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Day 8

Wolverine Creek to the Upper Gulch
Saying Goodbye to the Escalante

And then there were eight...

Friday, May 4   As we had hiked into the canyons last Sunday, I think it was John who first made the suggestion that we reconsider the timing of our car shuttle. (Everyone hates to even suggest a change in plans to me, because they all know how much I have invested in the planning. John must have drawn the short straw.) Originally, our plan called for using the shuttle vehicle to hold our food/fuel cache for the last two days of the trip, as we moved past it into the Upper Gulch. Then, when we returned to the vehicle on Sunday morning, we would use it as the shuttle vehicle to take the drivers down to the Wolverine Creek trailhead, where we had started this trip. I think the thought must have crossed everyone's mind as we crossed the sandy wash road that forms the upper stretch of Horse canyon: what happens if it rains while we are in the backcountry, and we try to get down there on Sunday morning, and find that we cannot get to the vehicles because of mud, etc? Or worse, what happens if we can't get the vehicles out? A lot of folks had planes to catch on Monday morning, and such would mess up a lot of schedules.

The suggestion had been: when we got to the food cache/shuttle, to run the car shuttle today (Friday), so that if it did rain while we were up in the Upper Gulch, we would have all the vehicles back on paved road. At least, if we considered this plan, we would have, theoretically, two chances to get the vehicles rather than one (Friday morning and Sunday noon time). Of course, there was a downside to this: it would mean that the drivers, and whoever remained with the driver's packs at the Burr Trail crossing of The Gulch would be behind the main party headed up canyon by probably 2.5 hours, and it would also mean a stronger incursion of civilization into the week long wilderness trip of the drivers. But on this day, practicality, and threatening weather, ruled. We had woken up in the middle of the night to pee, and noticed that clouds had moved in and it had gotten a lot warmer, so these were serious clouds. Sue would later confess that she had done the same thing and was similarly concerned about the possibility of rain this morning.

Such prompted, I guess, a 6:20 am exit from the tents, and a non-lollygagging camp breaking. It was at this point that Will indicated that his back (he had pulled some muscle yesterday morning while leaning the wrong way at breakfast) was really killing him, and he was not sure about his ability to hike very much further. His arguments yesterday that "I don't like to take pain medication because it masks the symptoms" were greeted by extreme eye-rolling by Andy, Sue and I, the chemists in the crowd. We had tried to explain to him the anti-inflammatory benefits of prescription levels of ibuprofen, but we were not sure that he really "got it." Anyway, Kim reported to me privately that he had gotten out of the tent several times last night, and he could barely move because his back was so painful. So it looked to me like this might be the end of the trip for the two of them. Will gave Kim the keys to the shuttle vehicle, a sedan, so that she could run the car shuttle while he hiked slowly up canyon.

Kim, Susie, and I pulled out of camp about 8:30, just a couple of minutes behind Sue and Andy. It was a cool morning, despite the clouds. Susie was dressed in her rain jacket, long pants and gloves. The hiking was pretty smooth, with the stream bank scrubbed clear of a lot of vegetation by the October storm. We covered the 1.8 miles from our campsite to the shuttle vehicle in 70 minutes. Again, we were probably motivated by the threat of precipitation. We unloaded the trunk of the shuttle vehicle with wind and dark clouds building, and took off to run the shuttle just a couple of minutes before 10 am. Kim was driving the shuttle vehicle, and, well, let's just say it was her first experience with desert driving in a sedan. If you have never done it, I guess you're not used to thinking about where to place your wheels so you clear rocks, don't tear up the under carriage of your car, don't crack the oil pan, etc etc. She was having a hard time running through the sand, thinking it would be better to go really slow than to go faster, which, of course, is what you don't want to do. She very graciously relinquished the wheel when I suggested that I could do a little training and have her watch while I drove us through the sand and potholes and rocks and creek to the trailhead. It is clear to me that Kim is a very quick learner, since she did superbly on the way out.

Amazingly, we were able to do the car shuttle in 1 hr 45 minutes, so were back before noon time. It was when we got out of the vehicles that Ray announced that this would be the end of the trip for him as well. Just too hard, he says, to keep up and he does not have the energy to do the exploring he likes to do after carrying a pack all day. He sorta paraphrased Chief Joseph by exclaiming: "I will backpack in the canyons no more, forever." I had to give Ray a hard time, reminding him that I had heard this all before, two years ago. But he said, no, this was it. However, he wanted to come out and see everyone and car camp with us on the next canyon trip. I think it is really hard, and will be really hard, for many of us to quit. After doing this stuff for 30 years, I think it is in my blood.

Susie, it turns out, had elected to stay with the packs. Will kept her company. Barbara, Sue, Terri, Andy, and John had elected to start moving up canyon after exploring a bit of the local area and finding a small ruin. They would be our scouts for a campsite near Water Canyon. I think Susie had the hardest job of all this morning, because sitting out in the cold wind, on a cloudy day, did not look like a lot of fun. Will and Kim took off, undecided about what they might do for the rest of the trip. Ron, Susie and I took off, walking a few hundred meters up the road to the point where the Burr Trail officially crosses the stream bed of The Gulch, and hung a left and started up canyon.

Less than a half a mile up canyon, just above the mouth of Steep canyon, I had to make a pit stop, and so this seemed like an auspicious time for lunch. Maybe the weather might be improving just a tad, and so that was a plus. Eating another lunch in blowing sand was not something that I would have looked forward to. So maybe things were improving. Yeah, like in your dreams, Fleishmann!! When we resumed hiking, we noticed several things. First, the amount of flood damage in the Upper Gulch was much less than in the lower section. Secondly, the canyon is much more straight for long stretches and such made for easier walking, because there were long stretches of wet, hard packed sand. Primo conditions. In addition, because of the minimal flood damage, the paths made by bipeds and quadrapeds have not been wiped away, making for easier walking on the benches. We moved along at a pretty good clip. In about a mile and a half or so, we came to a large pour off that has to be bypassed on canyon left. It involves a two-stage climb that was not very steep. One of the guidebooks talks about crawling under a fence or something, but the only fence we came to near the pour off had a huge portal like opening in it, like whoever constructed it was welcoming us to the Upper Gulch.

Ron spent a bit more time at the pour-off while Susie and I moseyed up the canyon. We stopped at the mouth of a small side canyon, about 1 3/4 miles short of the mouth of Water Canyon, our planned camp, just a bit after 2 pm. Weather was sunny and nice, but cool. The hiking was easy, and I figured we could be in camp by 3 pm, which was not bad, considering I had burned 2.5 hours with the car shuttle, etc. The lower Upper Gulch was really pretty. Big walls, and easy hiking. Hard to beat. We hoisted packs, started moving, and, with again-changing weather, we rolled into the general area of Water Canyon's mouth about 3 pm, to be greeted by not only our friends, but black clouds and cold wind, which was clearly building to something. Something ugly. The campsite our friends had picked (12S, 475243 E, 4195113 N) was across and slightly down canyon from the spot I had picked based on aerial photos. It was up on a little point, maybe 30 feet above the sides main canyon floor. They reported that while our campsite was not that great, the one across the way was even less good, shall we say. The important thing was to be near some reliable water, since the guides said that the water was pretty intermittent above water canyon. Andy and Sue had flatted a nice spot near their tent and graciously offered it to us, but to us, the spot made a good community kitchen, so we opted for something back against some brush. Shade was not available but its absence was not a problem.

Susie and I hurriedly set up our tent, pulled out gear and headed for the water. It just seemed like a storm was on the way, and it seemed critical to get water before impending rain mucked up our water supply. So down to the water we went. We filled every bottle we could and rushed back to camp. We had just arrived when it started raining, so we dove into the tents. Not a great way to spend the afternoon, but it was not the first time. It was cold, so we wrapped ourselves in our sleeping bags and got comfy. Our sense was that this would pass, and we might still get a chance to clean up before dinner. About 4:30, it started getting light, and the rain let up, so it seemed like a super time to bathe. Actually, the sun came out and it was not too bad. Cold, but not bad. I felt a lot better, and was ready for dinner soon after. If you put enough clothes on, it was not intolerable during dinner. It would have been a great night to wear my Patagonia fleece pants, but in the interest of saving weight, I had left them in Bozeman. Barbara and Terri returned from a short hike up into Water Canyon, and they reported that it was swampy and brushy in places.

As we were finishing up dinner, the sun dropped below the cloud deck and bathed the east walls of the canyon in this gorgeous orange light. It dramatically illustrated how lovely the Upper Gulch is: big, sheer Capitol Reef-like walls, that when lit by the sun against a dark sky, are super spectacular. There were a lot of electrons being used that evening. Really spectacular treat as payback for lousy weather this afternoon. I gave Terri a short lesson in GPS and map reading and coordinates. Not sure if it stuck or not, but hey, it never hurts to learn even a little bit. We were all in tentia by 8:30 or so. The cold had driven us in, with the promise of a better day tomorrow.

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To view supplemental photos of this trip, go to our TwoHikers PicasaWeb gallery.

Roger A. Jenkins, 2007