Friday, August 17, 2018

San Rafael Swell and Escalante Canyons

On a fine day in May, Tara, Xoe, and I cruised out to the San Rafael swell to check out some canyons. Some lovely friends, Nate and Tess, agreed to meet us out there after flying back to Colorado from...Utah. As luck would have it, the warm temperatures bailed on that area just as we arrived, so we had to make sure our canyons did not have too much swimming. The highs were only going to be in the 60's or 70's. After a delightful evening spent on some BLM land, we headed to Baptist Draw. 

Sunset was pretty. I always enjoy the vastness of Utah.

Baptist is a fairly straightforward canyon with about two short rappels and one longer one. The longer one was bolted, the others were not, but had recently placed webbing on natural anchors that we checked and then used. There are a few sections that require wading or swimming, and one or two super narrow sections.

Some of the photos I have are from a have interesting exposures and such. 

Xoe is always the most stoked about technical canyoneering
Tara works down the first obstacle.
Must avoid water.
I hope that chockstone is properly stuck.

Quality Narrows
"Just hangin' out, looking at my shoe... rubbery."
Tess investigates the first rappel. 
Nate gets stoked about how well his short shorts combat sandstone.
"Basically kevlar," he reported.
Xoe's turn
A few twists, turns, and squeezes through kaleidoscope rocks, we got to the big rappel:

Nate's just a wee thing at the bottom. I sure hope I'm on safety in this picture.
Tara and Xoe wait their turn on the rope; Tess makes her way down.
Xoe and I rap together. She's in my backpack, that was converted into a frontpack for this rap.

Tara makes her way down the big rappel.
Tara and Tess
The crew checks out a section of the lower canyon.
Xoe awaits her fate with dignity at the last rappel.
"Hurry it up you Hoosier bastard! I could hang a dozen men while you're screwing around."

"I must say, this is a bit uncalled for."
Exiting the narrows
As with many slot canyons the way back to the trailhead was a bit of a slog. I found it gorgeous working our way up a canyon then over a few ridges in the high desert . The afternoon sun was toasty, and before we knew it, we were back at the cars. We blasted back along the dirt roads in the late afternoon sunlight with windows open and the soothing sounds of early 2000s pop serenading our auditory system.

Evening camp
The next day, Nate and Tess had to head back to Colorado pretty early, but first we checked out Crawford Draw. It had no rappels and no real obstacles, other than a very, very cold swim. Nate and Tess turned around right after the swim, so had to do it twice right in a row. That was probably very unpleasant.
Tara and I shivered our way down the canyon and enjoyed some nice visuals.

Tara enjoying the first taste of water in Crawford.

Getting Deeper...

And colder...

The mid-reaches of Crawford had some iridescent rocks.

Our Team after the abandonment of Nate and Tess

We could have spent much of the day exploring Crawford, but decided we wanted to check out some of the fabled slots of Escalante, so we turned around early and did the hike and swim in reverse.

Then we rallied south, grabbed some permits and information at the BLM office in Escalante, and then rattled our way out the Hole-in-the-Rock road. We found a nice spot to camp just as the sun started to set. It was one of those perfect desert evenings. The sky slowly darkened as the silence of the day made way for the sounds of the desert night. Funny critters called out in the distance, insects chirped, and the ever present desert bovine lamented the heat of the day and the coming of the frightening darkness.

We were able to camp at the head of a canyon with a seep.

Evening camp

Peaceful desert evening.

Tara gazes at canyon country in the distance.

The next day was Davis Canyon, which is technical. It had long sections of tight narrows that involved Xoe being a shoulder dog for long sections. We only used the rope once, where I lowered Tara so she could check out the pool at the bottom, and then I downclimbed. We used webbing in several places as a backup on down-chimney moves, and then were able to pull the webbing. Apparently, this is the canyon that Everett Ruess disappeared in back in the thirties.

Downclimb with webbing assist
Xoe gets ready to be lowered.
Scruff pass, it's nice that dogs have a nice handle on the back of their necks.
The Shame
Xoe making her way down the biggest drop in the canyon
The extremely narrow nature of the bottom foot or two of the canyon was difficult for dog.
Even though the canyon was wide enough for her to walk through, her feet wouldn't hit the ground because of the small, deep crack at the bottom.
The non-slot part of Davis is really cool! It is pretty wide open, has a stream running down it, with nice shady alcoves, an arch, Moki steps in several places (though we only found one set), and tons of beaver ponds. The vegetation is thick, so moving down canyon takes a while.

Tara standing at the back of an enormous alcove.

This alcove was one of my favorite spots in the canyon.

View from the arch, looking into the canyon

Cactus blooms are always such a shock. Their dazzling color is such a contrast to much of the rest of the desert.
The way back to the car was a hot, sandy slog. Xoe was very sad. She had gotten pretty worn out and started lying down a lot. We just took it slow and enjoyed the wide open space.

Tara and Xoe enjoying cow-caused erosion. The islands of sand are clustered around the bushes. The sand in areas without vegetation has been blown off.
After we reached the car, we went out to Hole in the Rock and looked around. Xoe slept.
The next day, I wanted to show Tara some of the classic Escalante Canyons: Peek-a-boo, Spooky, and Brimstone. I had not been to Brimstone before, and it was REALLY cool. It just involved a bit of a slog.

The way to Brimstone

If you've got to slog, at least the visuals are good.

The light was awesome in the canyon.

The classic

The canyon got super narrow. I tried going up and over, but decided I didn't want to get stuck if I slipped.
We turned back here.

Peek-a-boo is such a classic. Totally, mobbed, but worth seeing every time.
That evening we crossed the Burr Trail, which is an incredibly gorgeous scenic byway. I highly, highly recommend this drive. We camped that night at Starr Springs and the next day it was time to head home.

First, we stopped by Natural Bridges N.M. then took the backroads through Bears Ears into the south entrance of Canyonlands. The drive through Canyonlands is one of my all time favorites. Interesting driving and wonderful visuals.

Natural Bridges