Trip report: Utah 2019 (IO: 10-day)

Trip report for: https://www.meetup.com/DC-UL-Backpacking/events/255450476/

This year’s spring trip to Utah was Steve and my third Utah trip posted to DC UL and my fifth trip overall to Utah.  The draw of Utah in the spring is the generally good weather combined with the fantastic scenery in the canyons and slickrock scrambles.

This year, Kyle S (Water Dog), John G (Dizzy), Russ E and Peter S. (Corpse Foot) all joined us.  Kyle researched some sections of the Hayduke trail that he wanted to do, so we did the section from Capital Reef NP to Hole-in-the-Rock road via Coyote Gulch over five days and four nights.   The Hayduke trail runs from Arches NP to Zion NP and attempts to hit as many highlights of Southern Utah as possible. We took the Stevens Canyon variant on this segment to see a spectacular canyon instead of doing twenty miles of river walking.

As expected, this segment was spectacular.  The backpacking was bit more technical than typical Mid-Atlantic backpacking due a few reasons: route-finding for a segment, significant fall exposure over sections and crossing the Escalante River.

Due to some rains, the Escalante River was showing approximately 2’ at the gage in Escalante.  Where we crossed, the deepest crossing was just over waist high. While non-trivial, the current wasn’t excessive.

For route finding, the GPS points that we had helped a great deal in finding the correct drainage to ascend the waterpocket fold to arrive at the top of Exit canyon.  While we had printed out the Skurka mapset, we wound up just carrying the National Geographic Trails Ilustrated maps along with having the GPS points loaded into Gaia GPS along with Kyle’s Garmin.  The GPS devices will often be inaccurate when down in the canyons, but your choices are just up or down the canyon there anyway.

Kyle had looked at a number of blogs beforehand which indicated that the exposed sections of the trail would be scary but not that bad when actually hiked.  This estimation proved true to form. Some rock climbing experience is helpful. While we packed in a 50’ x 6mm cord for lowering packs, we wound up never using it.

For setting up the car shuttle, we had rented two premium SUV’s for the six of us.  We made it work without needing to do a drivers shuttle. It’s unclear if we could have made it work for seven, but it would be close if we started placing more packs on laps.  Due to quirks of the Las Vegas airport, it’s not more expensive to rent SUV’s there than mini-vans. With the extensive travel down dirt roads, renting SUV’s is the way to go. As is, we nearly got ourselves stuck once.

Since everyone except for Dizzy was fairly tired after doing the four night segment, we ended up day hiking for the remainder of the trip.   We checked out Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons off  Hole-in-the-Rock. Since we got there close to 7 a.m, we only saw other people when we were finishing up, then an entire horde of 60+ people descended when we were hiking back to the car.  These are narrow slots, so only do them with a 0% chance of rain.

We checked out Kodachrome Basin State Park, Escalante Petrified Forest SP and Snow Canyon SP as we slowly made our way back toward Las Vegas.  All of these were nice. We camped on BLM land when not backcountry camping for the trip.

We didn’t miss many opportunities to eat out instead of having backpacking food.  We ate at our now standard places: Ramen Tatsu in Las Vegas, Irmata’s Casita in St George, Escalante Outfitters for pizza in Escalante and Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, UT.  Hell’s Backbone Grill is D.C.-area priced with entries running $20-$35, but the food is fantastic and the restaurant is leading the fight to preserve Grand Staircase NM.  They were filming a PBS segment when we were eating there.  We ate there last year too, since Erik had hiked with two of the chiefs in the Smokies when he thru hiked the AT.

We saw the standard assortment of desert wildlife on the trip.  A beaver working Halls Creek was particularly interesting. While we saw a lot of lizards, we only saw one snake.  We saw multiple types of rabbits and plenty of toads. There was a mouse at one of our camps which chewed through someone’s tent to get at their food bag.  We saw bear prints at our last BLM campsite, so stored food in the car for that.  Since we were eating a lot of Mexican food and blood is red, Dizzie’s bivy was a potential bear enchilada with red sauce…

Sun protection is definitely necessary in the desert in the spring.  Most of us used long sleeves for the majority of the trip. Peter used a sun hoodie, a ball cap and full fingered sun gloves to get the most skin coverage prior to applying sunscreen.  Dizzie rolled with shorts for the first half of the trip, but eventually put on pants for a few days due to getting too much sun. I was fairly happy with a wide brimmed hat, long sleeve performance shirt, pants and fingerless sun gloves.

While we had a primary plan, I’m glad that everyone was so flexible as we nearly had to completely re-plan the trip due to storms.  In the Mid-Atlantic, we typically only re-plan summer and winter trips due to excessive heat, snow, or polar vortexes. Since this was a more aggressive desert trip, we might have had to re-plan parts of it if the weather turned out much worse.  After one of the thundershowers, Halls Creek had approximately ten times the amount of flow in it as it did in a more moderate rain.

We jammed a few photos into the meetup page, but haven’t gone through the main photos yet.  Peter carried in his camera and a tripod to capture some night shots of the stars.  The upside was a super cool sequence showing the stars passing through Steven’s arch.  The downside was that his pack with food and water weighed 50 lbs at the start. While he’s strong enough to carry this, it’s not recommended.  At times I contemplated that I should have taken my lighter camera instead.

Kyle earned the trail name of “Water Dog” on this trip due to his enthusiasm for jumping in water and being the first to cross streams.  Due to large amounts of dissolved silt and sand, there was very little visibility for most of the flowing water.

Having contrasting personalities in the trip worked out OK.  Kyle is quite bold, while I’m conservative in the decision making, so between the two opinions, we made reasonable choices.  I often see both sides of an issue to the point of not having an opinion, while Steve will have a clear opinion.

Even though we spent eight days in Utah, there’s still lots more to do.  The items still on our bucket list are:

  • The Maze area of Canyonlands NP
  • Other Hayduke sections
  • Paria canyon
  • Other canyons off of Hole-in-the-Rock road
  • A technical canyoneering trip to Utah

But since vacation time is limited, those will remain on the list for now.  Larger trips tend to be planned four to eight months in advance. Due to the length of the late summer Wind River trip, it’s unlikely that we’ll be back in Utah in the fall.  As is, time is limited, thus I haven’t jumped through the additional hoops to put the images in this trip report since I want to go to work tomorrow.

Overall, it was another fun trip with friends.  DC UL’s high standard of physical fitness for Veteran Members combined with the filtering of an IO trip helped assemble a great crew for a successful trip.

-Andrew L (Camel)

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