Escalante Adventure 2006 – Day 4

Synopsis: Explore slickrock and a slot canyon downstream of camp. Wednesday, May 31.

The day began warm. We were headed down the Escalante; we would climb up the horse trail where we had hiked in and head for a system of fault canyons no more than a couple of miles away as the crow flies. There was one place where six hundred feet of countour lines disappeared — six hundred vertical or overhanging feet of rock.


A milkweed flowering near camp.

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We set out at perhaps quarter to ten. It was already hot.


Crossing the river downstream of camp. Kathleen is threatening to tell dirty knock-knock jokes until Jan helps her up. (Indeed, this is the trail.)

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On the horse trail climbing out of the inner canyon.

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Once out of the inner canyon, we followed a draw towards the prominent mesa we had passed on the way. My father found a deep pothole with revolting green water at the bottom and stopped to climb in and soak his hat. We turned left.


Crossing the slickrock slopes under the mesa.

Photo by Bill Priedhorsky.
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Soon we came to the first major drainage coming off the mesa. We dropped down a few ledges and had first lunch in the shade of the cliff on the far side.


First lunch was directly under this arch.

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After first lunch, we proceeded around the foot of a tall ridge and over a wide, flat bench. It seemed to be only a short distance to the system of canyons we were headed for.

But, it was not to be. Suddenly, the bench was bisected by a huge, gaping crack — the ground sloped steeper and steeper until it feel away into a slot canyon of unknown depth. This gash, hopelessly impassable, stretched far away into the mesa at right and to the edge of the Escalante’s inner canyon on our right.

We turned left and walked along the rim. In short order we were looking down onto the river, and, to our luck, there was a route down weaving through the cliffs.


Traversing a ledge down to the canyon floor.

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The mouth of the slot canyon that blocked our way.

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Once on the canyon floor, we turned and practically flew up the slot canyon. What an exciting place to explore! We would stop here for momentary exploration before continuing on to our real destination. This would be only a warm-up.

Predictably, a few yards into the mouth was a pouroff. I talked Kim into starting up it, and then turned back to locate a bypass, which I suspected would be there.


Kim climbing the pouroff.

Photo by Bill Priedhorsky.
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Indeed, I was able to climb up and over a small hill and drop back down into the canyon. Kim’s pouroff was really a series of three pouroffs, and I artfully disparaged her climbing abilities while she grunted and sweated to the top.

We turned, and headed up the canyon. How far would it go?


The first major obstacle. One bypassed a difficult pouroff by climbing up and over this pinnacle. This was a fault canyon, so features like this were occasionally around; most slot canyons would have no such bypasses anywhere.

Photo by Bill Priedhorsky.
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A canyon view. Unlike the typical cool, shaded canyon, this one was precisely aligned to absorb the heat of noon. To boot, the canyon carried an unpleasant taste: something in the dirt or plants left a persistent, grotesque flavor on the tongue.

Photo by Bill Priedhorsky.
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The third major obstacle. This was a pile of chockstones that had a small cave underneath — to ascend, one stooped into the cave and then climbed up through this hole.

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He’s our man!

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If he can’t do it...

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No one can!

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(And he can do it, so we’re in luck.)

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Elizabeth ascending through the hole.

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The end of the line. This was our maximum ascent up the canyon. Who knows what lies beyond this slope of rubble; we didn’t find out. At the time, we had no desire to go beyond. It was hot, and we were tired. Now, I nearly vibrate with curiosity. What’s up there!?!? I can only hope that I might find out some other time...

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Towering over the upper reaches of the slot was this wall, frosted with desert varnish. It was perfectly vertical and hundreds of feet to the top. (Remember this wall — you will see it again...)

Photo by Bill Priedhorsky.
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We returned, slowly making our way down through the sand and rocks. At the bottom, nearly impenetrable brush confounded our attempts to reach the river. Kim and I thrashed through it for some time; finally, some of the others called out from only a few feet away, having found a nice swimming hole and a beach. Several minutes of crashing later, we emerged. The cool water was very welcome. I had second lunch.


Dennis playing in the water.

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The warmup had taken over three hours; there was little chance of reaching our objective now. I went a few yards downstream, but the a different crack that seemed to hold a way up onto the bench beyond the slot was a no-go. After some more swimming, we turned for home.


Elizabeth leaving our play stop near the river.

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Leaving the river. Note my soaked shirt, wet in anticipation of the shimmering heat on top.

Photo by Bill Priedhorsky.
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The landscape on the bench above the inner canyon.

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The inner canyon.

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Traversing the slickrock under the mesa on our way back to camp. Several members of our party are visible as tiny dots.

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A rock garden on the way home.

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We finally rolled into camp hot and tired. It had been a good day.

After supper, I had a brilliant synthesis. There was leftover dry ice from Dave and Kim’s dinner the previous night, and the camp trash held several instances of a crucial second ingredient. I would make a dry ice bomb! In short order the device was assembled and placed in a tree. I returned to the circle, and we waited, hearts pounding. Several people who had been at their tents wandered back to the circle, and we frantically waved them away from the tree in question. We waited, and waited some more. It dawned on me that I had neglected the important third ingredient, which transformed our wait from a few minutes to who knows how long. Debate began on whether it would ever go off, and when. Nothing happened, and people gradually lost interest. Thoughts turned to other matters, and the sky darkened from blue to deep purple. People drifted off to bed.

Soon, the only people who were up were myself, my dad, and Dave Scudder. My dad and I were futzing with the water filters, and Dave was wandering around the kitchen area. Then:


A sudden, incredibly loud noise tumbled over itself through camp and rolled slowly up and down the canyon and off the mesas. Immediately, two voices called out from the darkness:

Jan: “Reid, that was a great idea!!” He was impressed.

Dennis, who had sited his tent less than twenty feet from the device: “Who’s gonna clean out my sleeping bag?”

We converged on the site of the bomb, and within seconds Petey appeared out of the darkness in his pajamas, Melissa trailing behind. We scuffled around in the dark for a few minutes and soon found the shredded, limp remains.

I deemed the experiment a success.

Please continue reading on Day 5.

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