The Gulch Loop

My most memorable hike in Escalante is one that my best friend Suave and I designed ourselves. The year before we hiked to Stephens Arch through Hurricane Wash-Coyote Gulch. This year we were looking for something more strenuous and even more challenging, so we mapped out a route that had narrows, open Escalante River crossings, and plateau hiking.

We set out on a quiet April morning from The Gulch trail head. Not to far into the trail we came to a stream hopping with a dead cow wedged between the banks creating a little dam. An interesting sight and an even more interesting smell… a few miles downstream as we pumped water we thought, does this purifier work on dead cow? We knew that everything we would drink from the Gulch had passed through the cow first.

Our first camp was along the banks of the Gulch, not the prettiest camp but one that allowed us to explore the routes up on the the plateau, and had trees for my hammock.

Our second camp was deep in the canyon just before the confluence with the Escalante River. We sheltered ourselves beneath a 200 foot wall of rock that provided great acoustics for my rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.

The third day was our longest day hiking. We met up with the Escalante, followed it for a ways, looking for this Arch to lead us to Horse Canyon. Long story short, we got lost, but found our way after only a few hours of backtracking…

We made it up Horse Canyon and stopped for a breather at Little Death Hollow. We explored up a ways and determined that we would come back and hike Little Death Hollow in the future (which we did in 2002). It is a dry slot canyon that is not very deep but has a lot of scrambling and tight spots.

We passed our last river crossing and then came back to fill up with water. We were looking for a faint footpath up the mountain that would lead to the plateau where we could navigate across King Bench back to The Gulch. As we started the climb we noticed some stormy weather a brewing. Within a half hour we were being pelted with rain and hail on the open mountain. For some reason Suave and I split up an I took shelter under a small rock. I waited out the hail and that resumed hiking. Where were you Rico?

It was a long hike up to the summit, and we set up camp. We had just enough water for dinner and a small breakfast in the morning. We slept sound and woke at sunrise to a white landscape. We didn’t even see the snow coming. It was cold. We were tired, and decided that we had better just pack up and hike out. There was not even a hint of a trail to follow with the snow on the ground, so we did our best with our scouting map and compass skills.

After a few hours of navigating through the storm, we were finally too cold and hungry to keep going. We took shelter under a juniper and I fired up my trusty Whisper Lite. Oatmeal and hot chocolate saved the day. Between the two of us we had enough water to make a cup for each of us.

With the newly found energy we made our way to the cliffs of the Gulch and scrambled down to the riverbed for a drink. Not more than a few pumps into our thirst quenching relief, Suave’s pump burst open and failed. So we decided to boil water, and as I fired up the stove again, it failed me too. It was a good thing we were only a few miles from the car…

From dead cow water to lost on the Escalante, through rain, hail and snow, thirst and fatigue, and equipment failure, I found the part of me that can keep walking even when I think I can’t. Baby Steps. Baby Steps out of the Gulch.

This was our second trip to Escalante, many more would follow. Thirst and fatigue would become old friends. It’s now 2005. Where are we going this year? Escalante, the Grand Canyon? It really doesn’t matter where the journey is, as long as we return.

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