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  Trying to find unpublished routes in and out of canyons, dealing with water problems with no beta, and having to wander around or turn around every once in a while makes things more fun.

Starting views…SDIM0101

Spring Cottonwoods….SDIM0154



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




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.






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.




Endemic Alcove Primrose (Primula specuicola)…SDIM0361






Mt. Ellsworth as I headed over the Fold…SDIM0420

Wingate benches…SDIM0441



A little morning ‘shwack….SDIM0474

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


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…




The Escalante below…SDIM0543A

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.


I followed mountain lion tracks the entire way…


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



Moqui marbles…SDIM0629-Edit

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



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



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).



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


Walls in Scorpion Gulch…



A bit more Escalante, upriver this time..


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


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.


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.




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




Back at the foot of the Fold…



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).


9 thoughts on “Escalante and the Waterpocket Fold

  1. April in the desert!!! Awesome trip. Have been to Escalante and the Cedar Mesa area twice now. Can’t wait to go back again after seeing the pictures. Would love more specifics on your itinerary. How many miles/day did you average and how many days?

    • Thanks Martin. Miles/day was roughly between 18-28 with a total of about 120 plus some side wanderings over six days, which was a perfect pace for me. Some areas begged for lots of poking around and some I didn’t feel like I was rushing by a bigger mile day.

  2. killer, what a trip. The b&w conversions from the DP2 are looking incredible, you’ve got some amazing photos here. I will piggyback on Martin’s post and ask also if you could talk about your workflow a little bit with the Merrill? Thanks for the shot of inspiration via computer while I’m sitting here at work!

    • Appreciate it Matt. General workflow so far: In camera: overexpose everything by .3-.7 stops (for this trip they were all +.3 but highlights are easily pulled back much higher than that…I’ll probably stick to .7 in the future), -1 sharpening, daylight WB, and shoot lowest possible ISO (though the noise up to 1600 is pretty pleasing in B&W). In SPP: keep sharpening @ -1, pull down the exposure, turn off all noise reduction (the banding noise slider doesn’t seem to do much, but the default settings on the others are awful…annoying that NR is the one thing preventing batch exporting everything at once). I leave the fill light and everything else at 0. Export to Lightroom and finish everything else there, with no additional sharpening. I sometimes use Silver Efex Pro 2 if i can’t get things how I want them in LR, but I generally try to keep things as simple as I can.

  3. These photos are stunning. The Escalante really lends itself to B&W! Reminds me of my own trips and makes me want to get back soon; springtime down there is incredible.

  4. Lots of nostalgia for me in those photos. A decade ago some college friends and I did an 11 day loop in Esca. In Silver Falls, gulch hopping down to Scorpion, up the river, out Moody and road walking back to close the loop. We did a day hike out Moody and up to the top of the fold, got cliffed out trying a different way back down and spent half the night freezing and finding a way back down (one headlamp, three guys).

    We had meant to go all the way down to Coyote, up and back via Stevens. I’d like to try that route again this fall with the increased fitness and gear savvy I have today. Hauling our heavy loads (Dana packs, 2 gallons of water, 10 days of the wrong kinds of food) out of 25 mile over to Scorpion was debillitating.

    Keep up the good work sir.

    • One of the routes I considered was pretty close to that except starting down Choprock instead of SF (also considered going out Choprock instead of Moody). Dry Fork Coyote to Scorpion with water for a dry camp was some of the most leg killing miles I’ve done (though starting the day climbing the sandslide out of the bobway probably contributed).

    • Thanks Nick,
      I check out BCP once in a while and resist joining only because I’m trying to limit my computer time, but you’ll probably see me there at some point 😉 Great report and pics; thanks for the link and kind words.

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