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Discussion Starter #1
I'm looking into spring multiday desert trips other than Westwater and Cat Canyon. Escalante River looks low on whitewater but high on adventure and if anyone has experience on this run I'd be stoked on some beta.

What's the secret to timing runoff just right with snowpack levels and weather patterns?

Does it run decent with median snowpack percentages? Right now the Escalante River Basin is 107% of median.

Excellent side hikes?

Given low Powell levels, which takeout is better, Hole in the Rock or Crack in the Wall?

Cheers




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Hmm... It's in my top 3 to do list but I haven't caught it yet. Hard to catch cuz it doesn't "run" often. It drains the Aquarius Plateau which is only 11,000'. Between its low flows and difficult egress, it seems like a good run for a packraft. I don't know a runoff timing secret. I think you need to watch snowpack, water levels and weather and be ready to go. I think 100% snowpack can come and go without a good boatable level. More than half of the run goes through Wingate with the "highest concentration of slot canyons perhaps in the world". Google hiking and canyoneering in the area. Part of my research has been to get hiking guide books to the area. Neon Canyon has the famous Golden Cathedral but I think there might be a hundred great hikes in its 75+ miles. I took a winter trip to the area and hiked the Crack in The Wall trail down to the takeout partly just to scout it and see if I felt I could haul a hardshell and a weeks worth of camping gear out. It would be tough, for me, but its certainly doable. 3 miles and 1,000 vertical feet but most of the vert, 700', is on a long sand dune that ramps up to the rim. Didn't look at Hole in the Rock, steeper but shorter. If you go to the link below and scroll to the bottom of the page there is an image of the takeout and trail for Crack in the Wall. I'll be interested to see any other posts on this.


Coyote Gulch | Wild Backpacker
 

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Stunning section of desert if you have never been there.

Most people are using duckies or pack rafts at this point. I know people have done it with hard-shells but the experience sounds less than desirable.

Snowpack is looking good but the real #s are harder to tease out because of the way the use stations. When I looked the last several years were actually part of a different drainage. Haven't taken the time to look again as a pack raft isn't remotely in my budget anymore.

If these temps keep up the melt out could come a little sooner this year. Generic season is mid-April to mid-May. Big years we can have flows through June but those are few and far between and this year doesn't seem to be heading in any epic direction.

How they manage the flows is uncertain. Anything that flows in above Death Hollow will likely be diverted so it may depend on flows from Death down, especially Deer Creek and Boulder Creeks.

Hikes? Yeah, some of the best in the world. Deer Creek has some stunning narrows with flowing water that require swimming. And great trout fishing. Golden Cathedral is worth the hike or canyoneering trip if you know how to pack light gear, don't expect to find much solitude there though. Others....Google Earth and a little imagination will provide a lifetime of delight.

Camping along the Escalante is either delightful or horrendous, not a lot of in between. Most of us who explore the region stay away from spending too many nights in the tamarisk jungle, though that scene changed a lot a few years ago from major flooding.

Hole in the Rock is another long distance from Crack in the Wall and I am not sure its worth the paddle. On top of it the last miles out on HIR are the worst and the long shuttle becomes that much longer. HIR is a wild historic place though and is still manageable as a route. My guess is the Lake is still up enough that the paddling would be a major slog, even if its close to the confluence.

Phillip
 

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The hard part is catching it with water in it. If snow packs are 150-200% it will go below that you might catch a melting pulse but you'd have to be flexible on your put in dates and it's more than possible that you'll run out of water and have to slog down the river channel. We took out at Crack in the wall and had to do 2 trips to get the boats and our gear out. With a pack raft and light gear you might be able to do it in one. There is also the option of getting picked up by motor boat on the lake but that might be spendy.
 

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How they manage the flows is uncertain. Anything that flows in above Death Hollow will likely be diverted so it may depend on flows from Death down, especially Deer Creek and Boulder Creeks.
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Phillip, How much management is there? Are there any impoundments in its watershed? Somewhere I read that Boulder Creek more than doubles the flow.
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Camping along the Escalante is either delightful or horrendous, not a lot of in between. Most of us who explore the region stay away from spending too many nights in the tamarisk jungle, though that scene changed a lot a few years ago from major flooding.
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Is the Tami beetle in that area yet? I had the impression there is a nice abundance of Cottonwoods in there. I know there is a ranger? that has spent many years removing the Russian Olive. Curious as to your opinion as to how much of the corridor is delightful vs horrendous.
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Hole in the Rock is another long distance from Crack in the Wall and I am not sure its worth the paddle. On top of it the last miles out on HIR are the worst and the long shuttle becomes that much longer. HIR is a wild historic place though and is still manageable as a route. My guess is the Lake is still up enough that the paddling would be a major slog, even if its close to the confluence.
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Crack in the Wall, Coyote Gulch/Escalante confluence is the old reservoir high water mark. I've always thought that zone down through the reservoir sediments would be a lousy way to finish a week in paradise. Likewise, a boat tow.

Phillip
Sorry for the structural confusion of this post. Used the quote tab and it didn't post the way I expected it to.
 

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River Maps had a nice guide for this run but I think its out of print. You might be able to find it on a shelf at a retailer somewhere like I did. From that guide, "While you are paddling the lower end of the river, notice the lack of Russian Olives and Tamarisk trees. This is due to the single-handed efforts of Bill Wolverton of Escalante, Utah, a seasonal ranger and full-time exotic tree removal expert who is slowly working his way upstream." I think I read somewhere that he has cleared 40 miles of the rio. Also, according to the guide, the Aquarius Plateau is 10,000', not the 11,000' I said earlier. Jeeze, I want to catch this run...


Map & Guide Books
 

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Bill Wolverton has made an amazing effort down there. What he has done with volunteer crews (mostly hikers donating vacation time) is no less then heroic. I am not sure of the exact mileage he has cut.

That said, much of the river is still choked with either invasives or willows and natives. It just doesn't flood enough anymore to keep the choking at bay. An actual # is hard as my experience down there spans 12 years now so some of the places I experienced in the past may be better now.

One way to solve the camping issue would be to spend some time with satellite photos and setting up miles based on sandy camps which are highly visible from above. There can be some great options at the mouths of canyons, like Scorpion.

No Tami beetle from what I understand.

The Lake is just below 3600 ft right now so that means you should meet it in the Escalante Arm around Cow & Fence Canyons. The benefit of running the flood is the flow should start to fill in the mud-infested areas again, which are hideous and unpleasant; I spent several weeks sea kayaking the length of Powell one spring and learned to hate the effects of the receding elevation that time of year.

Using a lake shuttle saves some physical energy but increases the length of the shuttle in a major way. That said if you have never driven the Burr Trail its worth the experience. That said the round trip from Hwy 12 Bridge to Bull Frog Marina is kinda long.

You don't get your merit badge until you have hiked up a 500+ foot sand dune in the Escalante. Definitely a classic right of passage in the area. Without them much of the area would be less accessible.

Much of the river above the junction with Box Death Hollow is used for irrigation and reserviors in the lower elevations of the Boulder Mountains. Boulder/Deer Creek definitely have a huge influence on the volume of the Escalante. Hard to know how much as there is not a gauge below the town (anymore, there was in the past if I remember correctly).
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks for the load of beta. Sounds like the hike out at Crack in the Wall is the way to go, and to earn your turns. I don't think any hike out can be that bad after experiencing the Gunnison's Black Canyon Portages and hike up Chukar all in one day.










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Discussion Starter #9
For you guys that have run this section, the New Testament says min flow of 50, what's the lowest flow that you'd say is worth it?


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Phillip, Looking at my Trails Illustrated map, I just can't get a read on the rio elevation but I had no idea the reservoir came up as high as Fence or Cow Canyon, especially with it down 100'. Is that right? I thought Coyote Gulch was the head of it. Great advice on searching out beach camps via satellite images.

Re: hiking out. Somewhere I ran into the concept of setting up camp at the mouth of Coyote and carrying your boat up to the Crack in the cool of the evening returning to camp and clearing it and hiking out in the cool of the morning.
 

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Phillip, Looking at my Trails Illustrated map, I just can't get a read on the rio elevation but I had no idea the reservoir came up as high as Fence or Cow Canyon, especially with it down 100'. Is that right? I thought Coyote Gulch was the head of it. Great advice on searching out beach camps via satellite images.

Re: hiking out. Somewhere I ran into the concept of setting up camp at the mouth of Coyote and carrying your boat up to the Crack in the cool of the evening returning to camp and clearing it and hiking out in the cool of the morning.
Correct, full pool appears to have been 3700 ft which put it between Coyote and Stevens.

From the topo software I use, Trimbleoutdoors.com, Fence and Cow come in right around 3700 ft, which is just above current bathtub at 3595 ft. Seems about right by gradient at its a little more than 6 miles between those points, though it looks less at first glance. I wouldn't be shocked if it drops another fifteen feet in elevation before runoff starts though.

Pushing out past Coyote could be interesting. The receding reservoir leaves small lakes in the meanders most years because of the uneven silt deposits at the mouth. Whatever year the satellite images for Trimble (likely winter 2014 or 2013) were used shows the lake closer to Explorer Canyon and tons of inundated meanders.

Phillip
 

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For you guys that have run this section, the New Testament says min flow of 50, what's the lowest flow that you'd say is worth it?


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I know pack rafters are pushing minimum down drastically, having as little as 3 cfs on the gauges at times. The 50 cfs seems to be the reliable # for IKS and above.

I should clarify...I have never boated that stretch, just hiked and canyoned extensively in that country. I personally can't imagine having much fun in there at 5 cfs but 50 cfs is a shocking amount of water in that drainage. I would imagine the more the merrier for hard-shell as there a ton of bedrock shelves in the drainage/flow, at least in the stretch from HWY 12 to below Boulder Creek, were the least amount of water is encountered.

Phillip
 

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Correct, full pool appears to have been 3700 ft which put it between Coyote and Stevens.

From the topo software I use, Trimbleoutdoors.com, Fence and Cow come in right around 3700 ft, which is just above current bathtub at 3595 ft. Seems about right by gradient at its a little more than 6 miles between those points, though it looks less at first glance. I wouldn't be shocked if it drops another fifteen feet in elevation before runoff starts though.

Pushing out past Coyote could be interesting. The receding reservoir leaves small lakes in the meanders most years because of the uneven silt deposits at the mouth. Whatever year the satellite images for Trimble (likely winter 2014 or 2013) were used shows the lake closer to Explorer Canyon and tons of inundated meanders.

Phillip
I'm confused. Oops. There are 2 Fence Canyons! One at river mile 36 on rio right just above Neon and the one you are referring to at mile 82ish on rio left. Thanks
 

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Stupka,

I ran the Escalante River last year We had a group of 8 (too big - I would limit it to 6), and we took 5 full days (plus two hike in/out days, plus two more days to driver there and back from CO - total of 9 day trip) on the river to do 40 miles from Fence Canyon to Coyote Gulch. I would add at least one more full day on the river. It was a full day to go the 8 to 10 miles on the river. We had a sprained ankle - my first time I've been on a trip with an injury that affected travel.

We used packrafts, and we really gambled on the water. In retrospect we were really lucky - we had 60 cfs towards the end of the trip (we think, anyway, it is really hard to judge the water flow with the current state of the gauges around there). That was enough, not exactly generous, though...

I made some maps. They are 1:24,000 scale, with hillshade, imagery and topo. There are two map series, one with contour lines and one without. I liked the one with the contour lines but you may prefer the other. Take your pick. PM me and I'll send them to you.

I also made a bunch of GPS points that you an upload onto your GPS. They include things like mile markers, (supposed) water sources, potential exit routes, and a rough reference to Scorpion Rapid (not really a rapid - more like a huge rockfall that blocks the way. It was a mandatory portage for us and was where we got the sprained ankle. Also lost a paddle there - went under the undercut and it was gone! Never saw it again.).

Be very, very careful of poison ivy if you are sensitive - it is all over those side canyons. It is amazing no one in our group got it.

I'd say no more than 6 people because you hang up on the rocks all the time. Therefore you have to space out your boaters somewhat so you aren't having huge pileups in the riffle rapids. With 8 people, we could not see the front and back people. Four to six would be ideal.

We went in mid to late April, and I realized that I probably should have had some warmer layers - it rained on us twice, and we had one really windy night that was unpleasant with all the grit. Nothing terrible, but if it had gotten really cold or wet I wasn't as prepared as I should have been.

It was an absolutely breathtaking trip. Stunning. And I mean STUNNING. More beautiful to me, really, than the Grand (it's more intimate and more my style, definitely a subjective statement). I will definitely do that one again! Add the extra day or two so that you can really enjoy the side canyons.

We broke our group of 8 into three groups for food planning, and that worked pretty well. I dehydrated a bunch of food for our trip and it was great. try dehydrating spaghetti sauce - a really thick, chunky sauce. I have a good recipe if you want it, but you'd have to use a dehydrator with a temperature control for the meat. Yum.

We did not have lifejackets. All but 2 of us flipped our boats at some point. Lifejackets are not mandatory (unless you have a flash flood, and would you really want to put in then???) But waterproof, and I mean *waterproof*, bags are a must. Water gets in the packraft from the first minute. Water proof pants were important to me, because I was sitting in water a lot. (A lot of people's favorite piece of gear on that trip was a big sponge I brought - it was shared around a lot and kept us from having to get up and out of the boat sometimes since you could just use it while sitting in the boat.)

We had one puncture out of 8 boats - a minor miracle. There are willows taking over from the tamarisk (yay!) and the beavers chew the willow into little spear points. Luckily most of the chewed willow stems point downstream due to the frequent flash floods, but the occasional one points upstream and you are bound to hit that exact one with your delicate little packraft. Bring Tyvek tape with you for easy on-the river repairs. Remarkable stuff.

I'd recommend the packraft whitewater skirts if you use packrafts. Kept a good bit of water out of the boat and saved us from having to get out of the boat and dump it somewhat.

The GPS was a godsend - that river twists and turns and it is hard to keep track on paper (we marked the paper sheets in case the GPS stopped working). All the points and data that I made for the GPS was for mine - a Garmin 62stc. Not sure if that data will work for anything other than a Garmin...

There are few strainers, but in several places the problem was the creek runs right into the riverbank into an undercut and flips you over - hard to control. No "dangerous" undercuts (such as an undercut with a strainer right downstream) but that can and probably will change. You'll need an experienced lead person to scout that kind of hazard if you have any newbies. I would not recommend it (at the lever we did it) for hard shell kayaks - you would be scraping bottom *all* *the* *time.*

You are welcome to email or pm me if you want more information (shuttle, packraft rentals, recipes, etc.). Happy to help! PM me for the links to the maps and GPS. I had fun making them. And anyone else who wants them let me know (I'll have to find where I put the maps - I know they are somewhere on my computer!).

I also have images that you can upload to your GPS so that you can see where you are on the GPS screen that is the satellite image. That one I'll really have to dig to find, though. I should have organized better.

Let me know if you want to know any more! Wish I could go with you again this year....

Lynne
 

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I think I wrote my trip up on another post but I'll summarize here. I'm from Idaho so about a 9 hour drive. I'm an experienced rafter and very comfortable class IV kayaker. Lots of multi days under my belt. Lots of backpacking too. I spend 1-2 weeks in the desert every year. This trip was on the radar for a long time.

I watched the snotel sites and built spreadsheets and planned forever. The forecasted flows of 50cfs didn't materialize, ever. But because I had backpacked the area and canyoneered I knew that even if the gauge was fairly low there was a fair amount of water by the time it got to fence canyon.

So I packed up and just went for it. I believe the gauge was between 8 and 9 cfs. I took canyoeneering and camping and backpacking gear in case it just looked unrunnable. Escalante is still a worthy desitnation without the river.

Picked up a permit and drove to the launch. The water was maybe low ankle deep. My buddy and I used Aire Trib Tomcat solo IKs. We carried backapcking gear, and light canyoneering gear.

In the first mile we drug somewhat frequently, and it felt like an irrigaton ditch. Lots of russian olive in the top and we scraped under them a lot. A sturdy wide brimmed hat helped. More water might mean more tree thorn scraping.

At that flow it was necessary to get out and drag through several rock gardens a day. In a hardshell it would be miserable. In an IK it was a 10 second inconvenience. There are many sharp bends with undercuts though we had no difficulty navigating them. I had the spiral bound river map and didn't think navigation was hard, but again I know there area somewhat and had done my homework. Camping was adequate-good for 2 people in tons of places. Very good camping in enough places to make it a good trip. Larger groups might struggle with 10 day trips and finding good camping every night.

We did a fairly fast trip. 4 days on the water. IIRC 2 days to fence canyon. The first day went slow. Lots of dragging and figuring out ideal balance and loads etc. I think we did 12 miles in 8 hours. Second day was a normal 8 hour day on the water. Camped just below Neon canyon. Half a day navigating Neon canyon, half a day in the water after that, then a LONG day to coyote gulch from there. I seem to recall it being a 40+ mile day. It is possible to make miles at low flow. We got on the water at first light and PADDLED all day. The drag up coyote gulch to the slickrock climb was challenging and we set up camp in full darkness.

We passed 2 canoe groups doing long (14+) trips. They were scraping a lot. a solo guy on a 30 day trip was dreading the takeout. I think he had wheels and was planning to go up coyote to a wash and take like 5 days to get out hiking his gear in shifts. I have no idea how he would get the canoe over the coyote rock pile alone. There were also some packraft groups coming in at fence canyon. This is an attractive option. I think the had other takeouts. At fence we saw backpackers. At coyote we saw backpackers. that was it.

Since we were using our boats as sleeping pads we couldn't haul them out the last night. In the AM we made 2 trips to the car. It was work but doable. I think if I had skipped canyoneering gear it could be 1 trip. or 2 trips up the dune and 1 trip across the rollers to the car. packraft 1 trip easily.
My buddy struggled with the hike a bit. I run ultramarathons and it seemed pleasant. He said he would not do it again. But he has a bad heart and a low tolerance for slogs.

I researched the bullfrog boat shuttle extensively. In the end it was not feasible for 2 people on our budget. The whole logistics were more than I wanted to deal with. The crack in the wall route didn't feel like an improvement over hole in the wall and required at least a day of flatwater paddling.
The local shuttle was affordable.

I flipped once while trying to get a drytop off mid stream. The kayaking was fairly easy in my book. class II for 99% though I wouldnt take less than a class III boater Due to the remoteness. The portage took maybe 5 minutes. there weren't rapids to speak of, just grinding between rocks.

If you are fit and have a high tolerance for work and minor inconvenience then go in an average snow year. If you want a pleasure cruise then roll the dice on a big snow year once a decade.

I don't regret taking a fast trip. It was the only way I could make it work with money and school and family. If you have more time and resources then take it.

Essential gear:
IK or packraft
Drypants
goot river booties or even SHOES
Backpacking staples
drybag
map
camera
100' rope to get out crack in the wall
tolerance for russian olives and sand
solid attitude
decent shuttle vehicle- 4wd
 

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Yep, we did packrafts and hiked down Fence Canyon and hiked out at crack-in-the-wall in one trip. We may have had lower water than you did on your trip, and we did a lot of side-hikes (Neon, Ringtail, Baker, 25 Mile, Moody, etc.). Having 8 people really really slowed us down. 4 were newbie boaters, too. No problem, and not dangerous, but quite a bit slower. I would be very happy with 4 people.
 
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