Sunday, May 8, 2011

Little Death Hollow, Escalante River, Wolverine Canyon: GS Escalante National Monument

In honor of my recent birthday, Erik and I took our first trip down to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.  The canyons in the Escalante River area provide some of the most outstanding hiking to be found on earth. This is a huge area consisting of a maze of sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus.  The Escalante River and its drainages also provide an outstanding opportunity for backpacking.  We absolutely love technical canyoneering, but this trip we wanted to do a multi-day backpack in order to try out some of our new backpacking gear.  So we chose the non-techincal route this time.  Plus, there is nothing like backcountry backpacking to get away from it all.  Did I mention that I am in love with Southern Utah?

We chose to do a 3 day trip incorporating the following canyons: Little Death Hollow, Horse Canyon to the Escalante River, The Gulch with a cutback to Horse Canyon, and Wolverine Canyon. A nice hike description describing details on how to get there for Little Death and Wolverine Canyons is provided below.

Day 1
We started from the Little Death Hollow trailhead Thursday afternoon.  We were joined on this trip by our friends and neighbors Jared and Annette P.  The first few miles were pretty uneventful as we headed into the canyon. We chased some cattle and enjoyed the warm weather and we joked about how it was probably snowing back in Provo.

The canyon eventually began to narrow and become a little more interesting.

We explored this side canyon that was VERY narrow and required stemming to stay above the narrow bottom.  We didn't go too far up  before we encountered impassible climbs.

Back in little death we were in awe of the canyon, the further we went the more it twisted and narrowed.

This canyon is really impressive, Erik and I are convinced that is may be the longest non-technical narrows out there.  It is pretty rare to find a canyon this amazing that does not require rappelling and climbing skills.  I would recommend it even to families with kids who can handle the scrambling over and down rocks and the longer mileage.

On day 1 we had plans to make it the full 9 miles through Little Death to camp in Horse canyon that night. But after a few hours of taking our time through the narrows it was starting to get dark.  It was also about this time we started to encounter pools in the canyon that require wading through.

We came to one long pool under a choke stone that we couldn't determine the depth of.  Because it was getting dark, we wanted to avoid getting too wet the first day, we wanted to keep our packs dry, and we still had several miles of narrows to get through before reaching horse canyon, we opted to backtrack to one spot we had seen where we could climb out of the canyon to higher ground.  (You don't want to find yourself camped in the narrows during a flash flood)

So we went back a 1/2 mile, climbed a pretty treacherous climb, and made camp on some of the slick rock for the night.  There was barely enough fairly flat space where we climbed to set up the tent, but at least we were safe and dry for the night. You really don't want to camp in the canyon anywhere, but we didn't want to be frantically hiking several miles through the narrows in the dark trying to reach the end where it is safer to camp.  It ended up being a good choice because the second we decided to camp, it got dark very fast.  We enjoyed our dinner of dehydrated refried beans rolled in a tortilla with a cheese stick.  SO GOOD! Camp bean burros!

Day 2
On day two we set out better prepared to face the water obstacles in the canyon.  We dressed a to get wet and had the essentials in the dry bags in case we had to do some swimming.  Even though Little Death is typically a dry canyon we obviously had come at a wet time, and we wanted to make sure we were prepared.  As we traversed through the canyon, we were so glad we had decided to wait until morning.  There were many water obstacles with a lot of cold water wading and downclimbing.  Even though there wasn't anything technical, it was nice that we were facing the most challenging part of the canyon with plenty of sunlight and a warmer part of the day.  In the words or Erik, "It was a blast!"

After exiting Little Death Hollow we found ourselves in Horse Canyon where we had hoped to camp the first night.  Our original plan was to camp here, hike down to the Escalante River, which we would then hike up 4 miles to The Gulch, another slot canyon, with a cut-off back to Horse Canyon.  But since we were behind schedule we decided on just a few hour trip to the Escalante River to fill up our water levels and to "bathe" a bit.

The guys pumping water through our water filter.

The girls working on our tans

We spent a few hours on the banks of the Escalante.  We cleaned the grime of Little Death Hollow off of us and our clothes, we pumped water, we explored up stream a bit, we napped on the bank in the sun, we let our shoes and clothes dry off, we swam, we drank as much as possible, pumped water again, and after a fun few hours we hiked back up horse canyon to where we had dropped our packs to camp that night.

After a nice dinner of curried rice and chicken, with some swiss chocolate (thank you Annette), we retired to our tents, exhausted about 9pm, and we all slept until 8am.  Nothing like a 11 hour sleep to get you ready for the next day!  How about our view from the tent that we woke up too that morning huh?

Day 3
We spent our final day looping back to the car through Wolverine canyon.  It was a fun canyon, not as narrow or challenging as Little Death, but still impressive enough.   There was petrified wood strewn through the entire canyon, and it was finally here, in wolverine that we began to see other hikers.

Once exciting the narrows of Wolverine, it was a pretty tedious couple miles back to our car in the hottest part of the day.  Annette and I kept telling each other, "its just around the corner..." and FINALLY, after too many corners to count, we came around a corner, and way down in the valley, was our car, shining like a beacon.

Our group of adventures had made it back! It felt wonderful to take our shoes and heavy packs off at the car.  Thanks Jared and Annette for joining us on our crazy canyon adventures! Excellent weekend, with excellent company, and we only got lost looking for a running spring once.  Escalante NM is an amazing place, can't wait to get back.  Did I mention southern Utah rocks!


Tera said...

Call me a scaredy cat but that water in the canyon's looked a little crazy.
How fun to filter your own water!

Emilee said...

so cool!