A group of us from Boise had been planning a backpacking/canyoneering trip to Escalante for some time. It finally went off without a real hitch May 19th through the 27th. We started by hiking down to Fence Creek in the dark on the 19th after an 11 hour drive. My pack weighed in at 78 pounds and many others were in the same ballpark. The hike down went fairly well, but a few turns were hard to follow. Luckily, I had the gps out and a few waypoints plugged in.
The next day, we did Ringtail. Only one small hitch on that one. We kept following an old trail up on top of the bench in the wrong direction for a little ways. Maybe that was the old Overland Trail? Either way, it didn't put us much off track since we figured out our folly pretty quickly. The canyon proved to be tighter in the upper sections than I had anticipated. Lots of fun all around! The two keeper potholes (kph for future reference) gave us a chance to learn pretty quickly. We decided to try out a potshot just because we had never had the chance before. It was helpful, but not needed. If any of us had gone in alone, it probably would have done the job just fine. I was the last one out of the first kph and got the chance to hand over hand out with sandy shoes. That was tough!!! It took a couple attempts before I finally got it. I won't count on my abilities with that in the future if I can't get all the sand off my shoes. Anyways, it was one person's first slot canyon ever and she ate it up!
On the 21st, we packed up camp and took the heavy packs to the mouth of Neon in preparation to head on down canyon that night to do canyons further South over the next couple days. We hiked up to the North Canyon entrance and went in via the rappel. Personally, I really enjoyed that rappel. Shortly after entering the canyon, we noticed a crow flying and landing on and off in front of us. We got within eight feet or so of it once. Upon reaching the keeper pothole (only one I'll count now since the normally second one just doesn't count as a kph now), we heard some flopping around in the pool just after the kph. We couldn't see in the pool very far, but it was concerning as to what could be in the water. It eventually stopped entirely about the time we were dropping into the kph. Upon sending out our first person, they said that the crow had failed to negotiate flying past the pool and drown there. Strange occurrence for sure! Eventually we got to the meat and potatoes of the canyon, the Golden Cathedral. Wow! What a canyon feature! Going through that thing was wild! Good times all around. Upon completion of the canyon, we threw back on our heavy packs and kept trucking on down the Escalante. Eventually, we just called it a day a little under half a mile from the West Baker approach and set up camp.
The next day, the plan was to knock out Middle Little Baker. We got going a bit late, almost 11am. I knew this was a bit on the late side, but was yet to find out just how late that really was. We found that the trail along the Escalante below Ringtail just keeps getting worse and gets really bad beyond the mouth of Baker Canyon. It was tough to follow to put it lightly. It wasn't all that great when we were on it and was like making our way through the jungle when we weren't on it. Some of our time was spent just trucking down the river bed. We finally got to the approach and the much anticipated Moqui steps were awesome! The climb was semi challenging so we dropped a rope for the upper section just to be safe. Upon dropping into the canyon, we found that we had hit the jackpot! The whole way though, we were saying ooohs and ahhs. Then it finished with a most spectacular view of the Escalante River and a 90ft rappel. What a place! Luckily, it's far enough away from everything that it doesn't get done very often. At this point, it was getting late. After the rappel, it was after eight pm with much distance left to cover. Two out of seven of us had headlamps. Uh oh. Well, we'll just say that we were all cussing up a storm at the jungle conditions on the way back. Even with a gps track to follow, we were hopelessly following old, old cow track. At 11:30, we finally rolled into camp, all a fair amount worse for the wear.
Thursday, the 23rd, a couple more of our party were scheduled to come down and meet us at camp and we were going to do West Baker. After the canyon, we were scheduled to head back to Fence Creek fully loaded. That plan got demolished immediately. We decided to alter our entire trip and just pack back to Fence on Friday. We mustered up enough strength to do West Baker with the two guys who came in on no sleep the night before. Although West Baker was quite stunning, I must say, we were a very tired crew going through that one. Eye lids drooping and muscles aching to be shut down for the day, we trudged through to one of the most amazing sites anywhere, the confluence of West and East Baker! Surreal beauty was enough to liven up even the most weary hikers. After getting back to camp, the two who joined us earlier took off back up to Fence where they had left their full packs. That was one long day for them. They, and one of our earlier crew members, even found the energy to do Neon and Ringtail the next day! All we did the next day was move camp back to Fence Creek, more or less a day off for us. A very, very much needed day off indeed.
Saturday, we had on schedule to do Choprock. The night before, a guy came rolling on by our camp who had just done the canyon on his own! He gave us all the info we could possibly want to know about current conditions and then we invited him over to imbibe in a bit of evening fun. The next morning, he asked to tag along for a second day in a row of Choprock. The dude is hardcore! Of course we wanted him along. After three hours of plugging along, we made it to the entrance. There was one major occurrence along the way though. One of our guys fell about eight feet onto his back and then rolled over onto his belly. One more roll and he would have gone another twenty feet. As it turned out, he was mostly fine with just a few cuts and a black eye. We dodged a bullet on that one. No hitting 911 on my SPOT and sending him off on a $20K helicopter ride. Once down in the canyon, we hopped on rap and lived it up in the Riparian section. Many a spider cursed our names as we demolished their newly built webs. When we reached the end of the Happy section (which is flipping crazy cool!), we wetsuited up and were ready to rock 'n roll through the Grim section. Wow, the Grim goes on and on and on, in a good way though. It was challenging, but nothing our crew couldn't handle pretty quickly. There were a few spots where I was wishing I had a bit more than my 4mm farmer john wetsuit and 2mm top. We all had brought more to camp, but our group addition assured us we wouldn't need it. It ended up working out just fine for all of us. The last rappel was a very welcome sight, but we quickly realized that our working rope was nowhere to be found. We narrowed it down to a couple pools that it must have fallen off the pack and sank in. Not much longer and we found it at the bottom of one of those pools and we were on our way. The last mile after the mouth of the canyon was a serious trudgefest. We barely said a word. 10.5 hours after leaving camp, we were back and incredibly low on food. We still had to party it up some that night. Smiles and laughs returned quickly. Let the good times roll. Much talk was made about hiking out the next day and devouring large hamburgers and pizzas.
Sunday, the 26th, we hiked out with loaded packs early in the morning and rushed out as fast as we could to town. We went straight to Kiva Koffeehouse and ordered enough food to strain their surplus I'm sure. Some of us kept on driving and headed home and some of us headed back to Egypt to rock out Egypt 2. Upon parking at the setup site, we found that one of our cars had some sort of steel tool jammed into the tire and a flat was immenent. A quick change to the donut was all we could do at the moment. A 270 foot rappel was awaiting us and the dude must abide. That blew away my old record and was quite the experience! We happened upon a couple random kids walking back to their car when we were setting up and, as it turned out, they had harnesses and wanted to join in. We got them up to speed on what needs to go down on a rap that big and off we went. About half way through the canyon, we ran into another crow in bad condition. We walked right on by this one and he nervously eyed us with no energy to make a move. That crow's life may well be over as of this writing. When we got back to the car, our appetites were large once again and we went back into town for a dose of the Circle D and a night at the Prospector Inn.
To cap off the trip the next morning, the remnants of our group got the tire fixed and then decided to go check out the Petrified Forrest State Park before heading on down the road. Thank you Southern Utah for another amazing trip, the most epic of my life so far.