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Upper Escalante/Boulder Mail Trail 2006
Two Halves Trying to Make a Whole

Layover in Death Hollow

Friday, May 5   The clouds burned off during the night, and it cooled down considerably. Andy's thermometer showed 40 degrees this morning, and as a result, people seemed to be slow to get out of their tents and move about. Given the highly vertical nature of the canyon walls at this spot, we could see that it would be a long time before sun would strike the campsite. We all sat around and chatted during breakfast, and then scattered like pigeons in the park. John and Robin headed downstream, and Terri and Barbara were out of camp early, heading upstream, trying to see at much as they could. We headed out just about the same time as Sue and Andy, wanting to get to a spot where we could look out and see. But such was not to be on this day. In this stretch of Death Hollow, the going is slow. Most of the time, we had to stay in the water, fighting both the current and the footing. A huge overhang seen on canyon right, perhaps a half mile upstream from camp, provided a good example of the challenges. Susie and I wanted to get into the overhang, thinking it might be a good place for ruins, pictographs, etc. So we had to hike upstream perhaps 300 meters, find a spot where it looked like one might be able to get through the poison ivy with a minimum of contact, and climb steeply up on the bench, and fight thick vegetation and gullies to get back to the overhang itself. Unfortunately, no habitation evidence, other than that from cowboys, was to be found. But it was an impressive overhang. Then it was back along the bench, the gullies, and trying to find the spot where we had made it through the poison ivy groves. Indeed, the poison ivy controls everything that one does in this stretch.

Having gotten not very far up the canyon (12S, 453254 E, 4188832 N), we got tired of fighting poison ivy. In addition, the walls had become less dramatic, and Susie indicated that she wanted to see big walls. From our turn around point, it took us probably 75 minutes to get back to camp, just a bit over 1.3 miles downstream from us. Such are the challenges of hiking in this part of Death Hollow. One of the most interesting occurrences happened as we were getting ready to make the last crossing of the creek, back into the area of our campsite. Just as we were preparing to cross, we encountered three Europeans, as I recall, from either Austria or Germany. They were day hiking the Boulder Mail trail from Escalante to Boulder. Certainly doable with a light day pack on, although you can also "see" the Grand Canyon by pulling into just one turn out along the South Rim too. Anyway, we chatted for just a couple of minutes, and then they rock hopped the stream. It is only after they passed us, did Susie and I look at each other with this "What is wrong with this picture" expression on both of our faces. We had both realized at the same time that all their boots were completely dry. We started thinking: Well, you might be able to do the first part of this trip with dry boots, or at least wade the Escalante in your bare feet, but the ONLY way you could keep dry boots in the stretch of the BMT that is concurrent with this part of Death Hollow is to walk the benches. The benches that are covered with poison ivy. My understanding is that poison ivy is not native to Europe and it could be that these visitors did not recognize the plant. I really felt sorry for them, because in a few days, they were likely to break out with MAJOR poison ivy.

Susie and I had lunch with Andy and Sue, as they had pulled in shortly after we did. Susie and I headed down canyon a bit later, since Susie had seen "big walls" from the rim, and knew she could see some below camp. Well, the creek bed had not gotten any easier to negotiate since yesterday, so we had to take our time. It took us maybe 35 minutes to get downstream to near the point where the Mail Trail comes in from its Escalante end. The water was clear, which made creek walking do-able. If the water had been cloudy, the creek bed would have "broken leg" written all over it. Just way too many boulders, holes and little traps. On the way down, we ran into a couple of young fellows, one of which was hiking with a serious knee brace (he indicated he had torn his ACL four times snowboarding). They were fellow Montanans, from Missoula. I mentioned I had been over there in November to give the Chemistry Department seminar, and Jake, the fellow with the brace, asked me if I knew Garon Smith, his chemistry prof. I said I had known Garon for several years, as he and members of the Chemical Sciences Division at Oak Ridge had worked on some joint projects together. It is, indeed, a small world. Anyway, Jake and Peter had hiked up the River to the Mouth of Death Hollow, then up Death Hollow to the Mail Trail and then over to Boulder. They indicated that they had to float their packs in several places, but that it was not too bad.

Susie and I moved downstream past the spot where the Mail Trail comes down, perhaps a quarter mile below it. (Note that it was difficult, given the tightness of the canyon and the height of the walls, to get a good GPS reading right at the spot where the Trail hits the canyon floor. However, I was able to get a reading a tad downstream, so I would say that the Mail Trail hits the floor of Death Hollow, coming from the Escalante end, at 12S, 454676 E, 4187653 N). The walls were nice, and as Barbara had reported, it might get easier to walk the benches below, but it was pushing 3 pm, and it was time to turn around. It still took us 45 minutes to get to camp, pushing against the stream current. We returned to warmed water in the water bag, so Susie could wash her hair in luxury. Since the air temperature on Andy's thermometer was 59 degrees, and we had been walking in cool creek water, warm hair-wash water was an especially nice treat. Dinner was Orzo with chicken and peas and asiago cheese. We followed it up with another trash fire along the creek, and sat around trading stories until 9 pm, when the ashes of the fire got dumped into the creek, and we all hit the sack.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 2006