Backpacking Escalante River Canyon

Just came out of the backcountry after spending 3 days and two nights trekking 19 miles through the Escalante river canyon. I did not have to cut off my own arm with a pocketknife. The first day we hiked in and made several river crossings, occasionally losing the trail. It was pleasant and sunny. The canyon became magnificent with tall red and golden walls and every bend in the river revealed a new spectacular view. (I have pictures on my camera, but can’t upload them here…hopefully soon). As I looked up at the canyon walls I thought how fun it would be to sleep in a cave. Four miles in I discovered a huge open cave the size of a football field. It was too nice of a camp spot to pass up. We set up camp under the shelter of the canyon walls, gathered firewood and settled in. It was not nearly as cold as it had been up in Red Canyon, to my relief. I built a fire and we ate our delicious freeze dried backpack Pad Thai dinner.

Yesterday, we planned a day hike to Death Hollow, about 6 miles deeper into the canyon. Unfortunately, I slept a little later than planned and we got a late start. We ended up hiking 5 1/2 miles in and decided it was too late to explore the Death Hollow area and the trail was getting rougher and more filled with brush. The hike there was difficult due to more river crossings and the trail was mostly sand, which is hard to hike in because you take one step forward and a half step back. Fortunately, we didn’t have our 30lb backpacks on. We had a bit of lunch and then decided we’d better hike back to camp because we didn’t want to be caught after dark. By about the 9th mile, we were both pretty exhausted. We decided to follow the river bed back and avoid the sandy trails so we ended up walking a lot in ankle deep water most of the way until it got too deep and muddy. I didn’t want the soft river bottom to suck my boot off. Each boot felt like it weighed 10 lbs.

We were very thrilled to see our cave again. We shed our saturated boots and made some hot tea. I built a fire and we tried to dry our boots and socks out and ate another freeze dried Sweet and Sour pork dinner. You’d be surprised how good these things taste after hiking 11 miles.

It was interesting sleeping in the cave. The river was just a jump away and the echoes made it sound as if water was running thorough the walls. At times we thought we heard voices, but I think it was just the sound of the river echoing in the canyon. Or maybe the voices of ancients who left their markings on the cave wall. Either way, it was kind of eerie. Aside from a few lizards and spiders, we didn’t see much wildlife. (I did see one snake at the beginning… a small garter snake, but I kept my eyes peeled for much more) We only saw 2 people the whole day, a young couple from  Corvallis, OR who were hiking through. We went to get water from the river and found that our water pump was not working. Not good. We took our chances by drinking the water from the river so we are hoping we don’t end up with giardia. The locals don’t seem overly concerned.

Today we hiked the four miles back to the car and checked into a motel in Escalante. I got a long hot shower which was amazing and now we are going to indulge in a pizza. Tomorrow we are heading to Torrey, UT and into Capitol Reef to do some day hiking and pick up the rental Jeep on Monday to explore the White Rim trail.

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