Canyoneering in Escalante, UT 2005

A family vacation took me out to Escalante, Utah for a few days. Sigrid gathered a group of interested people from her home area in Arizona and picked me up early in the morning at one of the two grocery stores in Escalante, which happen to be across the street from each other. After a short hunt for a map, we headed down Hole in the Rock road and then out to the Egypt trailhead area. There we packed up and headed down into Fence Canyon. The trail traversed the desert, descending to the Escalante River, but we took our time and played around in some of the slots of Fence Canyon on our way down, and paused for an early lunch in the shade of part of the canyon. Having dropped our packs for lunch, we explored more of the slots briefly, but the sun quickly became very hot and we decided to speed down to the river to go for a swim.

The thing about swimming in the Escalante River is it is not really a river made for swimming. It runs more of a flat, wide course, and being in the desert it is not particularly large. However the river as it flowed this week was deemed “impassable” by the folks at the visitor center due to the huge amount of snowmelt in the area and we were warned to not even think about trying to cross it. So naturally we crossed it, swam in it, floated down a ways and got out and walked back to float some more. At two in the afternoon and after hiking down into the canyon the river was most welcoming and pleasant. At this point it was time to get to the point. The real reason we had headed down this way to begin with was to cross the river and do Neon Canyon on the other side of the river. We reasoned that we could no try to do the whole canyon in the remaining daylight, but figured we could hike up as far as we wanted, then drop into the canyon at some reasonable point.

Four of us decided we should go for it that night, rather than trying to do it early in the morning (when river crossings would be much less welcoming). We unpacked our camping stuff, shoved harnesses, food, water, and dry clothes into dry bags and jumped back in the river. We floated downstream for about a half a mile (seemed easier, or at least more fun than hiking the section) then climbed out and back into the sun to start hiking up and around Neon so that we could find a spot to drop in that was not too high but would still allow us to have some fun moving through the deep slots. The surface was again scorching and hot, and wandering around in the afternoon sun we were wishing again for the cool river water.

When we finally dropped into the canyon, we very quickly started wishing again for sun. The gravel bar we landed on from our rappel was dry, but only for about 5 feet before the canyon sunk away into a pool of water. A group we had met earlier in the day told us there were 26 swims in the entire length of the canyon, and we expected these would be cold. Most people, from what I heard, used wet suits going through this canyon. We figured what the heck, we’ll get cold and go for it anyway, and well once you rap into the canyon, you pretty much either swim the cold water or you stay in the canyon. Exiting would not prove an easy task, and in most places impossible. The first swim was not too bad. By the fourth, I was learning what people meant when they swam in water so cold that they could hardly breathe. We rappelled further down, into darker, colder water with a breeze coming up off it, and the rocks of the canyon walls started to feel warm. We opened a can of tuna and it jingled in our hands while we thanks to our shivering. Finally we crawled through some holes and came to a final keeper hole. Here I had to coax myself into it, repeating to myself “just slide in and push off, slide in and push off” as though I had just learned to swim and were afraid of the water. A 60-or-so foot rappel into a pool of water in the Golden Cathedral of Neon Canyon, for which you may want to search the internet for decent photos because I couldn’t really hold the camera still enough and it was getting pretty dark by the time I was taking photos and it hardly does the room justice. (maybe check this one out

From here we had a mostly flat walk out through the wider part of the canyon, back to the Escalante River, and wound back up the trails to our basecamp at Fence Canyon. This involved getting across several river crossings that for me at least proved more difficult than earlier in the day and involved surprisingly entirely submerging myself in the water while desperately trying to keep my camera out of the water. Unforuntately no one else was able to witness this spectacle, though I imagine it must have been rather comical to watch. Just before I started panicking about how much further it was to the campsite, I realized I was on the wrong side of the river (again), crossed again, found another group’s campsite which I recognized, realized I was close to camp, but had to cross the river twice more. Upon reaching camp I had the deepest river crossing left, so I yelled across and threw my camera, which Mark thankfully caught. Everyone eventually arrived back at camp and after dinner we retired to a cool night under the open sky. We hiked out early the next morning to avoid the heat, and headed into town for ice cream, then lunch.

Pictures from this trip

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