Today is the day! We’ve been out for six days now, a bit ahead of schedule, and arrive at an obscure old mining road on the north side of East Moody Canyon, just west of Red Slide in Capital Reef National Park.
This is where we planned to meet roughly two months back, Aaron picking the spot as he’s very knowledgeable of the land around the Escalante.
Were meeting both he and Kris. They worked next door to me at my last job, and we’ve become good friends over the past few years, having gotten out Backcountry skiing a lot, some resort skiing, and even rock climbing. They’re an awesome couple, and we’re excited to meet them out here, in the middle of nowhere.
Grace and I are in early, so naturally we nap. I hear something, sounds like grinding of tires on shale, and I spring out of bed. It’s them! And man, have they spoiled us!
First, they brought deep dish pizza. A lot of it. And a stove to reheat it. They have so many IPA’s. They have Grace’s favorite cider from home that they went out of their way to find. They have mountain dews and coke 0’s. They even got Grace a new pair of frogg toggs (rain jacket and pants), and a new spork (ours had broken). On top of all of that goodness, they brought camp chairs. Praise hands!!!
They also brought our alpacka packrafts we own, our paddles, and our resupply for this section.
The plan is complex as the canyon systems that surround us. Tomorrow, they’re going to drive off, and grace and I will have an easy day hiking down to main Moody Canyon and to the Escalante. We will set up camp, and wait to see them the following morning/early afternoon.
Kris and Aaron will drive for five hours, getting all of 15 or so miles as the crow flies away from us. They’re going to drop their packs and rafts at twenty five Mile canyon (another tributary to the Escalante, moddy on the north, twentyfive the south). They then drive away from their stored gear and Park their car at the trailhead of hurricane wash, about 15 miles down hole in the rock road. They then jump on their mountain bikes and peddal back to their packs. Store the bikes out of site, pick up the packs full of 6 days of food and rafting gear, and hike 12 miles down to the Escalante river. Then, they’ll float the six miles of river to meet grace and I at Moody Canyon on the eacalante. From there, we all float together!
We enjoy the evening, despite the howling wind. I can’t tell you just how good it was to have pizza and beer out here. Grace’s face lights up after a cider. We’re happy to see them, our friends, and excited to adventure with them this week!
The hike to the Escalante is tough. 6.5 days of food and all of the rafting gear makes for super heavy packs. Good thing it’s only this short day to the river. We get in and relax. Find a nice Sandy place to lay down and camp. All is right.
e sleep in, and get to the river, ready to go at 11am. Not too long after Kris and Aaron come floating up. Theyre soaking wet. I mean, head to toe drenched. Kris is using an Intex Explorer 200. Yes, that same $13 pool toys grace and I used on the Colorado river. But the escalante is no Colorado. The Colorado was a float. Calm and slow, no bumps. The escalante is shallow, and you’re constantly hitting rocks. Bold move, a true adventurer! And Aaron is basically in an older version, a sevylar or something like that. Similar material tho much wider. He sinks in the floor, but handles it well. Just means he’s in a pool of very cold water the whole time. And when he hits rocks, which is constant, there’s no cushion.
Grace and I have our fancy pants alpackas. Made for this stuff, and costing about 60 of the Intex explorers. They have seat cushions and all, built to hold up to a lot of abuse!
We saddle up and head off. The rapids are fun and have low consequence. It’s a shallow river. At deepest I might be standing in water just past my waist. In most parts, it’s shin deep or less where it braids out.
With a smile on my face I take on the first rapids, getting a light splash of ice water. Grace follows, then aaron and Kris. This makes the most sense. I’m the rock finder. Basically playing dummy. Grace can go another direction if I pick the wrong line. And Kris and Aaron can study what we do and pick the best routes for their pool toys.
It’s really a dream come true, to float the eacalante. Something I knew I wanted to do if I ever hiked the Hayduke. My friend Drop’n Roll did it and she loved it. It’s one of the best packrafts in the world, and people come far and wide to raft this river. It’s a gem of the southwest. And here we are rafting it as part of the Hayduke trail, thanks to our friends who made it possible. Awesome!
The river is a mixed bag. Mostly it’s small ripples, some bigger waves, and then the intermittent shallow float. I’m surprised at how bumpy it is at times. It takes a bit to get used to being in the alpacka and paddling instead of rowing. No way you could row out here!
‘m also skeptical about how the Intex explorer will hold up. Graces ripped on the easy Colorado. I assume this thing will just tear apart on the shallow river bottom, constantly grinding and skidding on the endless rubble below. Kris is skeptical too. But up for the challenge. Rather than sit on the bottom, she site on the bow of the vessel and twirls around rocks and rapids gracefully.
We’re surrounded by beautiful walls. They tighten and then give way, over and over again. Huge Alcoves striped by water hang over our heads at several points. We’re having a blast the whole way! But progress is slow going. Again, much slower than I imagined. Didn’t learn my lesson on the Colorado! At the end of the day, we rafted about 5 hours total and made 8 miles. But we’re not worried. It’s only 30 miles total.
We camp on a Sandy bech, airing all of our clothing out. It’s soaking wet. Before it gets dry the sun dips beyond the canyon walls and it gets chilly fast! We relax and plan the following day. We hope for 15 miles. A big day. We’ll wake up early and get ahead start.
We wake up and pack in the shade,getting on the river around 9 am. It’s cold, and this section of the river has more difficult little rapids. It’s pretty constant too, so I’m not taking many pictures. But we make good time. Then the rapids get even more difficult. I’m hitting rocks all over. Grace is bouncing from boulder to boulder (gaining the trail name ‘ping pong’). Kris gets pinned on an 18 inch drop off and gets pushed off the boat, diving into the water. She gets out easily and all is ok. Her pack and everything are alright and the boat is still ok, much to my surprise. Another half hour later and grace gets pinned on a large boulder and flips her boat. She loses her pack, and has a little episode of fear and panic. But she’s safe, standing in waist deep water. I’m ahead, and see he pack floating towards me and quickly grab it. She calms down after realizing she didn’t just lose the pack and all the gear.
In fact, nothing lost, or broken. Win! She’s still a bit shaken and teary as we continue on. Likely cold to. I do my best to console her that it’s all ok, but she’s still a bit shaken up by the event.
20 minutes later and I pin my boat sideways between two rocks. SHWOOMP! I’m now under water. I get my footing on some rocks and flip the boat back right side up. Again, only waist deep water. I’m laughing hard, and grace cracks up getting to watch the scene. I guess thats what it took to loosen her up after her flip. Just got to see the husband take a spill and all will be right haha! She’s all smiles after!
We’re a bit cold, but having a blast. If the worst that can happen is you fall in, that’s not so bad. There’s really no consequence to it unless you hit your head. Just a lot of fun. Kris takes one more stumble before we finish our 15 miles. Aaron stays upright, albiet with only his head and shoulders above the water as he’s in a puddle!
What a good time. An adventure. And tough too. Our arms are very sore. Mine especially. Trex body and all. A good learning experience too!
When we get to this unnamed canyon, we store the boats away from the river and dry our gear before hiking up a large boulder field to camp. Aaron planned a 2 day cross country route up here. All of trails on the north side of the Escalante, just south on the river past fools canyon. I can’t wait. Aaron knows the area so well!
We wake in the morning and explore side canyons, intricate little narrows here and there. Some fun scrambling to get to the next layers. Exploration to find weaknesses. Eventually we find one we want. It takes a cool dip in the water, some stemming, and some light scrambling, but we get on top, and it’s awesome. We traverse on the top of the wyngate layer. Aaron teaches grace and I about the rock layers and how they we’re formed. Also what it’s typically like on each. It’s fascinating, and I enjoy learningore about the area we’re in. Aaron and Kris have done so much canyoneering out here. Something I aspire to do when back in Colorado. so much to see and do out west!
he day is slow from a mileage standpoint. It’s tricky getting around up here, and hot as all get up on the slickrock. We camp perched with a great view of a side canyon and the escalante. A nice sunset, some cowboy camping, and good conversation, already evolving mostly around food!
Not the Hayduke at all, but two days well spent. And we’re not planning on doing the out and back to Bryce, instead choosing to do this and some other alternates. And man am I glad we did. This exploration really got me jonesing for more out here!
The next day we hiked back to the rafts in a more direct route, getting to them around noon. Kris’ explorer has mutated in the sun into a very blobby existence. But it still holds air. And there are only 7 miles left to raft. Here goes nothing..
Half way through, Kris’ raft pops a big 5 inch rip on the bottom. It takes a lot of water. Aaron carefully patches it with tyvek tape. Another few minutes and they find two more holes, which he promptly patches. Then it holds. For the next 3 miles!
We pass Stevens arch (yeah baby!) And it’s glorious. It’s mid afternoon and the sun is HOT! It feels great being on the river and getting splashed by all the water.
We all make it to Coyote gulch, our exit from the escalante before it runs off into the sewage dump that is lake Powell. We make a nice camp by the river, trying to dry everything off before bed. I still can’t believe Aaron and Kris made it in those rafts. They knew they were taking on a risk that they were ok with but even still, they didn’t expect it to be as bumpy and grinding as it was against the bottom rocks. Good on them!
The next morning we pack our bags and head 14 miles to Aaron and Kris’ vehicle at hurricane wash trailhead. Aaron cuts their boats in half and stuffs them in the pack. We joke that he should try and tyvek tape them back together and see if it’ll float again. But alas, they’re throw away. $13 bucks! They got their money’s worth out of them, no doubt. King and queen of the Escalante!!
The hike through Coyote Gulch is beautiful! Again, huge walls abound. But what makes it real special is all the Green. So many budding trees and shrubs. Flowing water and many great Cascades. It’s pleasant walking and relatively empty for such a popular spot. I especially enjoy Coyote Natural Bridge, where the creek flows right through it.
y the time we get to hurricane wash, grace and I are getting real tired with heavy packs. We go into full thruhiker mode and rush the last five miles to the car on hole in the rock road, trying our best to have the packs on our backs as little as possible. Aaron and Kris aren’t far behind, and we enjoy beers and snacks at the car, reminiscing of a week well spent! On to escalante for a good meal, more beers, and then out of town to the blm to camp. We get breakfast and say our goodbyes. We’ve had such a great time with them. It was a partod the trip we were most looking forward to, spending time with friends mixing it up. And it exceeded our expectations. A true highlight of this experience!
Special shout-out to Kris and Aaron for making it all possible!!