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






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


…and a few sprinkles…




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.


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.


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.



Some normally-submerged narrows…





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.


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.


Eventually hitting the lake…

SDIM0213it’s a start…


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…






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.




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.


4 thoughts on “Lower Escalante canyons and flash flood packrafting

  1. Pingback: Late summer in wet canyons | out. living.

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