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Escalante Route
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mini location map2011-11-24
50 by photographer avatarGrottoGirl
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Escalante RouteNorthwest, AZ
Northwest, AZ
Backpack avatar Nov 24 2011
Backpack26.50 Miles 7,461 AEG
Backpack26.50 Miles   24 Hrs   17 Mns   1.76 mph
7,461 ft AEG   9 Hrs   14 Mns Break35 LBS Pack
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Joel and I organized a trip for the Tucson Backpacker Meetup to do the Escalante Route in the Grand Canyon. We were lucky to have a great group of experienced backpackers signed up. Practically at the trail head one guy went home due to issues with a roommate, leaving us with just 5 experienced hikers. I had met everyone else before except Elizabeth, who I was happy to finally get to know. It was also fun to be with Robin again, who we've shared several adventures. To round off our group we had Scott, he had been on our first backpack several years ago.

Day one: Tanner Trail
Thanksgiving Day, November 24

We were lucky to find that the Tanner Trail didn't have any real amount of snow, so we left our traction devices in the car, not having to carry them was a luxury. The trail was very steep from the very start and continued to be that way most of the time. There was a couple of spots where it was mostly flat which we were happy for the the break.

One of my favorite sites was the SeventyFive Mile Canyon which flows west instead of normal northerly flow of the South Rim canyons. Some day this canyon will intersect the Tanner Canyon and then be the drain for Tanner. This is called in geologic terms "Stream Piracy". In my mind I was fashioning a dumb joke, "Which pirate is the slowest in the world? A Stream Pirate!" :sl: We took a break on the ridge between SeventyFile and Tanner and tried to imagine how that would change the landscape.

There were two other groups on the trail headed down to Tanner Rapids. Even though we weren't the first down to the rapids, we did manage to get one of the best camping spots! Lots of flat areas and some stones already set up for the kitchen.

Most of our group had not all hiked together, however, everyone seemed to know someone that another person knew. Plus the "old timers" (note: Elizabeth made a crack about the young folks so anything is fair game) knew a lot of history so there was little lull in the conversation.

The sounds of the rapids put us to sleep that night. Above the rapids the river is very wide. It seems peaceful and serene before the water plunges through the rocks to form the rapids.

That night the stars were out in force. It was a New Moon which helped keep everything dark so that the stars could burn their brightest. It's amazing how many starts you can see being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We were lucky that the cloud cover was sparse so we could see the stars most of the night (I checked). There had been an earlier weather forecast predicting rain, but so far we had lucked out. The night was fairly warmish - perfect for sleeping.

Day two: Escalante Route from Tanner Rapids to Escalante Creek

We started the Escalante Route, which we all agreed was more of a trail than a route. In fact it was easier to follow than many trails we all had been on. At first it was rock lined, followed by stairs, and all of the time a clear trail bed was seen. But don't let that fool you into thinking it's easy :)

We had nice views of the river most of the morning. Right before our morning break there was a path that lead up a hillside. I decided to take it and I rose about 500 feet from the trail to find a Hillside Ruin. A square building fashioned of rocks by natives many, many years ago. It was obviously in a defensive position as you could see most of the surrounding areas. A great place to see some great views.

I came down the hillside to meet with the others for our morning break. After our break we started moving up and away from the river. The ground of the hills was a deep red color and the light reflecting off the prickly pear needles was a light yellow which made the hillsides look golden. We continued along a very narrow trail on a very steep hillside for what seemed like a long time. We had views of Pinnacles above us that we were climbing up towards. We found a nice rocky area for our lunch where we could relax for a bit before continuing the stressful traverse. From our lunch break, we could see that the river was making a distinct S shape. The trail continued in it's narrow fashion, since we were high up we had great views of the river far below which with a full stomach made me a bit nervous. :scared: I was happy when our traverse was over and we started down into Escalante Canyon. We crossed over the canyon and then over into another fork. We followed that fork down to the Colorado River and made our camp.

The stars again were out in force. We saw shooting stars which made me somewhat happier regarding the fact that the days are soo much shorter in the winter time. It was again warm that night. Being able to hang out an enjoy the company and the stars is always nice in the winter.

When I slipped into my bag that night I remembered that the next day was going to be the scariest day of hiking in my life.

Day three: Escalante Creek to Hance Rapids

Ponder the innocence of water coming out of a faucet in your kitchen and then contemplate the force and violence of the water forming SeventyFive Mile Canyon! We left camp this morning and rose away from the water along the Bright Angel Shale. We reached the top edge of SeventyFive Mile Canyon and I was blown away by the shear drop. The water had dramatically cut the canyon so that it was barely more than a slot. Not far from the mouth, it made a sharp 90 degree turn followed by several more turns. While we walked I was looking down into the canyon trying to imagine water carving out those canyon walls. I was also curious as to how in the world we were going to cross that canyon. Soon, the mystery was solved. The canyon had rise up to our level and so were were able to walk across it at that spot and scramble down into its depths. We walked in the canyon's drainage gazing up at the walls that were rising way above us. Water has a way of reminding me that you should never turn your back. While this is now just a dry creek bed, just a few minutes of rain or snow run-off could turn this dry stream into a wicked stream pirate - eroding away the earth and whisking away everything in its path.

As we reached the mouth we could hear the rapids in the river. I was sad to leave SeventyFive Mile Canyon behind.

We continued on and again rose up a way from the river and inched our way through broken rock to Papago Canyon. The mouth of the canyon is a small but dramatic pour off with smooth sides in which the water must twist and turn as it slides out to the river.

We had lunch while pondering our next moves - the next couple of sections were to be the toughest of the whole adventure: The Papago Wall and Slide. :scared:

Finally, we started up the wall. We didn't find it too difficult. I only took my pack off in one place. Suddenly we were at the top gazing down at the slide. Your heart comes to rest in your throat as you look down the rock slide you must navigate to the bottom. From the top a clear path is not evident until you actually start making your way through the rocks and dirt. Elizabeth started her way down and we all watched from above. She slide aways on her butt until much of her pants was shredded (they had already been wrecked earlier in the trip). We noticed as she went down that there was a high and a low route leaving the slide. We decided then to plan to take the high exit. The way down was actually much easier than it looked. While one wrong move could end everything, as long as we were careful it wasn't too bad. I was thankful to be done.

We cruised to Hance Rapids and found that my favorite canyon campsite was still available. I call it the "Octopus Mesquite Campsite". Since we had a short day, we had plenty of time to relax and explore. During this time, Robin and Elizabeth sewed up their pants.

Again, the stars were out in force that night. I kept thinking about all of the city folk who have never seen the Milky Way and felt sorry for them. I am grateful that I saw the millions of stars that I saw from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Backpacking is great as all you have to do is survive - however at night when everyone else has collapsed into their tents it leaves me without anything to do but to follow. That night the sound of Hance Rapids lulled me to sleep so that I could be well rested for the journey out of the canyon.

Day four: New Hance Trail

We made our way up Red Canyon, following cairns placed in strategic places along the route. I was thinking how it was ironic that this trail is harder to follow than the Escalante route. After about 40 minutes the trail leaves the bottom of Red Canyon to start the killer ascent up to the rim. There was water at this point in the canyon, so we paused to check it out.

I was keeping my eye's peeled for the "Great Unconformity" that was supposed to be viewable from the trail. I think I saw it but I may never know for sure.

I was happy that we were not encountering weather on this trail like we did last year. Scrambling up the trail was a lot easier without snow/ice to deal with. I did rip my pants taking an extra large step up - I guess I was jealous of Liz and Robin.

We had shade most of the hike out - which made the canyon walls not as photographic as the it had been on the other days of our trip. Probably a good thing because really, you can only take so many photos :)

The hike out was taking its toll especially in the areas where rockslides had covered the trails. By the time we reached the top we were all glad to be done.


As a seasoned Grand Canyon (Trail) traveler, I feel like I've earned that badge this trip, it is forever amazing how every step and turn offers more beauty and amazement than one can imagine is possible. The scenery is unlike anywhere on this earth. I can't wait for my next Grand Canyon adventure!
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