Paying the fiddler

This was one of those many trips that you do because you have a couple days, fully knowing that even another half day would be much more comfortable.  DP2M0717

But a little suffering is much better than not going.

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In this case, waiting wasn’t an option, unless I wanted to wait until next year, as river flows required for my day 2 closing of the loop were already down to about 65% of the agreed upon bare minimum at the time I started hiking.

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No sure water for the entire 25+ miles of hiking makes more days a bit tricky as well.

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Rock Canyon and Navajo Mtn…

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The consequences of being grazed hard by sheep are visible on much of the Block, but looking 10′ to your left and 10′ to your right and seeing 1500′ below on both sides is a view experience that’s tough to beat.   And there was water, of course.  So it goes.

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I cursed myself for trying to take a direct line after dropping off.  Steep, loose chinle hills with crazy convoluted drainages was hard.

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Seeing the other side, though, I was glad I had.  The drainage crossing would have otherwise been much worse.

 

 

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The maze of drainages below in the moenkopi was impressive and intimidating knowing how tedious it might prove to be.  Luckily I picked a great ridge and great drainage.

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Monster cairn marking the Chinese Trail…

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From whence I came…

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Rim walking in the late afternoon was pretty glorious despite a nagging headache.

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Lots of great plants.  Amsonia sp near the mouth to the Devil.

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I was pretty beat reaching the river, and while in the Grand a few weeks ago boating meant rest, I knew better here. First sight of the water in the evening didn’t inspire confidence.  I hiked another part of a bend to pass a shallow rocky section I’d be dragging anyway.

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Things got better, though, and despite a lot of towing, it was still awesome.

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A pretty serious headwind was getting more serious around the time I stopped for some lunch so it was bench walking the rest of the way.

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Equally enjoyable as far as I’m concerned…

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Some surprisingly fun slickrock hiking only a couple hundred meters below the highway back to my bike, ~7 mile ride to the truck, and home.

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A big hike in the Grand Canyon, part 2

Kanab Creek was, at least at first, a relief after walking up the river in the sun.  Cool, wet, green, and easy walking for about the first bend or two.

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A small corner of a monster of a hanging garden…

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The walking was quite a bit less serene than the pics suggest.

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Jumpup provided some colorful distraction from our already heavy packs that had recently added 7l of water.

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Of course, as we predicted, there would be plenty of water along the way.  When you aren’t sure, though, you keep drinking up and tanking up when it goes dry.

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I somehow didn’t notice the fairy tale walking cottonwood in the moment…

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Back up for air in the morning.

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We considered taking the pass between Fishtail Mesa and the rim but figured the drainage-heading on the other side might be worse than taking Indian Hollow all the way up.

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While Indian Hollow might not have been the most dramatic section of the trip, going from hours in a shallow drainage of mountain shrubs and PJ to suddenly being on the rim and being punched in the face with what had been right next to us all morning was a highlight of the trip.

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Down East Deer…

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… far enough to decide straight up and out was better than turning back.

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We moved fast but the knee and quad punishment was significant.

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The thought of a morning of having the current carry us seemed was quite welcome.

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Back in Kanab

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Boulder variety…

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At camp night 6…

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It was immediately apparent that we were going to be ending on a high note…

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Laughing, retry…

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Probably less than two miles as the crow flies and we were almost to the rim.  All in all a seriously smashing adventure.  New places, new skills, a new friend, and a wonderfully varied, fun, relentlessly challenging route.

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Things were capped appropriately by a work safety training the day after returning home where I learned about the dangers of walking on uneven surfaces.  Heh….

A big hike in the Grand Canyon, part 1

Dave already killed it with the narrative here, here , here, here, and here so I’ll keep the words to a minimum.  I think we both had a bit of nerves headed into this one; Dave hadn’t hiked on dirt in months and until this trip I had managed years of travel to all corners of the Colorado Plateau without the use of ropes.  Technical canyoneering has always had some appeal as a tool to get places as part of bigger trips, but I’ve gotten by without it and I don’t really have any peers into it so it’s been easy to not learn.  I jumped at the chance to dive in when Dave emailed me a big mess of lines on a hillmap link–a rough route idea for eight days in the Grand.

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It was immediately strange being in such a familiar landscape with such unfamiliar geology.  I know the personalities and tendencies of Navajo, Wingate, and Kayenta intimately–where to find water, where to look for routes in and out of canyons; but Supai, Toroweap, and this strange slick thing called limestone was a bit disorienting.  Patterns emerged, though, like (at least this early in the spring) running water every time we went through the Supai.

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After our first rappel things got special in a hurry.

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Things remained fun and interesting all the way to the river.

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Sleep was easy as was distraction from hard walking and heavy packs.

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I don’t think we had a day without a lot of serious boulder hoppin.

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I like a good mix of big views and rims in addition to canyon bottoms so it was to see what things looked like from above for a bit.

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The Redwall rim was pretty easy if hot travel but getting up through the Supai was probably the most tedious stretch of the trip.  Even bigger views once on top…

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…and a bit tamer route down…

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Olo from above:

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I woke up before dawn to the unmistakable barking/call of a Mexican spotted owl that had made its way to within probably 30m of our camp.  Being reminded of what the walls looked like once light came made it apparent that a significant amount of patience and/or luck would be required to actually see it.

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Dave’s attention to detail on anchors was appreciated…

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After a final short rappel to the river it was several miles of (at times razor-sharp) boulder hopping up to Kanab Creek…

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to be continued…

Tis the season…

…for visitation to the busier parts of the Plateau.  Roads and visitor centers are closed, parking lots empty, days getting longer…

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I had plans of blazing through the first miles with my trusty trailhead shuttle mt bike but sandy canyon bottoms and Elephant Hill aren’t exactly blazing terrain so I ditched the bike and started walking.

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Nice views down Red Lake…

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…and up Red Lake….

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Water was trickier than expected for a lot of the trip, with the expected being water everywhere and some remaining snow (based on how things look here at home).  I hadn’t carried any water up from the river and had to spend some time looking, but knowing where to look is usually successful.DSC00208

In the morning it was down into Ernie’s Country…

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Some ramblin in the Fins before making my way out…

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…and down into the Maze…

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Plenty of water in the canyon bottoms…

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I never tire of Cottonwoods.

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Climbing out again…

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Back down to the river…

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I hadn’t been down Red Lake before this trip and it’s pretty excellent.

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Never tire of Junipers either.

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Winter sun

This time of year choosing routes that stay high and out of the bottoms of canyons is usually preferable   Water is plentiful and one can take full advantage of the wonderful Utah winter sun, avoiding chilly and shady canyon bottoms.  The top of the Waterpocket Fold seemed like a good place to be.  We were traveling through the tail end of a rather large weather system, which made things a bit slow and sloppy, especially once we hit Hole in the Rock road.  Escalante had about 6″ and I theorized that by the time we got down to 40 mile ridge we’d be out of the snow.  Didn’t happen, and the snow actually got deeper the further south we headed.  The afternoon was sunny and the snow was melting fast, making for some pretty gnarly driving.

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We eventually made it and headed out in the dark in about 8″ of snow.  Once we hit Navajo and its stores of warmth only a few hundred feet lower in elevation water was running everywhere.  We set up camp and enjoyed the show until it got cold enough for the melting to stop.


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We enjoyed the sun for the few minutes it was below the fog…

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…and then enjoyed the fog…

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…snow line…

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All that snowmelt made for some fun waist-deep sections of river walking.  Cody getting stuck in thigh deep quicksand at the mouth of Stevens was particularly interesting.

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The fog finally cleared in the early afternoon but finding the sun for some drying and warmth wasn’t exactly easy…

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It was pretty clear that due to slow travel since leaving home we weren’t making it to the promised land above, so we chased the sun around bends in the canyon hoping for a solid half hour or so to dry off a bit more before the early evening set in.SDIM0131

I think we ended up with about 10 minutes, but it was glorious.

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We were a bit concerned about what a couple more warm days might mean for river levels and road conditions getting out so we decided to mosey back and shoot for being reasonably close to the truck the last night.

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The river ended up being a little bit lower and hitting it during maximum sunlight made things much more comfortable this time around…

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We sat here a long time drying out and wondering why we didn’t just wander around up here for a couple days.

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We considered setting up camp here but warm greasy food and beer was calling from up north

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A night of car camping and bumming around in the Swell topped the trip off nicely.  All in all a fairly terrible route for the conditions but I can’t think of anything else I would have rather been doing.

Lower Escalante canyons and flash flood packrafting

I guess that living in Colorado, this is the time of year that I’m supposed to go to the mountains, but I just keep heading west this summer.  No crowds, hanging gardens going bonkers, and being in a place in a time you aren’t supposed to be there keeps bringing me back.SDIM0052

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On the morning of day 2 we took our time drinking coffee to a good 45 minutes of near-continuous lightning.  SDIM0075

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…and a few sprinkles…

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A little rumblin’ from upcanyon and things started to look pretty different.  This was about thigh deep and 20′ wide right here.  As the raven flies we were only about 6 miles from Fiftymile Mountain (at the top of which all rain would drain in the opposite direction) and had major drainages less than 2 miles to the north and south of us.  That’s a pretty small area to gather water from considering it was barely raining where we were.  Yikes.

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The narrows ahead were clearly going to have to wait, so we did the obvious thing.  Willows prevented running more than a couple bends in the canyon, but saying this was a really, really fun morning doesn’t begin to do it justice.

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Though it had subsided a bit, the flood was still crankin’ over three hours later.  As a cooworker of mine would say, a reeeeeal toad-choker!  Everything below here has, at least at some time, been under Lake Powell (note the bathtub ring on the wall).   It had stopped raining a couple hours earlier but we played it safe and let the water level drop a bit more before heading into this section of narrows.

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Some normally-submerged narrows…

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The chance to see some these places that have only been above water a handful of times in the last 50 years was definitely a reason for doing this trip now.  These canyons, though are more than rock.  Bleached walls, seeps without plants, and feet of silt on the canyon floor will take a long time (if ever) to restore.

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There was some hope; the lower canyons were less weedy than I expected.  The silt benches are almost completely tamarisk and russian thistle, but along the water was mostly willows and natives and even some young cottonwoods in areas that have been above water for a few years.

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Eventually hitting the lake…

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SDIM0222I’ll try not to rant about the lake,  but one of the biggest tragedies is that it effectively buit a superhighway (with hundreds of side roads) through one of the most spectacular and remote wildernesses in the country.  Side canyons that would take days to reach have jetskiers zipping up to the end of the water just to turn around and head to the next one.

SDIM0253Camp for night two.  Between the lake and here was the gnarliest of all beaver dam complexes I’ve experienced, and I’ve been through a few.  We counted 12 consecutive dams (those are just the ones we could see).  I don’t know the total distance, but it was almost 3 hours of serious thrashing into dusk.

 

SDIM0256 Some kinda Phacelia…

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Sometime I’ll just sit in here a couple days.  I don’t know that I’ve had a place linger in my mind for days after being home like these few miles, especially in such familiar country.

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Somewhere in here I had a bit of a *ahem* mishap with the camera that involved water and this was the end of the photos for the trip.  Luckily it recovered.

I made myself suffer by coming home and looking at photos from Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde and Tad Nichols, which typically makes me feel physically ill in the moment, but mostly I just wanted to go back and do it again.

 

Three/Labyrinth/Horseshoe

Although my good friend Kyle fell head first and deep in love for canyon country after moving here from Omaha a yearish ago, he hadn’t really done much in the way of multi-day adventures.  He’s always up for anything so I let him borrow some gear and we headed out to a corner I hadn’t been to.  hs2photo Kyle

I’ve somehow managed to not own a shelter since last September.  I’ve been out a lot of nights since then, and not always in good weather (alcoves and ledges have been sufficient so far).  Hopefully I can remedy that before getting punished too badly.

How to not lower packs…

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Onto the water.  Pace on water is still a bit mysterious to me.  I had based what I thought was possible mileage-wise on other trips so far, but it was soon apparent that the current was basically non-existant and that we had 32 miles of paddling on the menu for the day.

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SDIM0708 beaver tracks…

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SDIM0750We considered climbing over Bowknot Bend, but didn’t.  I’m all for enjoying the journey, but it was a little hard to stomach that it would take us almost three hours to travel a hundred meters or so as the raven flies…

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I knew that the canyon supposedly had perennial water, but this is the dryest time of year–after the runoff and seasonal streams are gone and before the monsoons of later in July and August.  We had tanked up at the river just in case and ended up finding a small pool after lunch.  After another hour or so, we were stopped in our tracks by one of the craziest things I’ve seen.  Out of seemingly nowhere, water just started flowing down the streambed like a crystal clear little flash flood.  I’m open to explanations, although I’m happy without one.  It was about 95 degrees with no precip anywhere near in weeks.

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There was no water when we arrived at the spot the below photo was taken.

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Travel got a tricker as we made our way up canyon.  The willows got thicker and the boulders to climb around bigger and more frequent.  This poor guy was having a hard time getting out of a pool.  I gave him a little boost out and was thanked with bared teeth and a  hostile screech.

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Kyle hit a wall with about 4 miles left.  We’d done about 16, most of which were pretty tedious, particularly with 90+ temps and a pack that was a less than ideal fit.

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A now-dry canyon didn’t help with morale…

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People react differently to facing their physical and mental limits.  For some of us, it’s a reason we go (at least sometimes).  For some it’s needless suffering.  As we arrived back at the truck, I honestly had no idea if this might be Kyle’s last backpacking trip (or at least his last weekend adventure that most folks would spend 4 or 5 days on).  He went home and immediately bought a pack, so I guess he’s in.

Summer thus far

The first half of the summer is pretty nuts around here.  I do biological surveys for a living, which means that the slow winters of almost no work quickly turns into 60+ hour weeks.

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Western Colorado is quite rich in endemic plant species, some of which exist only in a several-mile radius.

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Most people go places for scenic value or for solitude.  Having some understanding of the natural history of an area can transform somewhere seemingly bland into some pretty special places.

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SDIM0447 Surveying for nesting raptors in some downright incredible Pinyon woodlands

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When the aim is having my eyes open to everything around me rather than getting from point A to B, I see things that I usually miss while on backpacking trips.

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Weekends have been full as well, and packrafting has been the perfect early summer activity when the canyons are getting a bit warm and buggy and mountain access can still be sketchy.

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Southern Utah’s isolated mountain ranges are insanely awesome.

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The only days since mid-May not spent outside at work or adventuring on weekends were spent with good friends in Pittsburgh, where we still did some climbing.

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…and a bit of relaxin…

DSCF5268Photo Shauna, apparently with her mind in the gutter.

On another boating trip, every desert noob’s worst nightmare was realized and our friend actually got stung by a scorpion while she was sleeping.  I’ve always thought (and still do) that that was a completely irrational and dumb fear, but I guess now I’ll have to acknowledge that it happened once.

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There was also another particularly great packraft/hike that deserves its own post….stay tuned…

This weekend, rest.

Navajo and Ponderosa

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Escalante and the Waterpocket Fold

This was a good one.  Trips this long are rare, so I tried to be conservative on overall trip mileage to ensure time for some side exploring, picture taking, and maybe a nap or two.

I’ll let route specifics be vague, though many won’t have any trouble figuring it out.  Route creativity can be one of the more rewarding aspects of wilderness travel.  Trying to find unpublished routes in and out of canyons, dealing with water problems with no beta, and having to wander around or turn around every once in a while makes things more fun.

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I had never been through Halls Creek Narrows, and it was fantastic.

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It was a chilly, breezy afternoon and I knew I might have some deep wading ahead.  The scenery made the potential impending discomfort easy to ignore for a while.

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There ended up being two armpit-deep wades in the early evening shadows, which made the last bit difficult to give its due appreciation.  Dry socks and a few minutes of sun after exiting the narrows felt pretty heavenly.

I spent much of the second day wandering around the foot (and at times up the face) of the Fold, checking out canyons, springs, early flowers, and having one of the most enjoyable backpacking days I can remember.

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Mt. Ellsworth as I headed over the Fold…SDIM0420

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A little morning ‘shwack….SDIM0474

I expected a bit of snow at the highest elevations, but it was a surprise here…

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Wingate benches make the southern Escalante canyons mostly easy walking.  You can definitely get into zen mode here…For the next couple days I’d find myself realizing I hadn’t paid attention to a single step for unknown amounts of time…

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I had two sections of river walking planned for the trip.  I wavered on bringing a packraft for the trip, but ultimately I decided it wasn’t worth it for the short distances it’d be used.  I’ve heard people basically say that the Escalante below Scorpion is the worst desert river walking there is, but I found it to be much less painful than further north.  There’s significantly less veg than up north and I only crossed three times in 7ish miles. I’ll take crawling over boulders to crawling though willows any day.

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I followed mountain lion tracks the entire way…

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River walking still isn’t much fun and I was excited to head up and out…

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I don’t think I saw a dry pothole on the east side of the river…the west side was a different story…

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After a hours of bone dry unobstructed slickrock walking, a short decent into another canyon revealed the awesome contrast of the Colorado Plateau.

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I wasn’t sure if the canyon I was hoping to exit was going to slot up so I got out when I could.  Despite looking flat and contourless on a topo (I knew better), the rest of the day was to be most difficult section of the trip.  Trying to strike a balance between minimizing ups and downs and still trying to travel in a relatively straight line was particularly difficult here.  Where it’s not rock, it’s deep sand.  Crossing some slots added to the fun, as did carrying enough water for a dry camp (although of course I found some of the deepest potholes of the trip along the way).

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My legs were shot early so I found camp.  I opted for views over a flat camp.

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Walls in Scorpion Gulch…

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A bit more Escalante, upriver this time..

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…and up Moody.  I sat here and watched a Peregrine for a while.

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I wasn’t sure how this section was going to go.  After entering the Chinle (and cattle), I backtracked a bit and filled up with enough water to get back to Halls Creek the next morning.  The cedar mesa inner gorge was a nice surprise, although I wasn’t quite sure if I should be in the bottom or on top.

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After carrying the most water I had all trip, I found a clear running stream from a side canyon right when it was time to make camp.  So it goes.

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Artifacts…

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Looking for the path of least resistance below the Circle Cliffs…

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Back at the foot of the Fold…

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Gear:

hat/bandana-worked
Patagonia merino 1 short sleeve – I took the old (’09?) version and it’s much, much better than the new.  Thinner, softer, more breathable…
Patagonia Long Hauler running shorts- worked
Patagonia sol patrol pants – I think I might have finally killed them.  They’ve had lots of repairs, but there’s not much left below the shins and I ripped the inseam up past the knee.
Defeet Wooleator x2 -Got a couple holes, but full days of wet, sandy feet will kill any sock
Inov8 Trailroc 245 – Meh…Wore some holes in the uppers and the slickrock did a number on the tread.  I’m not sold on the fit, either.  It’s fine for general walking, but I think I actually prefer the more narrow Inov-8s for scrambling or tricky footing.
Dirty Girls- worked
sunglasses -worked
modded BD Alpine Carbon Corks – carried them a lot, but I was glad to have them in a couple sections
Aut’s pink Houdini – worked (sorry no pics)
MYOG down jacket -worked
merino buff -worked
OR PL base gloves – worked
Cap 2 bottoms – worked
no shelter- my favorite shelter
MYOG down quilt -worked
Exped Synmat UL- opted for the plush pad for lots of slickrock camps
Tyvek groundsheet- worked
MYOG Pack- performed brilliantly
Snow Peak litemax ti – instant coffee gratification in bed in the morning
evernew .9 – worked
spoon/plastic eating container – worked

2L platy x2 – worked

3L platy w/ hose- worked

steripen+ some micropur tablets – Rechargeables in the Opti lasted all week.
Zebralight H51 – best light I’ve used

maps/compass/garmin etrex 20-worked.
10m 3/4″ webbing-worked.  Easier to handle than thinner stuff
Sigma DP2 Merrill- In love so far

I ended up hiking for about six days and total mileage was about 120 not including side exploring (or naps).

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