Trip Number: 13040A
Staff: David Roberts
- Explore remote tributaries of the Escalante River
- Traverse narrow slick-rock canyons
- Discover the remarkable landscapes of Red Rock southern Utah
- All on-trip food and snacks
- Experienced guides
Photo: Jake Jaramillo
Sandstone walls glowing with reflected light will lure us into a verdant oasis
on this exciting cross-country loop. We’ll travel across scenic slickrock
mesas to an intriguing canyon labyrinth, with one or two planned layover days
for further exploration of the seldom-visited upper basins of Mamie Creek and
Moonshadow Canyon. Expect to get your boots thoroughly wet as we splash through
the narrows of lower Death Hollow and the Escalante River.
The Escalante River has created a labyrinth of colorful canyons carved into
southeast Utah's ancient sedimentary formations. Filled with alcoves, arches,
and hanging gardens, this is a land of unmatched slickrock majesty. Beyond the
immediate domes, buttes, and canyons that surround us, we'll gaze out on the
distant Henry Mountains and Navajo Mountain, as well as the Kaiparowits and
the Aquarius Plateaus.
Located in southern Utah, the Escalante area was declared Grand Staircase-Escalante
National Monument by President Clinton in September 1996. It covers 1.7 million
acres stretching from Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon. The Grand
Staircase region is a series of multi-colored cliffs that begin at the rim of
the Grand Canyon, ascends 5,500 feet, and ends with a final stair of pink cliffs
in Bryce Canyon National Park.
The exact itinerary will be dictated by conditions during the trip, particularly
by our passage down Death Hollow on the return route. Be assured that we'll
find exceptional hiking in any case.
The unofficial start of our trip will be at 5 p.m. on April 20, meeting at
a local eatery in the town of Escalante, Utah to get acquainted and review trip
Photo: David Roberts
Day 1: We will meet at 8 a.m. on April 21 for a no-host breakfast
at our favorite eatery and, once we're all accounted for, will caravan to the
We'll head up the Boulder Mail Trail, used in the early part of the 20th Century
to carry mail from Escalante to Boulder. Ascending more than 1,200 feet, this
steep route affords access to some of the finest slickrock spectacles in canyon
country. With expansive views unfolding around us, we hike about seven miles
along the undulating mesas and sage meadows, following cairns and at times an
old telephone line that was in use until 1954. We will camp the first night
along Mamie Creek, which nestles in a wide canyon near a whimsical natural bridge.
Our enchanting camp is located among white slickrock formations, overlooked
by pinyon- and juniper-ringed cliffs and a short amble from the natural bridge
Day 2: We layover here along Mamie Creek, exploring its upper
reaches and perhaps a possible route into Moonshadow Canyon.
Days 3-4: Following the cairns down a sandstone ridge into
Death Hollow, we will wade several miles upstream to reach our camp in a beautiful
canyon that remains unnamed on maps, but which aficionados informally call Moonshadow
Canyon. We'll spend a second layover day exploring its sinuous arms, seeking
a hidden aspen forest, the elusive route back to Mamie Creek, and a peek into
the narrows of upper Death Hollow. Alternatively, we may decide not to layover
at Mamie Creek, but instead spend the extra day delving deeper into the mysteries
Photo: David Roberts
Day 5: Today we'll move out of Moonshadow Canyon and down
Death Hollow toward the Escalante River. We'll see how far we can go in narrow,
verdant Death Hollow -- beaver dams may create deep pools that could hinder
our progress. We may scramble over ledges, bushwhack, or wade in deep pools
as we work our way through the challenging canyon. We'll camp in Death Hollow
near the river confluence. Flexibility is key -- we will choose from various
Day 6: After splashing past the shimmering emerald pools of
lower Death Hollow, we turn upstream to ford the deeper waters of the Escalante
River. Here, the canyon walls soar more than 900 feet above us as we follow
the wide turns. We camp in a large alcove overlooking the river.
Day 7: We stroll 2-3 hours upriver. The trip is planned to
end before lunch, although we will stash some goodies in the cars at the trailhead.
Restaurants/showers in town beckon before final getaway.
The nearest major airports are in Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, both five hours
away. The small town of Escalante is located along Highway 12, 50 miles east
of Bryce Canyon National Park. The leaders usually fly into Las Vegas, then
drive out on I-15 to Cedar City and then Highway 12 to Escalante.
There is no public tranportation to Escalante, so participants need to drive
or rent vehicles. Carpooling will be encouraged.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: David Roberts
We will be providing all meals and snacks starting with lunch on Day 1, our
first day on the trail. Expect tasty and hearty fare. Vegetarian? No problem,
but contact the leader if you have special dietary needs. The last meal is breakfast
on day seven. Cooking and clean-up duties will be shared by all members of the
group on a rotating basis.
Campsites: Most of our campsites will be located on sensitive terrain, so selecting
a suitable site for your tent can get tricky. We will endeavor to camp on “durable”
surfaces (generally sandstone and sand in the southwest), paying special attention
to not camping on grasses, cryptobiotic soils, and other plant life, including
Accommodations are available at motels in Escalante or in local campgrounds
at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and Calf Creek. The Escalante Outfitters
and Bunkhouse offers cabins with central toilets and showers, (435) 826-4266.
The Circle D Motel has en suite bath and shower (435) 826-4297. There is other
lodging in town as well.
This trip is rated 3-4. Daily elevation changes could be 1,000 feet or more.
Daily distances will mostly be less than eight miles. Most of our hike will
be on unmaintained routes over slickrock expanses or will follow tributary canyons
and the Escalante River. Weather conditions could range from hot days to chilly
nights. As well, in parts of the trip there will be frequent wading in streams
ankle to knee-deep, and we may wade through deep chilly pools in Death Hollow.
Poison ivy may be encountered in Death Hollow. Prolonged rain at this time of
year is infrequent, but intense and thrilling downpours with instant waterfalls
are certainly possible. A high spring runoff could neccesitate a re-route. Quicksand
and beaver ponds may pose challenges. Trip members must be in suitable physical/mental
condition, and able to cope with the discomforts of being wet and chilly in
a narrow, shaded canyon. And yes, we will be having the time of our lives!
An aerobic training program starting several months prior to our trip is assumed,
as well as some off-trail backpacking experience and a desire to do something
different than usual. Expect to carry your own gear, plus up to 14 pounds of
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: David Roberts
The Sierra Club provides food and cooking equipment, a first-aid kit, and
a tool kit for minor repairs. Giardia and various protozoa may be present in
the streams and potholes where we get our water so we provide water purification
tablets. Trip participants may prefer their own water treatment system. We'll
pay particular attention to adequate hydration. We may encounter some dry stretches
along the route, so a water carrying capacity of at least two liters is required.
Bring only the absolute essentials and keep them as light as possible (maximum
of 25 pounds). A pair of sturdy, fully broken-in lug-soled boots providing adequate
ankle support is essential. On much of the route your boots will be (quite)
wet, so footwear that is comfortable either wet or dry is essential. Do not
plan on stopping to change into sandals at stream crossings! A (dry) lightweight
pair of camp shoes or sandals is recommended.
For shelter, sturdy tents with rainfly are encouraged, and lightweight waterproof
tarps are the required minimum. For rain gear, we recommend a waterproof jacket
and rain pants rather than a poncho. Your sleeping bag should be able to keep
you warm on cool nights. Most people will enjoy hiking in shorts, but long pants
may be needed for inclement weather or bushwhacking.
You must supply all first-aid materials you may routinely need, including bandages,
moleskin, pain relievers, and especially any prescription medicines. No prescription
drugs will be included in our first-aid kit.
A detailed equipment list will be sent to approved participants.
- A good map of the entire Escalante area is "Canyons of the Escalante"
by Trails Illustrated. The USGS topographical quadrangles for this area are:
Escalante, Boulder Town, and Calf Creek, Utah (7.5 minute series).
- Allen, Steve, Canyoneering 3 - Loop Hikes in Utah's Escalante.
- Lambrechtse, Rudi, Hiking the Escalante.
- Kelsey, Michael, Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau.
- Abbey, Edward, Slickrock.
- Grand Staircase-Escalante: http://www.ut.blm.gov/monument
Photo: David Roberts
The Redrock Country of southern Utah is one of the most unique and beautiful
wild landscapes in the nation. Unfortunately, this magnificent land is at great
risk from a number of continuing threats, including off-road vehicles, over-grazing,
energy extraction and development. We'll discuss reasons for protecting wildlands
everywhere as wilderness, and steps we can take as individuals to urge our legislators
to support the Redrock Act and other land protection bills. For more information
about conservation issues before the trip, check out the website for the Southern
Utah Wilderness Alliance: http://www.suwa.org.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
David Roberts participated in his first Sierra Club outing in 1969. Since 1977, he has led or co-led private backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada and Utah. He began leading for Sierra Club Outings in 2001 with special attention to the Sierra Nevada and the canyons of Escalante. An avid photographer, he welcomes you to check out his website: http://mtnmood.smugmug.com/. He plays with the Santa Cruz Guitar Ensemble and also plays Hawaiian slack key guitar. His paying gig is working for Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Services. David stays in shape by taking a daily hike with his trusty dingo on the trails adjacent to his home in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Jake Jaramillo started backpacking in the Sierra as a high-schooler in the mid-70s. He also loves to explore the desert Southwest, especially southern Utah. When he's not backpacking, Jake enjoys car camping and dayhiking with his wife Cathy in the Cascade and Olympic mountains outside Seattle. They recently published an urban hiking book with Mountaineers Books, "Seattle Stairway Walks: An Up-And-Down Guide to City Neighborhoods."
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips