Escalante Canyon 1999
George leaned over from his uncharacteristic passenger position (he always drives) and said to me: "You know, the first time I came into this country and saw what it looks like from the road, I thought to myself: What in the hell am I doin' here??!! Now, I have to say that I am really looking forward to this hike." George was referring to his first canyon backpack 16 years ago, and for some of us in the crew, it is our 17th trip. Obviously, we keeping coming back for some reason. Maybe it's the rock, or the gentle climate - at this time of year - or the fact that the hiking does not involve big climbs with huge loads. Maybe it is the mix of water, and rock and trees, in a brew that is like no place else in this country. We have come back to the canyons of the Escalante, and some times, it seems more like a pilgrimage than a backpacking trip. Of course, like any pilgrimage, this one has had its trials, so while we rolled on down Hole in the Rock Road, I reflected on the effort it has taken to get us here: not what a lot of folks would call a vacation.
Yesterday, April 16th, started at work for some of us, but Ray and Dolph lifted off from Knoxville early, around 7 am. High winds forced them to abort two approaches to the Cincinnati Airport before they finally landed, and then headed on to Salt Lake City. Their job was to pick up the van, shuttle car, and some Coleman fuel and groceries. Susie, George, Barbara A., Will and I were at the airport by 1 PM, just as Mark took off on American. He was to land just about 10 minutes before we were in Salt Lake. Well, to make a long story short, high winds in CVG, through which we were connecting, basically shut down that airport, so we were screwed. We got a confirmed seat on a flight to Atlanta at 7:40 PM (basically 5 hours late) and then did not leave Atlanta until 11:30. We were able to get the word to Andy and Sue, who were leaving Austin at about 4 PM CDT, that we would be delayed. We canceled rooms in Salina Utah, where we were to have stayed last night, Sue got us all rooms at the Days Inn near the airport, we went out to dinner in Maryville before we left, and ate Tylenol PM - courtesy of George - to help us sleep once we left Atlanta. We landed early (about 1:10 am MDT) in SLC, got our bags, took a shuttle to the motel (all the instructions had been relayed thru Will's wife, Barbara Muhlbeier). We got to sleep about 2:15 am MDT, got up at 6 am, repacked our gear, and had the van loaded soon. We rolled out of SLC at 7:40 am. The drive from Torrey over to Boulder Utah is absolutely spectacular. The first time I have made that particular one, and it is worth the price of admission. Long views of the Henry Mountains, and the Escalante basin from high up. Amazingly, even with all the stops, we made it to the town of Escalante by 1pm.
We had a very unsatisfactory encounter with the lady ranger at the BLM contact station. Our plan was to hike in Harris Wash, then go up the river to Boulder Creek, then, on the last morning, go into Dry Hollow, and exit overland to the shuttle car. She thought we were clueless about our idea to go up Boulder Creek as an exit from the Escalante River, although she offered no specific experiences on which to base her conclusions, and no matter what we said, we could not convince her that we were pretty experienced canyon hikers. We thought that she was responding to us just like she would respond to a bunch of hicks from East Tennessee who had never been out there. There is an addendum to this journal which goes into more detail (see page 7 of the newsletter), but we did get out of there with our permit, and little bags in which to store our TP for carrying out (Come on, we believe in low impact camping. But with all the cows there, how can you ask us to carry out our TP. Burning it is much better, if you do it carefully.)
We had a painfully slow lunch at the drive-in in town, but I will admit that it was a great chicken sandwich. By about 2:20 or so, we were finally heading out of town, having placed earlier our shuttle car at the presumed exit point on the Devil's Backbone road. We arrived at the trailhead (this is the third time we have been into this place at the Harris Wash trailhead) at about 3 PM, only about 30 minutes behind our original schedule. That was absolutely amazing, given the fact that we had arrived in SLC 7 hours and 20 minutes late. Unloading the van (Dolph had managed to talk the guy at Thrifty out of a 12 passenger van, so we had no rear seat to have to deal with) took it's usual 20 minutes or so, but we were finally rolling out into the Wash by 3:25 PM.
Harris Wash always looks like the pits where you first leave from the trailhead. It is very broad and waterless. However, 30 minutes of hiking, and the walls start to rise up around you. Another couple of hundred yards, and you are really in the good stuff. As usual, Susie and I seemed to bring up the rear, with only Barbara and Ray behind us. We stopped and photographed, and just enjoyed being surrounded by the rock and the quiet. I told Susie I wanted to stop. It was only about 5 PM or so, but with only a few hours of sleep, it seemed a shame to knock ourselves out when we only had a few miles to go. Ray and Barbara caught up to us during our break, and Barbara told us how the usually-coordinated Ray had tripped over a log or something and had fallen face first into the dirt. He seemed no worse for the wear, so we all moved on.
Before long, I saw the by-now-familiar trail leading up on the west end of the spot that we had camped twice before. We had arrived, albeit my tail was dragging a bit. Ok, more than a bit. This lovely little spot, with nice grass and trees, is at the western mouth of a small rincon, just above the so-called "narrows" in Harris Wash. We call this spot Rincon Camp, appropriately. It has a lot of nice spots for tents, and some diversion in the Rincon itself. While the first five to have arrived in SLC yesterday were pretty spry, the other five were dragging a tad. Susie and I picked a spot to set up our tent, and headed down for a bath before the sun dropped behind the canyon rim. The walls are only a couple of hundred feet high or less, here, but there is very much the sense of being IN the canyon. We had a very light dinner planned, (just some Cup a Soup and Cha Cha chili for me) because of the huge lunch we had planned to eat in Escalante, so we ate that, chatted a bit, and crawled into bed around 9pm. It was hard to stay awake long enough to record in my journal.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 1999