|Capital Reef to Escalante National Monument, UT|
|Capital Reef to Escalante National Monument, UT|| |
Capital Reef to Escalante National Monument, UT
|Backpack||70.00 Miles||5 Days |
|Pete is doing the Hayduke trail. The trip was organized by Yanko who is a pro when it comes to thru hiking logistics. To help out, I volunteered to bring up two sets of food caches and of course hike with them for a stretch. I enlisted Scott, a shuttle driver extraordinaire, and Garrison, a cool guy who happens to know Geology to go along with me on the hike in case I couldn’t hack the pace and miles. Scott dropped us off in Capital Reef with the guys and then spent a few days checking out the awesome area via vehicle and foot. Then on day five he picked us all up at the Hurricane Wash Trailhead and drove us into Escalante where the boys had a zero day planned. |
Our first day (the Hayduke hikers 20th day) we headed down Lower Muley Twist to Halls Creek. This used to be an old wagon route back in the 1880s. The canyon had narrows and spacious alcoves, one of which we found graffiti dating from 1896, 1921, and 1924. Water is typically a big concern for Hayduke hikers. Part of the beta that has been collected is on water sources and they rate each based on availability. Muley Tanks is known to be a very reliable source of water while Brimham Arch Canyon might have water. Therefore, we stopped at Muley Tanks and tanked up (pun intended). The afternoon slog began as we still had a few miles to go before camp. In total, we did 16.3 miles to Brimhall Arch Canyon where we set up camp. I had several aches and pains because I hadn’t done long miles with a heavy pack in a long time. I had done some things to lighten my pack load and I’m am very grateful I did otherwise I’m not sure what condition i would have been in! Pete also seemed exhausted, he sat down when we got to camp and didn’t move for a bit. Walking in sand is hard work even though overall the walking was easy.
On Day two (day 21 for the Haydukers), Garrison and I were keen to check out Brimhall Arch so we got up an hour early and headed up the canyon. Soon we encountered a pool and neither of us seemed to be ready to get wet. So we climbed up a steep sloping rock wall in hopes for a view of the arch but when I looked I didn’t see it. We returned to camp and continued in Halls Creek until lunch time. Halls Creek flows between Halls Mesa and the Water Pocket Fold. Halls Mesa unfortunately kept getting ignored because the views of the Water Pocket Fold were way more intriguing. It was fun to spot large potholes in the bleached Navajo Sandstone slick rock that looked like a small terrarium was growing in it. The regular Hayduke route leaves and heads to the Escalante River, however we stay in Halls Creek to do an Alternative Route. After a break we headed into the Halls Creek Narrows. The Narrows were definitely a spectacular site to behold. We walked over three miles with souring Navajo Sandstone canyon walls with a small creek between. We encountered an alcove that was an absolute giant! We spent lots of time taking pianos and inspecting the ferns growing from the walls. Lots of shade and walking in the water made the warm afternoon pass quickly. The narrows were definitely a delight for me! We had a small break before the end of the canyon. We exited the canyon in a lush environment which was a matted mess of willows and other vegetation. From there our afternoon slog began. Staying near the creek was a fight due to mud and sand. Just a foot or so away was the mess that was the willows. We continued on fighting for a while until benches started to appear that we could get on top of following cow trails. The cows would have good trails onto the tops of the benches but then they’d scatter to munch all day and then later return to water. When we were really lucky we’d find an actual trail. We pushed on to just after Miller Creek which had flowing water into Halls. We made camp and collected our water from Halls Creek.
The weather forecast on NOAA before we left had called for a 30% chance of rain overnight but the Delorme’s forecast from Accuweather had downgraded it to 10 percent and then upped it that evening to 20%. So we set up our tents without the rainfly since that seemed pretty low.
Garrison calls me over and told me he’s screwed up. Somewhere during the day he had left his food bag. He had a couple dinners that had just been in his backpack but other than that he didn’t have anything. His plan was to hike back to our snack and possibly the lunch spot to look for it. He took off on his quest with headlamp, snack, and water.
Pete and I started to prepare our dinner. Instead of the commercial dinners Pete had been eating for days, I treated him to my own dehydrated meals. As close to home cooking as you can get by just boiling water on the trail. Right after dinner the rain began. Garrison had set up his hammock but not the rainfly so one of the guys helped me with that while Pete put the fly on our tent. We got everything secured before it started to lightening and thunder. I felt bad knowing that Garrison was out in the weather. I also felt secure that he’d not do anything risky. But that still didn’t stop me from worrying whenever my mind wasn’t preoccupied. After a couple hours of hanging out giggling in the tent, the rain stopped and Pete and I were able to peer out from the tent. The rain had washed any dust from the sky and the clouds had moved away quickly and we were treated to the most spectacular view of stars. It always amazes me how many stars are in the universe! I tried to sleep but I kept worrying about Garrison. Finally after 11 PM I spotted a headlamp on the trail next to camp. I checked with Garrison and learned his trip was not successful. Either a hiker or the creek had taken away his food. He probably added close to ten miles to the daily total of 15 miles. He was exhausted.
Day 3 (day 22) we quickly established that we had enough extra food to support Garrison for the rest of the trip. I had an extra dinner and snacks that I handed over - happy to get rid of the weight. His other option would have been to hike to a road and hitchhike to where he could meet us later. I’m glad we didn’t have to go that route since I would have worried about him for the rest of the trip.
We kept using the cow trails to get up in the benches instead of traveling along the creek. I’m not sure if that was the most efficient but it is what it is. Soon we left Halls Creek behind and start up the Waterpocket Fold on the Baker Route. The Baker route was named for Eugene Baker who had purchased the Halls Ranch near the turn of the century. Later when the dam was place the ranch was flooded but Bakers name lives on. Hiking up the Waterpocket Fold on slick rock was a delight. The Sandstone grips the shoes making you feel like Spider-Man! The route runs up a ridge between two drainages. Garrison had some knee pain from his big adventure the night before and Pete was running low on energy so we hung back. I, as always, needed my morning snack so we took in the views of Halls Creek below and Lake Powell. The other two guys flew up the route and waited for us at the top. We carefully picked our way along the route. Having waypoints for the first section was good since the slickrock had no dirt to make a trail or rocks for cairns. But soon as the Sandstone became less steep we could pick out the route without using the GPS. Route finding is a pleasure when the group works together as a team to keep track of cairns and paths. Garrison and I have done this several times so we easily picked our way up to the ridge. Pete also pitched in with his new found tracking skills. After lunch at the top we worked our way down into the Stevens canyon drainage system. I loaded a couple key waypoints into my GPS just in case they were needed. We dropped into the main Stevens drainage and found running water. We encountered a couple guys who were heading up the Baker Route. It’s always nice to encounter like minded people! Just as it’s always nice not to see anyone outside our party for days. After getting a liter of water from Stevens creek and having a snack, we started our afternoon slog. The thru hikers don’t seem to notice the afternoon slog. I don’t think they realize that the regular backpacker typically is setting up camp around 3:30-5 PM and so it’s tough to continue to pound out another 3-4 miles. I think that is what separates a thru hiker from a regular backpacker. I don’t mind being a regular backpacker. But I do admire the strength and endurance the thru hikers show.
Finally we see Yanko stopped up ahead and I get really excited! My dream campsite!!!! Slickrock, views, and open sky! Sleeping out under the stars was a treat after a 14 Mile day. That night I spied two 4 shooting stars as I gazed out at the Milky Way!
The morning of Day 4 (Day 23) began with a gust! But after the sun rose a beautiful day lay ahead of us. We had a morning of route finding in front of us as we completed the Baker route down thru Stevens Canyon to the Escalante River. We often found ourselves above the creek skirting a dry fall. For some people the route on the bench might have been scary since it was only a few feet wide and had a long sloping drop into the canyon. With our sure feet, our group had no worries. The route finding was again fun. It seemed we all took turns finding a critical move. My turn was finding an obscure ramp followed by a short scramble down to the creek. After that I felt like I earned my morning muffin! We continued on our way and at one point we had a special treat of seeing Stevens Arch from a perspective most people will never get. Around lunch time we hit the Escalante River. It was flowing nicely and we got to see a couple pack rafters go by. After lunch everyone left before Pete and I so we took our time navigating along the river crossing when needed. We only had a mile to go and so the water crossings were not tedious. As we approached Stevens Arch from the River I was shocked at how big it was. Scott had told me that someone had flown an airplane through it but it’s size didn’t register until I saw it! After Stevens Arch we entered the zone of the casual backpackers. We started to see people heading to see the Arch. As well as in Coyote Gulch, which was the beginning of the exit for our trip. Coyote Gulch was flowing nicely and we were treated to waterfalls and stream crossings. At some point I started to get really hungry but was being stubborn and didn’t want to stop until camp. Being low on sugar made me irrational and I started trying to dart across benches where the trail didn’t go. Pete reigned me and and fed me figs. We spotted the ruins on the side of the canyon. I was sad that I was too tired to go explore. As we continued I was surprised by the Coyote Natural Bridge. It was fascinating to think that the creek forced its way through a wall. Finally I spotted Jacob Hamblin Arch where I knew Yanko was going to pick us a site for us all. I hoped it was close and then I spotted our camp right below the Arch! It was yet another great campsite.
That evening I was treated to the joys of inch worms. They were dropping in on us from the trees. At one point we counted at least 10 on our tent. The best part was watching the rappel down from above suspended in air twirling without a care.
Even though there were about 4 other parties near by, the area was pretty quite when bedtime came. The creek pleasantly sang us to sleep that night after our 16 miles of hiking.
Our fifth and last day came upon Garrison and I. It had been an experience for us to try out thru hiking without doing the full Hayduke trail. I was sad as I knew that this was Pete’s 24th day and that it was not his last. Soon we would be parting ways again for a few more weeks. At first I tried to deny that I was sad by racing ahead at a 4 mph pace but then I realized that totally defeated what I was out there to do - hike with him. So I held up and we walked the rest of the way out Hurricane Gulch to the Hole in the Rock road where Scott awaited to take us to Escalante. The Thru hikers called the 7 mile hike a nero day. Somehow they forgot to notice they hiked 7 miles!!! Anyway after leaving our lush campsite at the Arch we worked our way from a flowing stream in Coyote Gulch to a tickling stream where Hurricane flowed into Coyote to a true desert environment. I do have to remark that with all the visitor that go to Coyote Gulch, I didn’t see one piece of trash. That amazed me, I thank all of the people for taking care of such a special area.
After our drive into town, we gorged ourselves on burgers at Nemo’s. Then later pizza and pasta and Escalante Outfitters. Eating lots after a backpack is at least one thing thru hikers and regular backpackers agree!
This adventure had ran the gamut - Desert to riparian and back to desert! I’m so glad I got to see all of the beautiful land I saw in the 70 miles over the 5 days we were out. The American Southwest is one place I will never get my fill of, especially the public lands in Utah! I also was very glad I got to spend a few days with Pete’s on his very challenging Hayduke adventure!