeth Kelly, Dennis
Brandt, Jackie Little, Jan Studebaker, Dave and Kimberly Scudder, Karen
Grace, Marilyn Yeamans, and Kathleen Gruetzmacher.
May 29, 8:30 AM:
The fellowship is in camp, having
breakfasted on oatmeal, boiled eggs, coffee, cocoa, and the like, and
our greatest excitement is the betting pool on who will get out of their
tent last. It has been a battle of the titans, but came down to
the favorite, Karen, and the winning dark horse, Marilyn. But the
greatest pleasure is that we are all in camp and our adventure is
We left New Mexico by various
routes, driving the approximately 10 1/2 hours from Los Alamos to
Boulder, Utah. My own group - 12-year old son Petey, wife Melissa
Bartlett, Elizabeth Kelly, Dennis Brandt, Jackie Little, Jan Studebaker,
and myself, the trip leader - left Los Alamos at 2:10 PM on Friday, May
26, and drove through the Jemez to pick up Jan and Jackie. We
stopped in Farmington at the 3 Rivers Brew Pub at 6:00 PM for dinner,
and arrived in Bluff, Utah by 9:30, where we rented the 4 bedroom, 6 bed
(counting the pullout couch in the living room), and 2 bath Adams House
from the Recapture Lodge for about $163 including tax. We left
Bluff the next day at 8:30, and stopped in Capitol Reef at 1 PM for a
4-hour hike to
Spring Canyon. We chose that hike, over a cooler
hike in the Fremont River or Sulphur Creek, because of the cool windy
day. By 6:30 PM we had arrived in Boulder for a night at the Boulder
Mountain Lodge, where we met the rest of our 13 - my adult son Reid,
Dave and Kimberly Scudder, Karen Grace, Marilyn Yeamans, and Kathleen Gruetzmacher, for a 7:30 dinner at the Burr Trail Grill.
Yesterday morning, our pile of
gear began to accumulate along the fence line at Boulder Mountain Lodge.
While we had the usual slow breakfast at Hell's Backbone Grill, Bevin,
BJ, and Brian from Red Rock 'n Llamas packed our loads into their
panniers. We were near the maximum allowable weight, with 14
llamas for 13 people, despite a careful assignment of community gear
weight (110 pounds) and 70 pound per person allocation of the remaining
load. Our estimate for the pannier weight was about right - a
little under 8 pounds per pair. Despite some underages -
backpacker Reid came in at 20 pounds - our party weighed in right at the
We left Boulder a little after 10
AM, drove to the river to help load the llamas, and sent Kathleen and
Melissa with the llamas, helping BJ and Brian take llamas and gear 4
miles downstream to our camp. Our camp was just at the "E" in
Escalante River on the King's Bench topo, about 1 mile upstream of the
Boulder Creek confluence. Guiding the llamas downriver was a
challenge because the entries and exits from the river were steep, and
the llamas tended to crash over Melissa as they lunged out of the river.
Some of the loads got loose, and some sleeping bags were delivered wet,
but they made camp by 2:30.
The rest of the party drove with
Bevin along the Sheffield Road to their own trailhead. We started
at about noon, hiking across the flat, down a drainage near the Omar
cabin, then a "Bevin mile" upstream with at least 9 river crossings
between us and camp. Bevin accompanied us to the river. Ten
of our eleven made it to camp by 4:00. The way along the river was
lushy and thickety.
trailhead: Reid, packer Bevin, fearless leader Bill, Karen, Petey with
Kimberly, Dennis, Jan, Elizabeth, Marilyn, and Jackie. Photo
courtesy Reid Priedhorsky.
We were worried that Jan was
nowhere to be seen. He had started with a fast party, but fell
behind because he changed into thongs for each river crossing, then back
into boots. Elizabeth, Petey, Karen, and I last saw him putting on
his boots at a riverbank perhaps 1/2 miles below camp. At one
tricky crossing, the upstream trail turned back downstream, and Jan
seems to have accidentally reversed his direction at this point.
He hiked downstream past our entrance point, past the horsepackers'
camp, until the trail and human footprints gave out. He reversed
direction again, giving up on dry boots. Back at camp, we sent
expeditions downstream then upstream to no avail, but finally learned
Jan's location when Reid climbed out of the canyon bottom to a bench
above camp, and reached Jan on the radio. Jan was two miles
downstream and headed for camp. This was occasion to open the
wine. We called in the search parties, had our appetizers then
spaghetti dinner, and finished with Chocolate Maven brownies.
Certainly everyone was tired out by bedtime.
Tuesday May 30,
Marilyn, Reid, Kimberly, and Kathleen climbing to the top of "River"
butte via a friction ramp.
Yesterday we started hiking at
10:30, about 1/2 hour later than planned. We wanted to explore our
canyon neighborhood, being still tired from the previous day. The
weather was mostly clear, and a little warmer than our cool day going
all. All 13 of us went up the rocks on the west side of the river,
starting on the shortcut trail to Boulder Creek. Whether the
conjoined creeks below the junction should be named Boulder or Deer is a
controversy - "Boulder" is the local custom, but "Deer" it is on the
topo quad. Dave, Reid, Kimberly, Kathleen, and Marilyn climbed a
long friction ramp to reach the top of the face north of camp; Bill,
Karen, Elizabeth, Jan, Dennis, and Jackie worked their way up the far
end of the face, with a couple of roped moves. Petey and Melissa,
tired from sleeping badly their first night in camp, turned back to
camp, and made it home after a few false starts. We eventually
reunited the 11 at the summit marked "River", with huge views up and
down the Escalante. Jan, Dennis, Karen, Elizabeth, Jackie, and I worked
our way west, roping down a tough downclimb, loose and steep, contrary
to Jackie and Karen's better judgment. While we waited to climb
down, I received from Karen the dirtiest look in my experience outside
of marriage. I offered Jackie a free beer back in town if she
could finish the first pitch without saying the "F" word; she lost.
We spent at least 75 minutes
working the roped descent. Finally, I shot down the final crack
carrying two packs, and Jan downclimbed the steep with my support from
below. Once down the hard part, it was straightforward to make the
rest of the way to the river, with a swim and back to camp about 6.
Dave's bunch had returned long before, finishing the day with some
practice climbing near camp.
31, 8:30 AM:
Brothers Petey and Reid Priedhorsky on the slickrock,
along the shortcut
to Boulder Creek.
2006 is a drier year than 2005.
The Escalante River, which was too frightening to cross last year, is an
easy wade - our guides said it was running 15 cfs. Yesterday we
hiked to the Liston tanks for a swim, and found our favorite water hole
still pleasant, but about a foot and a half lower than last year.
We left camp at 9:30 and took the
trail out to the west, over the divide to Boulder Creek. We
crossed the creek and got out the rope for an easy scramble into the dry
north-striking valley, then to the tanks, along the same route as a year
previous. Everyone took a dip, although not too long because the
water was cool, but Petey set the endurance record. From there we
went west downstream along the drainage from the tanks, passing a
pothole at least 12 feet deep - a prison for anyone who fell into it.
This route took us to the bottom of the Boulder narrows, where I tried
fishing, but had just one bite. Hiking farther downstream, I saw
one big trout feeding and another jumping out of the water, along with
many large carp. We split the group when I started fishing, most
going on while I fished for a few minutes. On the way downstream,
I had to backtrack 25 minutes to retrieve a forgotten sandal, left
behind when I pulled out the rope to help Melissa (by the time it was
out, she decided that she could climb the ramp herself). Melissa,
Petey, and I cut out the last oxbow, and found the rest of the group
waiting at the top of our exit route. We crossed below the end of
the ridge north of camp, and arrived back at our cave a little after 6
PM. We were tired but mellow in camp, and the Scudders surprised
us with steaks, shrimp, and Ben & Jerry's for dessert, kept cold for 3
days with dry ice.
1, 9:00 AM:
over several chockstone obstacles, but this one
required passage through
a tunnel underneath.
Jackie emerging from the bowels of the Earth.
Kathleen, Marilyn, and Jackie hiking upstream back to camp, after
exploring the complex terrain downstream - shortly before Jackie fell in.
Yesterday's story was the
impossibility of the terrain. We left camp at 9:45 en route to the
western section of cross-grained terrain, about 3 miles downriver.
The topo map showed a canyon with 600 feet of contours that disappeared
into a single wall. We hiked downstream with Reid in the lead, and
climbed out of the river canyon at our inbound trail, then contoured
along the slickrock, lunching in the shade of a cliff under an arch.
Just after a discussion about splitting the group in two based on speed,
we ran into a huge slot - perhaps 300 feet deep - that blocked our way
to the crisscross terrain. Reid found a way down a friction ramp
to the stream, and we were able to enter the slot at river level.
It was hot inside, with the sun shining directly in, and our mouths
tasted of something bitter in the dust or plants, but we had one
adventure after another as we stemmed up chock stone barriers, with one
climb emerging from a hole in the ground. Hot and gritty, we
jumped into the river at a bend below the slot, and soon cooled off,
then heated up gain as we retraced our overland trek. At the
stream we met Grant of Escalante Canyon Outfitters (ecohike.com),
and talked about the canyons and their revival. Back to camp by 6:30,
after wading up the warm river, entertained by Jackie's fall therein.
After dinner Reid filled a coke bottle with dry ice. It exploded just
when everyone was settling down for bed. Dennis was closest to
ground zero, and originally claimed that he could not feel anything
below his waist. Of course he was unharmed, as were all. In the
morning, we heard the call of a female turkey on the cliff lip above
camp, looking for a chick that had fallen off. Petey and Melissa
carried the chick back up top, their rescue for the day.
Friday June 2,
The heat is one - any time spent
out of the river gets uncomfortably warm. But a hike downstream in
the river was cool and comfortable. We left camp at 10 AM to hike
upstream to Bowington Canyon. We passed a natural air conditioner
on the way up - a slot that poured cool air out of the bottom along the
trail. Otherwise we kept cool by regularly throwing ourselves in
the stream. At the mouth of Bowington we found a pictograph panel
that marked the way, then hiked upcanyon past pools (nothing
spectacular) and had lunch in a nice grassy, cattail area. We had
an incident that reminded us of the need to keep radio conversations to
emergencies and information only - jokes and misinformation are not
easily handled over that medium.
The arch was indeed impressed, and
most of us climbed up under. Reid and Kimberly headed up to the
top and a pictograph panel, not especially impressive, marked on the
map. The rest of us hiked downstream, more or less all the way in
the river, with an interlude in a deep pool that Petey loved. Kathleen
had cooked and dried a hamburger chili dinner.
3, 5:00 PM:
We are back at Boulder Mountain
Lodge, the wilderness sadly behind us. Today was a day to pack and
head out. We sent Dave, Kimberly, Kathleen, and Dennis to hike the
upper route and pick up the cars, while our other 8 hiked upstream 4
miles along the Escalante to the highway and the other cars. We
did not wait to load the llamas, although we packed the panniers, which
cause Brian a little upset. With a long lunch break and swim, we
left camp at 11:10 and arrived at the cars by 2:30, reaching the lodge
almost the same time as the upper trail gang. Along the way we
sang Happy Birthday to Marilyn, because it was her day.
Yesterday, Friday, we sent Reid on
his way back to Las Vegas and Minneapolis. Of the 12 of us
remaining, 3 stayed in camp for a rest day, while the rest hiked the
shortcut to Boulder Creek, arriving at the creek about noon. They
took until 3 PM to hike down the Escalante River and back to camp, with
a lunch break at a pool that was deeper than Elizabeth's head.
Hiking in lower Boulder Creek was very bouldery (surprise!) It was too
hot for any slickrock shortcuts.
I broke loose from the party when
I arrived at the creek and saw a couple of nice trout swim by, and
fished up the stream until about 4 PM. There were many more carp
in the stream than trout, but I caught 4 trout on a dry fly, including a
16-incher. It took 30 minutes to hike downstream to the point on
the creek where Melissa, Petey, and I left the creek a couple days
before, then 45 minutes over the top to camp, cooled by jumping into the
creek with all my clothes on before setting out. This was our last
evening in camp, and I entertained by reading from a book on the history
of the Western mountain men.
Dinner the last night was at
Hell's Backbone Grill, wonderful and a little pricey as usual.
We found that a warmup hike the
weekend before the trip was very useful in reminding us of warm weather
hiking - up to 3 liters per day needed, testing new boots and gear,
giving us some practice with the rope, and reacquainting the group.
We hiked on Sunday May 21 up Kitchen Mesa at Ghost Ranch.
This is about as late in the
season as one would like to hike the Escalante River. The deer
flies were reputed to arrive in a week or two as we were leaving.
A llama from Red Rock 'n Llamas
can carry 80 pounds, 6-7 pounds of which are the empty panniers.
One of our cars drove to Bullfrog
to take the ferry to Hall's Crossing. The drive takes 2 hours, and
it pays to check the ferry hours by calling (435) 684-3088 - the ferry
was scheduled to close for maintenance the next day.
For 13 people and 6 dinners, we
used about 1 1/2 gallons of Coleman fuel in our two two-burner stoves.
We could save weight by taking only two tables, 3 gravity water filters
(even 2 might be OK), and 1 two-burner stove with a second backpacking
stove, using the same fuel, as a backup.
Our packers, Red Rock 'n Llamas,
used 14 llamas to get our gear in and out, for a charge of $2,278 plus
tip. They are an excellent group and can be reached at
We stayed at the Boulder Mountain
Lodge, which is lovely with views of a wetlands and the Boulder scenery,
but a little pricey - up to $180 with tax for the two-bedroom suite.
They can be reached at http://www.boulder-utah.com/. Their on-site restaurant, Hell's
Backbone Grill, is top-notch. Next door the Burr Trail Grill runs
about half the price, and offers excellent food if not the gourmet fare
of Hell's Backbone.
report of this trip, by Reid Priedhorsky, can be found