Monday, April 4, 2011

The Gulch - Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument - Backpacking

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was created in 1996 when President Bill Clinton used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect 1.9 million acres of land in south-central Utah. Locals in the area were furious at this "federal land grab" and the land and it's status as a national monument remain controversial in Utah to this day. For recreational enthusiasts, the designation as a national monument has protected a vast area of redrock desert and beautiful canyons in Southern Utah that is perfect for hiking, backpacking, and canyoneering. The towns of Escalante and Boulder have, no doubt, also benefited from tourist dollars as people come to the area to explore.

Typical scene in the Escalante area

Zach suggested an early Spring backpacking trip in Escalante to take advantage of the warmer weather. We left Salt Lake early Friday morning and headed south past Capitol Reef National Park until we reached the town of Boulder. From there we drove along the Burr Trail to The Gulch trailhead. By noon we were already on our way down The Gulch heading towards the Escalante River.

Backpacking down The Gulch

The Gulch

The round-trip distance from The Gulch trailhead to the Escalante River is about 26 miles. We decided to camp about 7 miles down The Gulch on Friday to take advantage of a great camping spot and spent some time relaxing by the river and exploring the canyon.

Epic goes to Escalante - good beer and great scenery

Zach's tent

Some petroglyphs near our camping spot

Great spot to relax along The Gulch

Saturday was our long day of hiking as we covered about 12 miles down to the Escalante River and then back to our camping spot. Most of the hike was through ankle deep to knee deep water as we passed through beautiful narrows, slot canyons, gorgeous alcoves, and some annoying areas of thick brush to bushwhack through.

The start of the narrows section of The Gulch

Narrows of The Gulch

Zach on the rim of The Gulch

Slot canyon in The Gulch - needed to be bypassed on the rim

Slot canyon in The Gulch

On the rim of The Gulch

A large alcove in The Gulch

Eventually we reached our destination - the Escalante River. As The Gulch emptied into the larger Escalante River, it was interesting to watch the two flow side-by-side instead of immediately mixing together. We spent some time enjoying the views and the warm sunshine before turning around and heading back to our camping spot for the second night.

The Gulch meets the Escalante River

Standing in the Escalante River

Zach in the Escalante River

The Gulch meets the Escalante River

Back up on the rim of The Gulch

As we returned to our camping spot for the second night, we passed some great rock formations and some pretty sand dunes. After a long day of hiking we enjoyed some more relaxation time and good beer.

Interesting rock formations on the rim of The Gulch

Sand dunes

The third day of backpacking was a little more challenging as the weather become colder and windier and the warm weather of the previous few days generated enough snow melt to raise the level of the water in The Gulch. After trudging through water sometimes almost waist deep, we were both happy to be back to the trailhead by early afternoon. We spent the afternoon driving along the spectacular Burr Trail into Capitol Reef National Park before heading back to snowy Salt Lake.