We woke early, packed our backpacks, failed to find breakfast, and set out on the last 90 minutes of driving before we started to hike. We planned to hike about 6 miles, so we figured we could start at noon and still be okay.
As we approached Escalante, the road traverses a knife edge section with steep drops on either side. It is amazing! We stopped at a pull out so we could take pictures and gaze into the canyons below – knowing that we would be hiking somewhere in the vicinity. As we started driving again, despite my thrill of the road, I also suggested that my husband could go just a little bit slower than he might feel necessary.
We passed our trailhead as we drove into town. I wanted a cup of coffee and breakfast, my husband wanted to talk to someone about the trail in case there was any local knowledge we should have before setting out. We stopped in an outdoor gear store and coffee shop, however it was basically closed due to the pandemic. They did not have coffee, though one local woman told us a bit about the trail, though it was not recent knowledge and she had never done it herself. Mostly she just intimidated us – telling us that the water would be really cold and would be to our waist at times, the poison ivy was so bad that sometimes we would avoid the trail and walk in the water to avoid it, and a reminder that when we were on the steep descent into death hollow canyon, to remember that mules can travel it and not to worry. Sometimes, she said, people get vertigo on that section. She didn’t tell us news we would learn hours later that would have been useful to hear.
I found coffee across the street, and then we drove to our trailhead, put on our packs, and set off hiking at about 10:40am.
I didn’t know a whole lot about what was in store for us day 1. I didn’t expect any shade at all, and I was pleasantly surprised to find trees throughout most of the hike. We were definitely not hiking in the shade, but we could take a break and find shade throughout the day.
Early in the hike, we passed a family and some dogs. They said that they woke up early to get to the creek because there wasn’t water for 9 miles on the trail. We didn’t ask more questions, but I hoped that they were just wrong about the mileage. Our goal, about 6 miles in, was to get to a creek with water to spend the night. We were not carrying water for more than a day.
I also didn’t realize how much we were set to climb. We started out from an Escalante River Trailhead which went downhill, then flat. Then we took a left turn on the Boulder Mail Trail; we would come back along the Escalante River in a few days. Then we started climbing. And climbing. It got hotter, and hotter, and up we went – mostly following cairns as we traversed on slick rock. We hit the top, of the first climb, at about 1pm and stopped for lunch. We were already struggling with the heat and the climbing.
Shortly after starting again, we passed another group of hikers who confirmed that the creek we planned to camp at was dry. We would have to make it all the way to Death Hollow canyon for water – about 3 miles more than we planned, including an uphill and the steep downhill into the canyon.
We continued, excited to be going downhill and hoping we could make up some time. The first miles were extremely slow going…
I don’t think we picked up speed. The miles were simply not easy miles. I tend to forget that not all hiking is created equal.
We arrived at our intended camping spot around 4:30pm. It had been a good, challenging hike, but not too challenging. Had that been it for the day, it would have been a perfect spot to stop and rest for the night – and to load up on water and to cool off and clean up in the water.
Instead, we set off. The climb out of this spot was the hardest of the trip – using hands, with a pack on, to make it up steep slick rock. I do not have great balance and it wasn’t fun, but we both made it. We continued uphill for quite awhile. Probably not a long distance, but we were moving even slower than we were earlier. We wanted a longer rest break, and yet I was worried about our timing because I was worried about the downhill to the canyon. It didn’t sound like something we wanted to be doing at dusk, and certainly not in the dark.
One step in front of the other. We did get breeze at times throughout the day, a relief. It also started to cool slightly later in the day. The steep downhill ended up being no big deal at all – easier than downhill’s we faced earlier in the day. It was fun because it kept looking like we were going off a cliff, but then the trail – or path in between cairns – would lead us a gentle way.
Even better, when we got down into the canyon, there was no one else camping right there. We knew there was a camping spot right at the base of the trail in the canyon, but had no idea how much further we would have to travel if someone was there.
We had time to set up our tent and take a river bath as dusk settled in, and had dinner ready just as it started to get dark.
We went to sleep quickly, but not before admiring the stars from our tent. I hadn’t seen good starts like that in ages, and lined between canyons was magnificent. It was also satisfying to know that we were done with the uphill.
While the first day was a challenge for us, the country was amazing! Not always easy to enjoy because of the heat, but absolutely magnificent. Down in the canyon was easier to enjoy. We thought we might not see the sun for days because of the steep canyon walls!