Hardest Hike of My Life
Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
147Trip End Jan 25, 2012
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What I did
Hiked Cross Country Through The Slot Canyons
Cross Country Hiking In Escalante National Monument
I went on the hardest hike of my life in Escalante National Monument in Utah. Gretchen dropped me and my friend off on Burr Trail Road. The plan was the hike cross country up over Durffey Mesa and down into Boulder Creek via a side canyon. Boulder Creek is a slot canyon running through Escalante. This first section was about 3 miles. Next, we'd hike along the twists and turns of Boulder Creek for about a mile and change until a spot on the map where another side canyon came in from the west side. We'd exit the creek there and ascend up to the Hogback - a narrow spine in Escalante where the main N-S road was. Lastly, we hike down the road for another mile to the Calf Creek Recreation Area - where Gretchen would have set up our campsite
We had purchased the 1:24000 quad map that contained the area for the hike and my friend was a good navigator so I left it to him to find the right route. Whenever he needed to look at the map, I would wander away and look at the local fauna and flora - mostly lizards and cactus and scrub pine. I did see one desert hare and chased it a bit, but it was too fast for me.
The first part of the hike went well though it was pretty hot - only 70 degrees, but in full sun, it felt more like 100. We figured on a quick hike, so I didn't carry water. Luckily, my friend did, and gave me some of his several times.
We ascended the mesa on a mostly rock landscape. It was only steep right near the top. On top was a red sandy ecosystem full of scrub pines. We walked along the top going mostly southwest until we'd crossed the mesa and could see Boulder canyon down below. We found the way down and slowly descended to the creek. We got cliffed out just above the creek - about 12 feet - too far to jump down so we had to backtrack a bit up over a hill to find a safe way to the canyon floor.
Here's where things got interesting! The canyon was a typical Utah slot canyon with 10-20 foot cliff sides and a bottom about 50 feet across. The creek curved through the bottom going from one rock wall to the other - meaning that travel down the canyon meant crossing the creek many times.
But as we arrived, I was so hot that I jumped right in. It was over my head and pretty much white water. My friend immediately jumped in after me and grabbed me and pushed us to shore after about 100 feet of travel in the rushing water. Oops.
We found a nice field, and I rested while he went back to retrieve the map and compass that he'd dropped when he jumped in. Ten minutes later, we found a nice rock with a pool next to it and stopped to look at the scenery and dry out a bit. All for naught it turns out.
We could see where we needed to ascend out the other side. It looked about a half mile down river. So we had to cross the creek a dozen times to go downstream. Always together and cautiously as it was always pretty fast and deep water.
At one point, we stopped in some dense vegetation. I had just passed through it. My friend stopped and looked at the small trees - all about 6 feet tall and full of leaves of three! Poison ivy in tree form! We were standing in a forest of it. The whole canyon was full of it. Yikes.
We entered the creek one last time (scrubbed ourselves as best we could) and decided to try to climb out here. We were one or two bends away from the side canyon that we wanted, but the poison ivy trees convinced us to exit a bit early and hope for the best.
There was a small corner near us with a small tree growing out of it that we could use. It was about 10-12 feet of vertical and then a small ledge and in another 5 feet, it looked like the slope lessened a bit and we could scramble up to safety - or at least a bigger shelf where we could hopefully walk the rest of the way to the side canyon.
The climb was crazy. I couldn't climb so my friend basically pushed/carried me up the first bit. I think I was more of a hindrance than a help. Falling meant landing on a pile of rocks next to the rushing water
Thankfully, the bench did lead over the side canyon and we could see it ascended to the power lines and the roadway above us. And it was mostly walkable.
We ascended out the side canyon to the road as intended and then ran down the road for about a mile to the campground where Gretchen and Quincy were waiting. I was exhausted. So much so that my tongue was practically hanging to the ground. My friend Mark was exhausted as well. We stopped in nearby Calf Creek and completely doused ourselves scrubbing once again to hopefully get all the poison ivy off. Our short 5 mile cross country hike had turned into a bit of a mini-epic - almost three hours of desert sun, whitewater and a couple of cliffs.
I think I prefer the hiking back in Virginia.
(Mark's German Shepherd)