CJR Escalante Adventure 2005 – Day 5

Synopsis: First day of Part A. Hike down Sand Creek from Hell's Backbone Road to Camp III. Backpacking; May 21. View Day 5 route map.

John cooked us a yummy breakfast of Spam and eggs. We consumed a few hours packing up in Camp II, dividing up group gear and organizing food and clothing to be waiting for us at Highway 12 on Day 14. At this stage, the Mountaineers were planning to camp on the Escalante River at Boulder Creek, and we were going to hike down the river, pick up our cache, and continue down the river. This is not what eventually happened, and you will see precisely why later. (Hint: it’s large and very muddy.)


Morning in Camp II.

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John assesses our survival odds.

Photo by Charles Yeamans.
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Me packing up in Camp II.

Photo by Charles Yeamans.
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Eventually, we completed the driving around. Charles’s truck was parked at the Highway 12 bridge across the Escalante River, and we drove Myrtle up the Hell’s Backbone Road to the Sand Creek trailhead at 7,900 feet. We were on-trail at around 11:00 am.


The obligatory “Before” photo. Observe the cleanliness of our clothes and our minimal facial hair.

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“Trailhead” is artistic license on my part. There was no trail in Sand Creek. The route led simply down the canyon. At the beginning, the going wasn’t too rough; we simply walked through a relatively open pine forest. There were a few bushes and logs, but it wasn’t too much trouble. We did have to cross the stream from time to time, but crossings were relatively infrequent. For a while, we were able to climb a few feet up onto a bench and follow that to make rapid progress.


The first few minutes of hiking looked like this. The life jackets are flotation for our packs, needed on Day 9.

Photo by Charles Yeamans.
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First stream crossing. This water is extremely cold.

Photo by Charles Yeamans.
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Soon the canyon narrowed, and its true nature was apparent. This is an incredibly difficult hike. When we weren’t thrashing through thick, often thorny brush, we were climbing into the stream, climbing out of it, wading across it, or wading directly down it. I think we may have crossed the stream over a hundred times on this day. The water was swift, cold, and up to waist deep. To boot, we had very heavy packs with 10 days of food in them. On the plus side, however, the water temperature did increase dramatically as the day went on.


Typical scenery in upper Sand Creek.

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Crossing the stream. That white stuff is indeed snow.

Photo by Charles Yeamans.
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We spent most of the day semi-lost, consistently overestimating our progress. The twisty, narrow canyon and lack of landmarks made navigation quite difficult. We thought John’s altimeter was reading 200 feet high all day — silly us. It was right all along.


John and me at our lunch stop. Note the perplexed look on my face as I study the map.

Photo by Charles Yeamans.
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Finally, after many hours, we emerged from the gorge. The last half mile was the worst. There were a few falls in the 6 foot range that made wading impossible, and one section of brush was so thick that moving through it was literally like climbing an unbelievably dense tree. In some spots we were crawling on the ground.

Charles adds: We heard and saw a number of broadtail hummingbirds doing flight displays above us, apparently claiming those clumsy (can’t hover), ugly (no iridescent feathers), ground-based birds thrashing around in the bushes below as property. I saw a female darting around in a bush at creek level, possibly tending to a nest.

We staggered into Camp III utterly exhausted at 8 pm, camp being a couple of hundred yards past where the canyon began to open, at the first reasonable flat spot (which was actually quite nice). Incidentally, Steve Allen’s book says that there are no camping spots in the gorge. This is not true; there are okay campsites at reasonable intervals, and a rather nice one two hours or so before the end of the gorge.

We had reached our goal and there had been no significant injuries. I cooked macaroni and cheese with peas for dinner, and we enjoyed lounging around the campfire for a little while before collapsing into bed.


John builds a campfire.

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Please continue reading on Day 6.

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