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Day 4

Coyote Gulch 1999 - 2000
Adventure in the American Outback

No Y2K worries here!

Thursday, December 30   The Weather Channel's web site had a great forecast for Hanksville, Utah, the nearest town of any size, when I had checked it in the Atlanta Crown Room. However, as we were getting dressed that morning, Susie noted that the Weather Channel was now predicting some snow in the upper elevations near Coyote on Friday nite. We had a lousy continental breakfast at the Days Inn, and were rolling out the driveway in our respective 4WD Chevy Blazer's by a few minutes after 7am. The air was cold, and the sky was clear.

We got to Torrey by about 10:40 am. I had looked up on the Internet, and found there was a Subway in Torrey, so we could grab a sandwich to go, get some last gas if needed, and head over Boulder Mtn and down into the Escalante Canyons section of the region which comprises part of the Glen Canyon NRA and the new Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. It was the same route we had taken last April, but I can not imagine ever tiring of it. The sweeping vistas are some of the most impressive in this part of the world. The escarpment which makes up the heart of Capital Reef national Park, Navajo Mountain, 50 Mile Mountain, and the Canyons of the Escalante.

We made excellent time, first, because the weather was so good, second, because we were highly motivated to start hiking, and third, none of us felt the need to explore every convenience store along the way, like can often occur with larger groups. We got to Hole in the Rock Road a bit after noon, and flew down the washboarded road as fast as our chattering teeth could tolerate. Even though it was early by most canyon trip standards (normally, we don't start hiking until 3:30 or 4 pm) we knew we had over 6 miles to hike to the confluence of Hurricane Wash and Coyote gulch, and a relatively few hours of daylight left. Sunset was at 5:15 pm.

We pulled up to the Hurricane Wash Trailhead at about 12:50 pm, and Susie and I were hiking within 15 minutes. I have to be honest: I could not remember very much of the hike in, down Hurricane Wash, from 20 years ago. I remember the images in the photos I took, and I remember getting further behind the main party, and sinking into quicksand up to my crotch, a half mile or so from the confluence with Coyote Gulch. But Hurricane wash was my first few miles of bakcpacking in a canyon, we were really stressed out from the tribulations of just trying to get to the trailhead back then, and well, it is pretty much of a blur. Also, with 17 or so canyon trips under my belt, the entire experience means so much more to me now, and I am more attuned to the "feel" of the canyon, the patterns in the rock, and sand, and water. Alas, it almost felt like a new hike. We started off in the wash bottom, with the temperature (so said the thermometer on our 4WD) of 48 , and had not been hiking more than 5 minutes, when we came across an American Classic: an authentic cowboy, probably in his 50's, although it was difficult to discern from his weatherbeaten face, drive a herd of perhaps 40 cattle up the wash towards us. We stopped and chatted for a while. I was in a holiday mood, so I did not even think of lecturing him on subsidized grazing fees, and the damage cattle do to this fragile territory, and how they compete with the indigenous wildlife for precious food and water. We just wished him Happy New year, and continued down the wash.

Truth be told, the cattle had done a real number on the wash bottom: what would otherwise have been hard packed dirt or sand, was really churned up. It was like walking on the extra-tidal sand on a beach: tough to do with 70 lbs on your back. Eventually, we got to a point where the cattle had stayed out of the wash bottom, and the footing improved dramatically. As we traveled down Hurricane, we could see in the distance where the wash started cutting deeper into the rock. Sure enough, we got to a spot that I remembered, where the wash cuts through rock walls which are barely 15 feet apart. The walls are not high, but it is one's first taste of the canyon effect. Andy and Sue had caught up to us pretty quickly, and we chatted as we walked. Since the grade is slightly downhill, the hiking was pretty easy. After about 90 minutes, after going through a nice constriction, we stopped for a break. I took out my GPS, and quickly discerned that we were already more than half way. I was heartened by the fact that even with slower going as the creek bed filled with water, we would likely make camp before sunset. At this point, we were still in the sun, and long underwear tops felt like total overkill. I knew that would change as soon as the canyon walls arose, which they did in another few hundred meters.

I guess our first surprise was the amount of ice in the streambed where the water started flowing. It was a real job to pick your way across and thru the ice. It also slowed us down quite a bit. It was clear that the sun was not reaching the canyon bottom in places for more than an hour per day: there was still frost on the ground at 3 pm. As we proceeded on down, I heard some thrashing off to my left, and went up over a 7 foot rise to investigate. There was a young couple from SLC just setting up camp in this tiny alcove. I bet the sun had not struck the ground at the point where their tent was for months. It seemed to me to be a strange place to camp, but that is why they make chocolate and vanilla ice cream. I did not talk too much, but they did mention that there were a few other parties ahead of us. I was concerned that others would get to the site that I had picked out, and so pressed on. We met another couple coming out who were from Iowa.

We got to the Gulch, and there was more water flowing than I had anticipated, and it was cloudy, indicating that water flow was greater than "normal." From the confluence with Coyote, I headed upstream a few hundred meters through some narrows, and confirmed that we had our proposed site to ourselves, so I waived the others up. We had arrived at 4 pm, having made outstanding time. However, I could feel a chill in the air already, as there was but 90 minutes of daylight left. Our campsite is the same we had used on two previous trips, at the mouth of a side canyon which enters Coyote from the north, about 250 meters upstream of the confluence. We picked out places for our tents, I hung New Years decorations, and we emptied our packs pretty quickly, knowing that it would not be long before dark. I took the opportunity to go down to the creek and shampoo my hair. God, the water, which was flowing thru ice, was cold. My head just hurt. The rest of my bath was unusually perfunctory, but I had not sweated too much on the hike in. Everyone else seemed to think that this morning's hot shower in the motel would suffice for the day's bathing requirements.

Since the Subway sandwich had long since been metabolized, no one seemed to want to wait until total darkness to prepare dinner. Susie and I fixed our own version of Santa Fe Chicken with black beans and rice. It was great. We cooked some brownies on our Bakepacker and shared them. We went over to the rock wall near our tents and built a small fire. Yes, I know these things are forbidden, but the reason that they are is that most folks build huge fires, strip out all the surrounding dead wood, and leave a fire ring and piles of ashes. We made a small, non-Ray-Payne fire, with a few pieces of driftwood and downed branches, and ultimately buried the ashes so it was not too evident. I also have a problem with the BLM or NFS or NPS pushing no trace camping for humans and then permitting horse packing, or worse, cattle grazing. The latter has not been allowed for years, and there are still dried cow pies all over the place. The other thing is that a group of 4 has a much smaller impact than a group of 12 or so. Maybe I am just rationalizing. For sure, on this nite, it was not a big fire nor a long fire. We were tired from all the traveling and the fast hike in, and were ready for bed about 9 pm. It was clear nite, and the stars were spectacular. We zipped our bags together, and settled in for a cool night.

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Roger A. Jenkins, 2000