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Escalante Canyon 1999

Exploring the cracks

Will, Mark, and Dolph had taken a short hike yesterday afternoon. They had crossed the river to the west side, found an old horse trail that lead eventually up to a knob (elevation 5355) about 0.4 miles SW of camp (altho it takes a lot more walking to get there). They claimed that they could see down into the drainage of Main Street, and that it would be easy getting into it - much more so than going several crossings down river to the "official" entrance to the complex that Lambrechtse describes in his book. So with a nice layover day ahead of us (actually, the weather was cloudy and cool), 8 of us left camp for Main Street. Will and Mark had announced the previous evening that they would not lay over, but head up canyon to the mouth of Boulder Creek, explore it, and then maybe hike out Friday evening, to attend some wilderness hearing in the town of Escalante. This would be the last time we would see them until Saturday.

The eight of us headed off, making 3 crossings of the river to get to the outlet of a drainage leading out of a big crack. The mouth of the drainage is 4,176,059 North, 472,024 East. We went up the drainage about 100 meters or so, and saw a trail that went steeply up the side of the embankment to the left. Once on top of the sand spur, we continued to climb, following the remnants of this old horse trail until we got to the SE corner of the knob 5355. We were in a spectacular field of moki marbles, and since Susie had never seen anything like it, we stopped to look around. Barbara noticed the trail curling around the knob, and appearing to head up the drainage to the SW of the knob. But our immediate focus was Main Street, this huge canyon system (that we had visited in '86) that has a perfect 90 degree cross street nears its upper end (to the south). In fact, if you look at this region from a digital elevation model perspective, you can see a lot of the cracks. It is like the rock was thrust up, dried out, and split in the hot sun. It is so amazing, because these cracks go on for a mile or more. Will had indicated that he could see down into Main Street, and that it would be simple getting down in. Well, I think the world of Will, but I have learned over the last 20 years or so that he is very optimistic, both about how hard it is to accomplish some objectives, and how much (or how little) time it will take to do something. Sure, it would be simple getting to the floor of Main Street, since we were only 100 to 150 feet above it. Simple, as soon as we figured out how to negotiate these two huge cracks in the slickrock between us and the floor. As we approached the first crack, and began to look for a way down into it and then up and over it, George and Dolph turned around, claiming that it looked more like work than fun. So now we were six. Actually, with that many of us, it took a bit of time, and something close to rock climbing to make it across the cracks and to the floor of Main Street, but it was not really difficult.

As we got closed to the floor of the canyon, we could see that if we went all the way, progress would be blocked by a huge pool, so we stayed high. Above the pool we did get to the floor, but only to look. I remembered from the '86 trip that there was a very difficult jump that we had to do going up canyon. You had to run, and as you were jumping across the huge hole (filled with water about 5 feet below ground level and with very smooth sides), you had to get your left foot to hit at just the right spot on the side, and propel yourself across. I enjoyed that experience so much that when Lance and I came down canyon in '86, we stayed above the floor in that section. Ray went up canyon to check things out, but it was clear that while he could not see that particular pool, all the other obstacles were still there. So we headed on up on the bench on the right side. Above the "narrows," Ray dropped back in, looking for the deep hole/pool, but concluded that it must have been filled up with sand.

It was a cool day. I was hiking in a long sleeve shirt, wind shirt, polartek hat, and Goretex rain jacket. I would imagine that the temperature never rose above 50 degrees. We got to the intersection with Side Street, and went in the west arm. Or at least A&S and Susie and I. Ray and Barbara were off checking out something else. Side Street is very straight, unusually so, and narrow. It is in many places no more than 15 feet wide, and sometimes down to maybe 6 feet or so. It has virtually none of the erosional features found in a place like Little Death Hollow. Water has not carved this rock: something else, probably wind, has. We got to a pool that required some wading, and Susie did not want to go much further. I went thru the pool, and stayed in sight of Andy and Sue for a bit and then turned around. Susie and I got back to the main intersection, had lunch, and were joined by A&S. We tried to stay warm but with the breeze, there seemed little cover. It was more of a functional lunch than a leisurely one, but it stoked the fires. The 4 of us encountered a bunch of young folks from Park City who claimed to be camping on the mesa top, and had come down into Main Street for a day hike. They had dogs with them, so I figured the way could have not been too tough, but Andy later reported that he saw them in the East arm of Side Street, and they were hoisting the dogs up over choke stones with harnesses and ropes. After a brief walk up to a huge pour-off at the head of Main Street, Susie and I turned around, and with a 5 minute detour into East Side Street, we headed home. Negotiating the cracks by ourselves was a bit more difficult, just because it was harder to find the route. It was still pretty cold when we got back to camp, but Dolph and George had built a big fire near the overhang, and it had warmed the wall. It felt absolutely fabulous. I warmed up a bit, and then heated some water for Susie to have an in-tentia bath, which she seemed to appreciate. I was cool enough after my bath (it rained on me a bit) that I got in the tent and crawled into my sleeping bag. It felt wonderful!

It showered some more as we were making dinner, just enough to get things nice and damp and cold, but before we went to bed, it looked like it might clear off. Yeah, right. Actually, Thursday night was pretty rough. It rained most of the night, making it more difficult to sleep. I spend my time awake wondering about how much the river would rise, and if we could ever get the van out of Harris Wash. Our experience has been that it does not take much to make Hole-in-the-Rock Road a quagmire. As far as the water level in the river was concerned, it did not sound like flash flood time. But I did figure that there was no way we could continue up the Escalante. So I mulled over in my mind a potential escape route. The demons are always the worst at 3 am.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 1999