Escalante river, Bowington and Boulder Mail trails

Sunday 2nd October 2016 After returning from our hike down the Paria river we thought we would sample the canyons and slickrock plateau in the Escalante area of southern Utah with a short 2.5 day backpack straight out of Escalante town itself.

We descended down to the Escalante river from the trailhead at around 4pm in hot sun but soon found cool shade at the river amidst beautiful autumnal cottonwood trees.

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The Escalante was lusher, greener and a little less severe than the Paria river and the contrast felt good. We hiked downriver easily with some good trail mixed with crossings of the calf deep water. After about an hour we came across a huge alcove with a striking set of white pictographs with real size figures. A park service ammo box beside the rock art contained information leaflets and warned against touching the art to prevent it being damaged.  It dated the rock art at 2000 years old and the location inside the massive cave was wonderful.

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We hiked on a bit, splashing down the river before finding a pleasant riverside campsite. Another clear starry night above between the canyon walls was broken by constant flashes of distant lightning somewhere and some gusty winds. We had a night of broken sleep imagining another flash flood like last week’s in the Paria!

Monday 3rd October 2016 No floods thankfully and we continued down the Escalante with a mix of trails, river and bushwhacking. The temp. dropped and we kept our fleeces and trousers on for a couple of hours as we arrived at the confluence with Death Hollow Canyon. A strong clear flow came out of Death Hollow and it was obvious that the river levels were high which was going to make our long hike up the canyon a little tougher than we had thought! 

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Wading across the Escalante river into Death Hollow with its green riparian corridor

We set off up the river of Death Hollow which was frigid cold and knee deep. The vegetated banks were stuffed with poison ivy, so the river seemed the best way to make progress. Two dippers dashed around on the river. But boy was it cold! We lasted about half an hour (we reckoned we had about 7-8 hours to our planned exit point at the Boulder Mail trail) and decided to turn back to regroup at the Escalante river again where we were able to sit in the sun to warm up and eat some bars.

After scanning our map and the pages of Steve Allen’s wonderful but now rather ageing guidebook ‘Canyoneering 3 – Loop hikes in Utah’s Escalante‘, we came up with another high level route northwards up onto the slickrock plateau above Death Hollow canyon on the ‘Bowington trail’ before meeting up again with our intended route.

After about 40 minutes further down the Escalante, we climbed up on rock slabs above the canyon amidst some beautiful ‘zen’ water slides and golden layered rock.

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We soon hit the ‘Bowington trail’ which we found to be a series of -just enough- cairns across undulating rock slabs and pinyon-juniper. The hiking on this route was relaxed, keeping our feet dry and with panoramic views- to Boulder Mountain to the north, the Henry’s mountains eastward and Navajo mountain south in Arizona. Tall ponderosa pine grew out of the cracks in the sandstone slabs.

Late in the afternoon we started dropping down on amazing rock formations into the canyon of Death Hollow again. Now following the more popular ‘Boulder Mail trail’ the cairns were more prominent but the scenery remained spectacular.

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We return to Death Hollow and it’s river was heavily vegetated again but the going was easier at this point upstream of where we started out this morning. We found a lovely white sand bank under towering canyon walls in Death Hollow to camp. A great day!

Tuesday 4th October 2016 A cold morning as we climbed westward steeply and directly from camp out of the canyon on the ‘Boulder Mail trail‘. Grand views all around in the early morning light…

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The hiking on this cairn marked trail continued through splendid scenery of pillow and brain shaped rock formations dotted with trees and some great little waterpockets in the rock hollows. We dropped down to cross Mamie Creek with a huge pool maybe 30m diameter at the bottom. The water here was rusty red colour  – from the iron rich rock we thought.

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Cricket watches us snack under a ponderosa

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The rest of the day we meandered over rock slabs and across some sagebrush flats westward to eventually arrive at a rock rim overlooking a distant Escalante town. The cairns headed steeply down improbably over more rock slabs before we hit the lush corridor of Pine creek at the bottom. All that remained was some now familiar splashing along the river and bushwhacking to pop out at the Escalante river again and back to the car.

What a magnificent short backpack with huge variety of hiking in a quiet area -we didn’t see any other people! Steve Allen describes the Boulder Mail trail as ‘one of canyon country’s premier routes’and we agree with that!

More photos of this trip and our other Escalante hikes here…..

Hayduke other links

Mike Coronella Co-founder of the trail and co-author of the guidebook.

Hayduke website Co-founder of the Hayduke Joe Mitchell’s website.

Hayduke Trail guidebook If you are thinking of hiking the Hayduke then the book is a must…

Across Utah! Jamal David Green’s excellent and extensive website describing his crossings of Utah with lots of Hayduke overlap. Also includes a superb Hayduke section. A treasure trove of information- nice videos too!

Grand Enchantment Trail Brett Tucker has created many other backpacking adventures in the south west including the G.E.T, the Northern New Mexico Loop and the Sky Islands Traverse. Each has a mapset and planning pack-superb!

Andrew Skurka Hayduke map bundle and resources pack.

Nicolas C Barth Sublime Hayduke photos and well described alternates with maps.

Michael Kelsey’s guidebooks These are wonderful guidebooks covering a lifetime of adventure on the Colorado plateau. ‘Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau’ is a must for inspiration and researching alternates but the others are great too!

Edward Abbey Writer, environmental campaigner and inspiration behind the Hayduke Trail.

Grand Canyon permits You will need a permit for your Hayduke hike through Grand Canyon National Park…..

Slot canyons of the American south west Lots of information on hiking the canyons.

Arizona Trail The Hayduke makes use of this trail for around 60 miles in Northern Arizona. The AZT continues all the way south through the state of Arizona for 800 miles.

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Hayduke hiker links

These are some Hayduke trail accounts that we have come across, all of which make great reading. I have still to catch up the latest few…!

The Onion Garret Christensen Autumn 2020 Westbound Hiked in a (hopefully) unusual year with Covid-19 restrictions and at an incredibly dry time.

Endlesssummer Autumn 2019 Westbound

Bearlee Chronicles Spring 2018 Westbound

Kerrie and Ray- Thru we go Spring 2018 Westbound

Isaac Takes A Hike Autumn 2018 Westbound

Arlette Laan Spring 2017 Westbound Lovely photos and descriptions. Hiking with Prana and Haiku. Makes you want to get out there and hike!

Treehugger and Blisterfree Spring 2016  Westbound Two experienced desert hikers set out westbound March 31st from Arches NP and another excellent journal. Interesting comparison of Grand Enchantment Trail with Hayduke from the GET’s creator.

Carrot Quinn Spring 2016 Westbound From the author of ‘Thru Hiking will break your heart’ – Carrot and Dan’s 2016 hike.

Drop-n-roll Spring 2016 Westbound The two Kate’s hike in 2016 – including packrafts and a return to Moab by bike!

Katherine Cook Spring 2015 Westbound Superb account of a daring hike taking in many variations into wild terrain.

Erin Saver ‘Wired’ Spring 2015 Westbound Wired’s blog partly with Katherine and partly with Gavin. Another great trip account. Wired’s web site has lots of hiker info plus a link to a Hayduke introductory article written for Trail Magazine.

Niki and Tenny Autumn 2014 Westbound Nice blog and photos.

Lisa Curry and ‘KCop’ Autumn 2014 Westbound An enjoyable read of a recent hike on the trail in autumn 2014 with dog Shilo!

Spiderwoman and The Brawn Autumn 2014 Westbound Lots of detailed Hayduke tips in word document format.

Brian and Martina Spring 2014 Westbound This site! Our blog, photos and hiker tips including alternatives such as yellow rock and kayaking the Colorado from Moab to the Green River confluence.

Brian Tanzman ‘Buck30’ Spring 2013 Westbound Excellent account of his successful Hayduke hike with Skittles including detailed hiker advice.

Rich Larson ‘Skittles’ Spring 2013 Westbound Another excellent trail journal with Brian Tanzman.

Dirtmonger Spring 2013 Eastbound Part of a massive ‘Vagabond Trail’ hike including the Arizona, Hayduke and Grand Enchantment Trails.

Nicolas C Barth Autumn 2013 Westbound Sublime photos and alternates. Unlucky to be halted by a Grand Canyon park closure.

Pace and Whitefish Spring 2012 Westbound Nice trail journal from experienced hikers.

Cam Honan Spring 2012 Westbound Cam hiked westward on the Hayduke to the Grand Canyon south rim before continuing on the Arizona Trail and then the Grand Enchantment Trail to complete a ‘Southwestern Horseshoe’ route- sounds fun!

Ben Mayberry Spring 2011 Eastbound Part of a mega hike on the Arizona Trail, Hayduke, connection to the Continental Divide up to Canada to finish on the Great Divide Trail.

Sandra and Larry Taylor Spring 2011 Eastbound Great blog of a Arizona and Hayduke Trail journey plus more!

Pony Express Autumn 2009 Eastbound Enjoyable trail journal of Pony Express, Lindy and Sharon’s charity eastbound hike.

Andrew Skurka Spring 2009 Westbound Early February start. Andrew created a Hayduke map bundle and resource as a result.

Whiptail and Caron Spring 2009 Westbound Nice blog and paddled the Colorado for a few days from Moab.

Dave and Michelle Spring 2009 Westbound Their first long backpack and another great journal.

Ryan Choi Spring 2008 Westbound A classic! Ryan’s descriptive account with Ben Deumling and heap’s of detours.

Justin Lichter Spring 2008 Westbound ‘Trauma’ completed the first ever Pacific Crest Trail hike in winter 2014-15 with ‘Pepper’.

Shawn ‘Pepper’ Forry Spring 2008 Westbound With ‘Trauma’.

Mike Coronella Spring 2005 Westbound Co-originator of the trail and co-author of the guidebook with fantastic exploration. Lots of trail updates on the website.

Brian Frankle Autumn 2005 Eastbound
The first continuous Hayduke hike- and a great account too!

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Hayduke notes-Escalante to Bryce

The notes here are a bit sparse but include random info I wrote down on the way…

Section 8|2.9 Round Valley Draw narrows were great but had no water (5th May).

Section 8|11.2 Hackberry Canyon’s first water was here with small pools. Good flow down to Cottonwood Creek at Section 8|20.8.

Yellow Rock alternate
Why Do it?

This is a great little hike up above the canyons which we loved. It breaks up a long Hayduke hike following the bottom of Hackberry and Paria Canyons by climbing up onto the slickrock plateau above for extensive views and the best colourful rock this side of ‘The Wave’. About the same length as the Hayduke but maybe an hour or so longer. We got the idea from this Falcon guidebook.

How?
Section 8|21.1 Starts 0.3 miles south of Cottonwood Trailhead.
Section 8|24.8 Ends about 1 mile south of the Paria townsite.

(Westbound) Exit Hackberry Canyon to Cottonwood Creek where there is trailhead. Follow the creek down for about 0.3 miles to a box canyon on the right with a trail and cairns.

Follow the trail into the box and up the right (north) slope to the bottom of the very obvious yellow dome.

You can cross westward, south of the dome on slickrock but climbing to the top is a must (nice colours and views back up Hackberry).

Descend down south from the dome on swirly yellow slickrock to the large natural cairn.

From the cairn drop west then up slickrock to a north-south ridge. Follow a faint trail northward for 0.3 miles then it heads west, skirting round a small dome.

Keep on the trail westwards although it gets very faint for a while until it improves again to a junction with a north-south trail.

Turn left (south) and follow the good trail down through pinyon juniper. It eventually opens out to great views above the Paria. From there the trail drops down to the river level itself.

Back on the Hayduke….
Paria River
Section 8|30.1 Kitchen Canyon The water quality in the main river is pretty grim- silty and cow trashed. We took water from small fresh spring seeps about 1/3 mile up Kitchen Canyon which were ok but I am sure some of the other springs would be better.

Bull Valley Gorge – Willis Creek alternate
Why Do it?

The approach to Bull Valley Gorge has a big mountain, wild, feel to it and then the slot itself is grand, long and with some good scrambling. 

In short, an excellent little diversion. There is even a car jammed in the slot at the far west end.

Willis Creek is much more gentle and relaxed although again within some fine canyon scenery. The two are connected by a dirt road- ‘Skutumpah Road’. It’s a bit longer than the main Hayduke alternate following Sheep Creek towards Tropic though. You could also use Bull Valley Gorge as a way to connect with the standard Hayduke route into Bryce Canyon – lots of choices!

How?
Section 8|42.9 Split from Sheep Creek and take the left fork of Bull Valley Gorge heading west.

After about 1.5 miles, just before the gorge trends north, on your left/south there is a deep pothole in the slickrock full of water (see pic).

At the west end of the gorge, climb out on the north side, then follow a trail back right -east to the dirt road. Follow this ‘Skutumpah Road’ generally north eastwards to the Willis Creek trailhead. Nice spacious views to Bryce and Powell Point to the north.

If heading back to the common (and recommended) alternate of Bryce Canyon amphitheatre via Tropic, then turn right and head down Willis Creek back to Sheep Creek.

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Next Hayduke notes – Bryce to Arizona