On lands of the Southern Paiute, Pueblos and Ute Peoples designated as BLM/Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Southern Utah
Written by Angela Hawse, Eddie Bauer Guide
Nailah and I met in person for the first time on Day 0 in Escalante, Utah after spending several months planning our adventure together with Andrew. We hit it off immediately! When we met Jules Jimreivat, our photographer, we all knew we were in for a great trip together as we started planning, laughing and getting to know one another. We spent a couple of hours pouring over maps, discussing our options and the flow of logistics. I taught Nailah how to use the GAIA GPS app and download maps of the canyons we’d be exploring. We discussed group gear, food, water filtration, first aid kit and overnight kits and Jules helped us pick out the best color combos for our Eddie Bauer product that would complement each other and the landscape.
We set off early the next morning from the town of Escalante for our trailhead along the Burr Trail, east of Boulder, Utah. The 2.5 hour drive took us through spectacular landscapes of the Colorado Plateau on the edge of the Escalante River weaving in and out of vast canyons and towering sandstone cliffs. At the Little Death Hollow trailhead we high-fived after shouldering our overnight packs and set off into terrain new to all of us, stoked for a shared adventure in a spectacular landscape.
The first couple of miles were open desert with a good trail wandering through tall sagebrush and in and out of the dry, sandy wash. Temperatures were in the high 60’s to low 70’s with a pleasant breeze. Our overnight packs, mine the Alchemist 35/45 and Nailah’s the Alpine Sisu 50 were roughly 35-40 lbs. each. Carrying 2+ liters of water added to the weight, considering we wouldn’t have any water source until we reached camp in Horse Creek. The only signs and remnants of the Ancient Ones who inhabited these lands thousands of years ago were petroglyphs on large boulders at the mouth of the canyon. Perhaps the extreme landscape,floods and drought made this difficult to inhabit or perhaps the petroglyphs indicate that this area was abundant with good hunting.
Onward we trekked as the canyon walls narrowed with the bottom lined with deciduous cottonwood trees and willows. Petrified wood from ancient forests dotted the landscape leaving us in awe that these trees dotted the landscape over 225-million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the landscape! Reminders of these ancient reptiles abounded throughout our hike, as modern day mini-remnants of several species of lizards that frequent the canyon walls. I tried in vain to catch them as they scurried away, (having been more successful as a college student over 35 years ago when I last explored the Escalante River during a 10-day kayak expedition).
Jules caught imagery all day as we hiked, stopped for rests and found spectacular backdrops such as natural arches, zebra-striped walls, and pocketed huecos in an ever-narrowing canyon. Somehow, we all had in our minds that the distance to our destination was roughly 7 miles. After 8 miles it readily became apparent on our GAIA GPS app that we still were far from our camp destination and the only place we’d find water. We took it all in stride and truly enjoyed trekking along finding new discoveries around each bend.
At around mile 7 we encountered our first challenge, a 12-foot drop behind a large wedged chockstone in the narrow canyon. This became the first short section of many over the next 3 miles where we had to take off our packs, carefully climb down, spot each other and pass our packs to get through. Both Nailah and Jules did amazing with deliberate footwork and use of body-camming, taking it very carefully in consideration of the remoteness of our endeavor.
In sections the canyon walls were so narrow that we couldn’t outstretch our arms completely through short passages. Numerous large limestone chockstones wedged into the canyon bottom, fallen from above, required pause, careful footwork and a team effort to navigate. By the time we reached our camp at the confluence of Horse Creek we were all ready to be off our feet!
In total, the day entailed 11.38 miles of hiking with a loss of 1,221’ and a gain of 605’. An impressive effort on Day 1 carrying an overnight pack through challenging terrain! We scouted a great campsite, with a beautiful clear spring flowing nearby to pitch our Stargazer tents and kick up our little doggies for the night. The light was beautiful and Jules put us to work capturing some imagery pitching the tents, gathering water and setting up camp. We had the entire canyon to ourselves with the local inhabitants of lizards, canyon wrens, squirrels and illusive larger animals that we saw signs of, either mountain lion or bobcat throughout the day. After winding down with a hot Good-To-Go freeze dried meal and cup of tea we all slunk into our tents, Nailah into her Kara Koram 20o sleeping bag and me into my 40o degree Flying Squirrel. Cloud cover inhibited stargazing early on but by 2:00 a.m. they were out in full force and we were greeted to a beautiful, clear morning the following day.
A marketing consultant and leadership coach, Nailah never thought of herself as an outdoorsy person. But when she found herself dealing with the stresses of building a new business, being a new mother, and living in a new state away from all her family and friends, she and her husband started exploring local trails. It was an epiphany. The outdoors helped her slow down, listen to her heart, and reconnect with her passion.
Alpine Climbing Guide (AMGA/IFMGA)
Angela has been climbing, skiing and working full-time as a mountain guide for well over three decades. She’s one of the most experienced women guides in the industry, and one of only 11 female guides in the country to have achieved certification in all three AMGA disciplines of alpine, rock, and ski guiding.