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Escalante Canyon 1999

Up the Escalante

This was supposed to be our big day. Lots of miles along the river. I remember the day from the '86 trip, and it seemed longish then. Susie and I had instant oatmeal for breakfast. Never satisfying for very long, but not too bad at the time. Of course, any time the subject of oatmeal comes up, one has to listen to Andy complain about how much he hates it, but as with any pilgrimage, there are rituals. In contrast, George has it every morning. But that is why they make chocolate and vanilla ice cream. We rolled out of camp about 9:15 am, our usual hour. As I recall, except for Will and Mark, we were last. Also as usual. The Escalante canyon is pretty broad at this point, so the benches are really quite wide. The basic approach is that you hike along the bench, break thru the brush along the edge of the river, as the walls of the canyon force you nearer to the water. You get out in view of the water, look for a part of the bank that is not so steep that you can't get down, jump into the water after you have decided if the best place to get up on the opposite back is upstream, downstream, or straight across. We laughed at the ranger lady as we hiked, joking that we were continually on the lookout for icebergs floating in the river. Actually, the water was quite clear that day, not flowing very hard, and about the only tough part was climbing up on the steep banks. Once you cross, you push your way through the stream side vegetation on that bank, break thru to the open stuff, and then walk the bench around until forced to repeat the process. We were laughing because the ranger had made such a big deal of hiking upstream, compared to what she thought was the more sensible approach of going downstream: In fact, one spends so little time in the water, that it hardly makes a difference. Either she just has to expend the absolute least amount of energy, or hasn't learned yet that you hike on the bank, not in the river.

The most amazing coincidence occurred, about one bend downstream of the first side canyon on the right: Susie and I had stopped for a break, mainly so she could take a leak and remove all the gravel from her boots. About the time we were starting to hoist, Will and Mark came up and started crossing the river. Just about the time that Will had finished crossing, he looked down, and floating by him was Ray's walking stick. (We found out later that Ray had indeed lost it in the river, crossing to go over to that side canyon. Such a coincidence that someone was there at the exact time it floated by.)

Just around the bend from this point, there is huge sand dune that one could use to climb out of the canyon. Right beyond that, about one third the way up the wall are some nice pictographs. I had looked at them in '86, but I knew that we had to move on. I could feel it would be a warm day, and Susie always has a problem with the heat, so I did not want to expend our energy that way. Most of the rest of the crew was up looking at them. We hiked on, and noticed that since going thru the fence a while back, there was a lot more signs of cattle. The stream crossings were easier, the paths a tad wider, and the cow pies up in quantity by a couple of orders of magnitude. Many were nice and fresh. How can this be true wilderness, if you feel like you are hiking in a barnyard? It is such a horrible waste of this beautiful country, to use it for government subsidized grazing. The difference in the amount of grass around, relative to just a few miles down canyon, is remarkable.

We pulled up under a little overhang to get some shade for lunch. Most of the others, with the exception of George, of course, as he was hiking to the beat of a different drummer, and way out ahead, caught up, and pulled into the overhang. The shade felt really good, so we knew it was warm. I could tell that we were not making as much progress as in '86. But 13 years has a way of doing that to you. Lot of difference between 38 and 51. A little more hiking brought us past an outfitters camp, or so it seemed. There were about 7 or 8 tents, right out in the sun along the river bank. All the tents were the same, little dome jobs. (Of course, we might have looked like we had been outfitted. There were 10 of us on this trip, with 8 tents. Dolph has a North Face Tadpole. Of the remaining 7, Mark, Will, Ray, Barbara and George all had the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight, and A&S and Susie and I had Clip 3 Flashlights. So maybe even we looked outfitted. However, I can not imagine a more independent and least-likely-to-be-outfitted bunch of folks.) A little bit beyond the camp, on the left side of the river, we came upon a big rincon, which is a pretty definitive locator. Of course, we took a GPS reading just to make sure. We stopped in the welcome shade for a rest. I could tell that Susie was getting tired, but her spirits were not too bad. Such was pretty good, considering the fact that she had a blister that had formed, broken, and was sort of bleeding right on her hip where her hip belt is. I have never seen anything like that, and she has never had a problem with this pack. Always the sensitive, '90's kinda guy, I chided her for the lack of fat in her diet or estrogen in her body.

Right above the rincon, on the other side of the river, we came on some nice petroglyphs only about 50 feet above the bench level. When we got around the bend, we were able to look back and see a natural arch, high on the rim of the canyon. We were getting close. Around that bend, we came to the premier bathing spot in all of canyon country, along the river, so I knew we were almost home. We rolled into camp at 4:12. George had been there for over 90 minutes. How does he do it?? We had made 24 fords, and had walked in a lot of loose sand, and cut thru a lot of brush. According to MapTech's Terrain Navigator, it is just a tad over 10 miles from Camp 2 to Camp 3 in Horse canyon. It took Susie and I just about 7 hours under full sun. One can probably do the trip a bit faster (George did), but a lot depends on the difficulty of the river crossings.

What a difference the cows made in our experience at Horse Canyon. The campsite, which has shade in the late afternoon (cows like that just as much as humans do), was covered with cow pies. You sorta had to kick the dry ones out of the way, and hope you did not step on a fresh one. There was a little bit of water flowing in the streambed, but I opted to go back down to the river to get our water, because it was just too hard to scrape it up. (After dinner, I did a bit of stream re-engineering, and made a nice little spot to get water.) It was wonderful bathing in this great spot: a nice rock shelf right down to the water. We had a great dinner that night: a Knorr black bean-containing Rice Mates mix. We threw that in to the required amount of instant rice, with some freeze dried chicken, and some dehydrated diced tomatoes (along with a half teaspoon or so of a mix of chili powder and cumin - if you are going to go Mexican, get it spicy). Anyway, it was wonderful. We need to remember that for the future. It is fast, easy, tasty, and it makes enough to satisfy me. An awesome combination.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 1999